UWS author wins literary excellence award

Michael Ahmad

Author Michael Mohammed Ahmad is the latest literary talent to emerge from UWS and garner recognition for his writing.

He recently received a prestigious Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists of 2015 Award for his first novel, The Tribe.

Mohammed joins fellow Writing and Society Research Centre author, Luke Carman, who was chosen for the same award in 2014 for his book, An Elegant Young Man.

Both men, who are doctoral candidates in Creative Writing at UWS, join the growing list of impressive young writers who are creating a distinct cultural voice in Western Sydney.

Both books were issued by Giramondo Publishing, the independent publisher at UWS focused on creative and interpretive writing by Australian authors.

Giramondo founder and publisher Professor Ivor Indyk, who holds the Whitlam Chair in Writing and Society at UWS, mentored both men. He recently reflected on the significance of this latest literary accolade.

"The Best Young Australian Novelists for 2015 was an historic moment in Australian literature, because for the first time, all the nominated authors for a major Australian literary award were of migrant or Indigenous background. It is marvellous to see Mohammed Ahmad as one of the chosen authors, repeating the success of his fellow Writing and Society Research Centre author, Luke Carman."

The Tribe is a novella in three parts: it portrays life in an extended Muslim Allawite Lebanese-Australian family, as seen by one of its younger members, seven-year-old Bani. It offers an intimate insight into the life of three generations of one family as well as the wider community, as they seek to find a balance between tradition and modernity. Through his novel, Mohammed is able to offer a glimpse inside a world that, while often newsworthy, is often misperceived and misunderstood.

In addition to his writing, Mohammed says he is passionate about encouraging young people in Western Sydney to become interested in writing and to tell their own stories. To that end, he is director of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.

With his colleagues at Sweatshop, Mohammed is aiming to improve basic literacy in the community; fostering young Western Sydney would-be writers and helping them find their voices through a series of school workshops and professional writers groups.

"Ten years ago, Ivor wanted to start a Western Sydney literacy presence and my role was to find young people interested in writing. We focus on improving basic literacy at the grass roots level. It's about getting people to do it for themselves," he says.

Mohammed and his fellow author Luke have also been speaking to UWS students about their writing experiences and their books feature on the reading list for a UWS undergraduate course called "Approaches to text".

As well as his writing and Sweatshop activities, Mohammed is aiming to complete his doctorate this year. He is also looking forward to the arrival of a new baby in the family.

"It will be a busy next six months," he says revealing that he is also working on a second book which picks up where Tribes left off.

"The new book is a sequel to Tribes but now the stakes are raised as the main character is now a teenager living in a post 9/11 world. It looks at the impact of 2000 gang rapes in Sydney and how they and the 9/11 attacks impacted the psychology of young Arab men in Sydney," he says.

He is also looking forward to presenting a research seminar scheduled for November 6 which will feature eminent Arab-Australian anthropologist Professor Ghassan Hage from the University of Melbourne. The working title for the seminar is "Images and Realities in the Arab-Australian narrative", Mohammed says.

"We are both interested in talking about the over generalisations and fictions and stereotypes associated with the Arab-Australian community and how we can counteract those images with our work both creatively and academically," he says.

3 June 2015
Media Contact: Lyn Danninger

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