OMAR J. SAKR

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page -

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.

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