OMAR J. SAKR
We’re driving up to Wollongong, a dense dose of green on either side of the highway. Michael Mohammed Ahmad, founder and director of Sweatshop – a western Sydney-based literary collective – is yelling as he drives. He’s not mad, that’s just how he talks, at a speed and octave a notch above what most people would find comfortable, but which is normal for an Arab. Siri pipes up, interrupting Mohammed’s stream of thought with rerouted directions, and he yells at her.
“Now you tell me,” he says in his Bankstown drawl. Then, “You know, I think it’s problematic that Siri is a woman. All you do is mouth off at her.”
We end up talking about women a fair bit. Winnie Dunn, a Tongan–Australian poet who is the manager at Sweatshop, is on her way to Canberra to give a keynote address at Girls Write Up, an event run by The Stella Prize. “She’s touring the country, and she’s 21,” Mohammed says, beaming. “What an overachiever.” The Stella Prize worked in concert with Sweatshop for this series of events, with the result that there will be one culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) woman on every panel.
This kind of diversity-as-activism is written into Sweatshop’s DNA. It’s not about appearances, it’s about ensuring often ignored voices are heard at every level. You can see that DNA on full display in Sweatshop’s new book, The Big Black Thing, which was launched at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival. Everyone involved in it is from a migrant, indigenous or refugee background.
“Even the designer is brown,” Mohammed says. “Even the guy at the fucking printer is Asian.”
Every few minutes, as he talks, Mohammed flicks
OMAR J. SAKR is a poet and writer.