'The Story of My Life' Winner Announced

ByABC News
April 21, 2005, 12:27 PM

April 22, 2005 — -- A young Afghan woman who has been in the United States for only three years has been named the winner of a nationwide contest in which Americans were invited to submit their life stories so that one could be selected for publication as a major book. The contest was sponsored by the ABC program "Good Morning, America," and publishing house Simon and Schuster.

The woman, 17-year-old Farah Ahmedi of Wheaton, Ill., was initially reluctant to join the 6,000 Americans who submitted their stories in essay form. However, a friend and sponsor, Alyce Litz, convinced her to try. After the stories were reviewed by a panel of authors and editors, Farah and two other finalists were teamed with professional writers to produce book-length manuscripts. Then, viewers of "Good Morning America" voted by phone and through the Internet after reading profiles of the finalists. More than 18,000 votes were cast.

"This kind of a contest has never been done before," said Carrie Cook, a producer who conceived and produced the project. "We are celebrating the audience -- that every life has a story."

Farah's book arrived in stores today. It is titled "An Afghani Girl on the Other Side of the Sky." The writer with whom she collaborated, Tamin Ansary, communicated with her in Farsi, since Farah is still learning English.

"The other side of the sky" is a reference to one of Farah's childhood fantasies. As an elementary school student in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the early 1990s, she thought of climbing to the sky on a ladder because she wondered what was on the other side. She was so enthralled by a teacher who answered her questions about the sky and the stars that one day when she feared being late for school, she took a short cut across a vacant lot near her home in Kabul.

That short cut led to disaster. Rival militias were fighting for control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the collapse of the Soviet-installed government. Crossing the vacant lot, Farah stepped on a land mine.

"I was walking fast, and then -- just shocked," she said. "I was in the air, with this light, this bright light, and then I passed out."

When she awoke, a crowd had gathered around her, but no one offered help. Finally, one man in the crowd took pity on her. He wrapped her in a shawl and put her in a taxi for transport to a hospital. In the taxi, Farah looked for the first time at her left leg.