Literary Prizes

Escape to Kabul by Shams Erfan

Shams Erfan has made the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for Escape to Kabul.

2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist

A young man with dark hair and glasses wearing a plaid shirt standing in front of a building with the Canadian flag
Shams Erfan is a writer from Afghanistan now living in Toronto. (Jon Joniad)

Shams Erfan has made the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for Escape to Kabul. The shortlist will be announced on Sept. 14 and the winner will be announced on Sept. 21.

If you're interested in the CBC Literary Prizes, the 2024 CBC Short Story Prize is open for submissions until November 1st. 

About Shams Erfan

Shams Erfan is originally from Afghanistan. He worked as an English teacher and survived a direct Taliban attack. After escaping to Indonesia, he was imprisoned for eight years until his refugee application was sponsored in 2022, allowing him to relocate to Canada. In Indonesia, he co-founded The Archipelago, a collective of artists and writers. Despite his confinement, he published articles, served as an editor and translator, and reported on refugee challenges. Currently, Erfan is Pen Canada's Writer-in-Residence at George Brown College and co-founded the Humans in Flight Project, showcasing refugee achievements in Canada through storytelling and visual content.

Entry in five-ish words

"Taliban Survivor, Reborn as Writer"

The story's source of inspiration

"In August 2021, when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the world remained silent to the desperation of the Afghan people, particularly women being denied their basic human rights. My dream of seeing a peaceful, independent and civilized Afghanistan was shattered. As a survivor of a direct Taliban attack, I hoped that sharing my story might help persuade others to better understand the reality of living under an authoritative regime. By conveying my lived traumatic experiences through prose, I hoped to raise awareness and inspire action, especially for the women in Afghanistan deprived of the opportunity to go to school and work."

First lines

The pressure on me and my family became too intense. Although just 16, I was a teacher.  I taught English, the language of the infidels. Worse, I taught boys and girls under the same roof. Kidnapping, torture and murder were a real possibility. It was clear to me that I had to escape my hometown if I were to survive, and my family left in peace. I would have to leave in secret, not even my family could know. The Taliban had their spies.

My salary had helped support the family.  I worried for their well-being. The day before my departure, I went to the market, bought a few months' supplies, and loaded them into a hired truck to take home. 

About the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize

The winner of the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and win a two-week writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

The 2024 CBC Short Story Prize is currently open until Nov. 1, 2023 at 4:59 p.m. ET. The 2024 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January 2024 and the 2024 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April 2024.

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