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Transcript: Facing demons with Michael Mohammed Ahmad

Up Next: Ep 3 - Michael Mohammed Ahmad

Courtney Ammenhauser: The Sydney Opera House acknowledges the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, traditional custodians of Tubowgule, the land on which the Opera House stands. We honour the long Gadigal history of gathering and storytelling, and acknowledge the strength and resilience of First Nations people and communities past and present.

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: I would argue 99% of people who call themselves writers or aspire to be writers will never really be able to do it. It's a bit insulting to say that, but it's fine because if it was easy, then it wouldn't be special.

Courtney Ammenhauser: Hey I’m Courtney Ammenhauser and this is Up Next, your ticket to the most exciting artists and performers coming through the Sydney Opera House doors. Join me backstage as we chat to a spectacular lineup of artists who are making waves on one of the most iconic stages in the world. Together we’ll uncover who’s up next, and how this moment in time is transforming the next 50 years of arts and culture.

Today I’m hanging out with Michael Mohammed Ahmad who is the founder of Sweatshop literacy movement and the co-writer of the play The Demon. The Demon is part of the Opera House’s Unwrapped series that highlights some of the most exciting independent creators from Australia. It’s a Lynchian crime thriller that stretches across generations and in this play, the creative team draw on their Chinese, Arab, Anglo-Celtic settler and Indigenous backgrounds to weave a surrealist allegory for the Australian demon of racism.

Michael and I sat together ahead of the play’s October 2022 season. And we spoke about his brief but emphatic acting career, his journey as a writer, and what it means for his communities to see themselves represented on the stages of the Opera House. 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad, welcome.

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Hello. And thank you for having me, and Salaam alaikum.

Courtney Ammenhauser: Thank you for being here today. I wanted to start off by asking you, you know, we here in Fairfield recording on beautiful Darug country and it's also Western Sydney. You grew up in Western Sydney and it's clear from the work that you make that it's a special place to you. What is it about Western Sydney that fosters creativity for you?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Western Sydney is the most culturally and linguistically diverse region in the country. Some might argue even the world. It's also the most densely populated. It has almost 2 million people. So in many ways it represents a microcosm of what Australia is. It also has the largest populations of people who identify as first nations. This kind of melting pot is the correct place to get a sense of who we are as a nation. 

On any random street in the western suburbs of Sydney, people could be speaking a hundred different languages at the same time. That's pretty magnificent. It also means that for me, as a writer and as somebody who's specifically interested in literature as opposed to just story, I'm interested in language. It means that we are in a region that can really push the parameters and the boundaries of what we mean by Australian language and even Australian English. It means that we are in the right place to tell the most exciting and complex and original stories about who we are as a nation. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: And you've had quite an interesting journey to become a writer. You originally wanted to be an actor. Can you tell me about how your family responded to you catching your big break in acting?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: So I had aspirations when I was growing up of being important, not being an actor. I wanted to be important. And in a kind of Western capitalist sense, celebrity and Hollywood seems to represent importance more than anything else, even more than being a politician, you know. And so the idea of being a Hollywood movie star seemed to represent importance, especially when I was growing up. And things like the Oscars were actually a really big deal. I'd watch the Oscars, and I would have fantasies of my own Oscar speech. So that was my boyhood aspirations.

And at that time, I was completely oblivious to my racialised identity, my name, my appearance, my background. None of that meant anything to me. And I didn't think that that would actually be a barrier that we learnt that we discover the barriers through race, gender, class, sexuality as we get older. By the time I was 19, I was starting to get some auditions but the only auditions for TV shows and films that I was getting were for roles as a drug dealer specifically. And this was the context, the climate at the time was when there was a lot of media reports about Middle Eastern crime, specifically in relation to drug dealing and drive by shootings and also sexual assault. So there was a lot of narratives around sexually predatory behaviour from Arab and Muslim men in Australia because of their culture and their religion.

So the only auditions I would get offered were to play Lebanese drug dealers in the show. The shows that were being produced at the time, included movies like Cedar Boys and the Combination and the Combination 2 and Convict TV shows like Underbelly, The Golden Mile and this other TV show called East-West 121, which aired on SBS. And that's the show that I auditioned for. I was cast in for episode three of Season One. I was cast as a drug dealer named Vinny Mahmoud. 

The story for Vinny, is that he is caught with a bag of drugs in his pants. And then they arrest him and make a deal with him that if he spies on his group. In return, they will not give him a high prison sentence. So fundamentally they turn him into an informant. And then the next scene, you see Vinny going to his gang. And during the interaction with this gang, they find out that he's wearing a wire. They blast his toe off. And then they drag him. And you've got to imagine that when I say it's happening to him, it's happening to me, in that I'm playing this out. And I’m there rolling on the floor screaming “my foot my foot!”

And that's basically the last you see of the character of Vinny Mahmoud. I mean, he's so insignificant, you don't even see his conclusion. At the time, I thought it was still special. Minorities have a tendency to think that any representation is good representation before we develop some critical consciousness. So just the fact that, like one of us is on TV was exciting for my family and it was exciting for me. So I brought the whole generation together, you know, my parents and my siblings and my aunts and uncles and my cousins and we’re all watching it together in the living room. Yeah. And I remember at the end of the episode, my cousin, came up to me and said, “that was hectic cuz you were the lowest piece of shit I've ever seen on TV.” 

Courtney Ammenhauser: Oh, my God. 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: And I remember that being a real epiphany for me. A really shocking moment of realisation. I had become a pawn and that I was complicit in the perpetuation of simplistic, one dimensional narratives about Arab and Muslim men as either sexual predators, gangsters, drug dealers or terrorist suspects. And it was really in that moment that I understood that I couldn't be the prop for storytelling. I needed to be the storyteller. I needed to be in control of the narratives that are spoken about us. And from that moment on, I moved into creative writing as my discipline and my form. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: And now you've written three novels, The Tribe, The Lebs, and the Other Half of You. And writing is this really introspective art form. How do you think that writing this trilogy helped you to understand yourself better? 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Firstly, in response to the story I just told you, the concept in cultural theory of the burden of representation is that many minorities, First Nations people and people of colour often feel the pressure to create positive representations to counteract all the negative, negative representations. And that's a burden because we don't necessarily want to do that. 

You know, all these TV shows about us and all these films about us represent us as drug dealers. I don't want to perpetuate that stereotype. But the reality is that there is anti-social behaviour in our community. And so for me, the response to taking control of the narrative and speaking for ourselves wasn't about telling a positive story or a clichéd romantic, happy story to counteract the negative stories. It was to tell a complex story to counteract simplistic and one dimensional stories. And by that I mean providing some nuance and socio political context that helps a reader understand where a certain antisocial behaviour might emerge from. 

Now, in terms of the novels themselves, so the genre that I write in is called autobiographical fiction, it's drawn loosely from my own life. But I think it's really important for Australians, specifically white Australians, but I would broaden out to all Australians to understand that people of colour and first nations people have the capacity to be artists. Everything I'm writing is not just a diary entry revealing my racist, homophobic, misogynistic thoughts. These are characters that I've invented and that even though I am drawing from my lived experiences, I as an artist, I'm in complete control of what I'm creating, and I'm doing it to meet certain purposes and certain goals and to try to get my reader to come along with me on a journey that hopefully brings them to a place of awareness through that journey. And so that's a very tricky thing to do. That’s actually a skill.

Which is why through my work at Sweatshop, but also through my craft as a creative writer, we focus on the art of storytelling and the art of literature as something that can be learnt. And in my case I have an arts degree and honours degree and a PHD and you put all that together with your lived experiences to create what I hope is good art. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: And you just mentioned sweatshop. You are the founder of Sweatshop. Can you tell us a little bit about how it all began?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Sweatshop is a literacy movement based in western Sydney that is devoted to empowering First Nations people and people of colour through reading, writing and critical thinking. I was deeply inspired in my in my during my postgraduate studies by the work of an important African-American feminist activist and scholar and writer named bell hooks.

She argued that all steps towards freedom and justice in any culture are always dependent on mass based literacy movements, because degrees of literacy determine how we see what we see. And so this enabled me to recognise that the information that the young people in our neighbourhood, this is culturally and linguistically diverse people in Western Sydney, the information that the young people in our neighbourhood were consuming and how they were absorbing that and internalising that, was determined by their level of literacy, by their ability to grab onto a piece of information and deconstruct it, make sense of it. 

The second quote that I learnt from bell hooks was the concept of coming to voice. She defines the concept of coming to voice as the act of moving from silence to speech as a revolutionary gesture. These two ideas, the ideas on coming to voice and literacy are actually two sides of the same coin. One is about understanding representation. It's about being able to reverse engineer information. And the second is about creating alternative representations. And I built this idea of a literacy movement called Sweatshop around that coin, around those two ideas, empowering the young people in our community to think critically about the information they fed and then giving them a platform to create alternative representations.

Courtney Ammenhauser: So Sweatshop has been a big part of the work that you do. How has it shaped you both as a writer, but also just as a human being?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: The majority of the public appearances that I do are related to my own, my books and my play, The Demon, for example. However, it's about 10% of what I actually do. 90% of what I do is my work at Sweatshop and more broadly is my working community. It's about giving back to the people in my community and my communities, the multiple communities that I identify with and trying to empower them to have a platform to speak for themselves. 

The work of Sweatshop is designed to create a phenomenon referred to as mirroring. So a really good example of mirroring is the very famous photograph of Obama, there's a young boy, a young African-American boy invited with his family to the White House to meet the president. And in this photograph, the president is bending over and the boy is feeling his hair. What prompted the creation of this photograph? Is the question that the boy asked the president. He asked him, is your hair like mine? And an Obama bends over and says, “Well, why don't you feel it and decide for yourself?” 

This is a very good example of the symbolic power of representation. I, as an Arab and as a muslim, I'm very critical of Obama's presidency, as are many people. There's a lot of things that he let us down on in very tangible ways including, for example, his policies on the Middle East. However, I value the symbolic importance of an African-American president, and it is embodied in that photograph. Just the significance of young people of colour seeing themselves reflected in these kinds of positions of authority can be transformative. And in the same way one of the principals of Sweatshop has been about mirroring, has been about creating spaces where we get to offer an alternate alternative complex and empowering representations of First Nations people and people of colour by the communities themselves. That gives hope and gives and gives trajectory for the next generation. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: The Other Half of You is your most recent novel, which you wrote. You were writing the trilogy over the span of a decade. How do you think that your writing changed and evolved over that time?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Firstly I'll say that the three books that I've written, The Tribe, The Lebs and The Other Half of You are described as a trilogy because they're all autobiographical to some extent, and they are written in chronological order. However I didn't write them as a trilogy. I wrote them as standalone novels that you can read on their own and they're fully fleshed out so that a person can just jump in with any book and read and know where they are from the beginning to the end. 

But what I find so fascinating about the journey of writing these books is when you look at the Tribe, it's a quite a small book, it's a little square book. And then if you look at the Lebs, it's kind of a more mid-size book. So it looks like a more conventional novel than the tribe, but it's not in that kind of large trade paperback edition because it was quite small as well. But then the Other Half of You is a very big document, 100,000 words, and it's published as a very big, dense book that's about 350 pages. And it's so interesting that you could almost see me growing up with the books if you literally put the books next to each other. They grow up, they are getting bigger. And I like to think that as I grew up as a writer, as I matured as a writer, I got better as a writer, and I became more determined to push myself as a writer to write more ambitious works. And I would like to think that as writers, we do improve. We learn lessons from the previous book, and we continue to challenge ourselves. And I think that journey is very clear in the creation of these three works.

One thing that I think is really important about the final book, the Other Half of You is that there's a kind of level of tenderness that I was able to infuse in the work that I wasn't ever able to create prior to the other half of you, because it's written as a letter to my son. So my son is named Kahlil, named after the great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. And, you know, he is the product of an Arab Australian Muslim dad and an Anglo Australian mother who comes from a very atheistic, middle class family. And our story of coming together was an incredibly challenging one. There was tremendous amounts of pressure from the families for us not to be together. 

And it's really written as a letter to my son to explain how he got here. And so because I'm talking to my son, there's a little bit more of a kind of affection, you know, a gentleness. I'd like to think that you still get that kind of raw, rough, gritty Western Sydney vernacular that makes our language the language of Western Sydney writing so special. But I feel like it's kind of layered with a, with a sense of fatherhood and parenthood that really gave me perspective and vision on the next kind of incarnation of the type of writer I want to be. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: I want to chat about the Demon now, For listener could you give us a description of the plot? 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: The Demon is a play that I have been working on in collaboration with Dr. Rachel Swain, a dear friend and collaborator of mine, and who's the director of the show. It is a play that we've been co-producing, co-writing together for ten years. I'm going to say that I don't really know how to articulate the plot, but I will talk about the politics of the work. There is a compelling story that is very action, heavy, very exciting, that's drama heavy. And that has some really amazing dialogue and some important sequences of events that link together three Shared histories, histories of First Nations people, Asian Australians and Arab Australians.

Courtney Ammenhauser: Speaking of the politics, would you like to share some of the themes in the demon? 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: I think that the the demon is about shared histories of xenophobia, and it tries to link three distinct histories together. So the the xenophobia that manifests on this land, as soon as it becomes colonised, as soon as the the First Fleet arrive and begin the process of genocide against the First Nations people. And then after this, is the xenophobia that manifests against Chinese communities in the context of the Gold Rushes, in the context of Burrangong and the Lambing Flat riots, and then leading all the way up into Western Sydney looking at the post-9-11 hysteria and moral panic around the Arab and Muslim communities in light of events like the 2005 Cronulla riots and the 2019 Christchurch massacre. 

So we see these are linked histories of xenophobia. What's so frightening is because it took ten years to write. It was confronting to see how history had been repeating itself and reproducing itself. So we're talking about these old histories. We're talking about colonisation. We're talking about the Lambing Flat riots. We're going back 20 years to talk about the September 11 attacks. But then in 2019, while we're still developing the script, an Australian born white supremacist goes into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and slaughters 51 Muslims peacefully conducting their Friday prayers. About 12 months later, the first stories of COVID-19 are emerging, and we see a huge rise in anti-Asian violence across Australia and around the world. And then straight after that, George Floyd is murdered and we're suddenly witnessing the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement, which draws tremendous attention to the mistreatment of First Nations people here in Australia, specifically around deaths in custody, 500 deaths in custody since 1993. And so we're seeing this linked history of xenophobia from hundreds of years ago to the post 9-11 era re-emerging in the last three years with Christchurch, COVID and Black Lives Matter. And so without us intending for this to be the case, the Demon has become even more relevant and more urgent. The demon of xenophobia is a demon that we literally and metaphorically want to bury. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: Absolutely. And, you know, as you mentioned before, it's been ten years in the making that you've been working on it. And yeah talking about the recent history as well it's still present. What's it been like going from those initial conversations when you came up with the idea to bringing it to life on a stage now?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: You know what’s so interesting was that I was just a kid. You know I was just starting off in my career when Rachel first approached me. In fact, it was very shortly after my experience with East West 101, you know, like I'd only really just left the acting world and had started to enter into professional writing, studying at university and running a writing programme at the time called West Side Publications, which was the early incarnation of what is now Sweatshop. 

Rachel came to my office, my little grungy office in Bankstown at the time and told me that I had been recommended to her as someone that could potentially write the dialogue for these characters. You know, it required some foresight on her part, you know, like they were kind of predicting who the successful and leading Arab Australian writers might be and who would actually be able to create something meaningful and significant as the years go by and as we developed this. So, you know, this is before I had a doctorate in creative arts. It was before I'd had written any one of these three novels that you were talking about. And it was before Sweatshop existed. So it was very, very early on. And in a way, I had to kind of learn to write the play as I grew into it. And of course, the entire world around me kept changing. So the politics of the play kept changing. Until it really cemented itself with the with the kind of the cycle of xenophobia that revealed itself from 2019 onwards. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: And how do you go about navigating the different forms of being a playwright and a novelist? Do you find it's challenging or what, what's your experience switching between the two? 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: There are technical differences, which, of course, somebody who is very educated and trained in creative writing should be able to do. If you're skilled in the form and of course, when you're talking when I'm talking about teaching creative writing and when I'm talking about studying creative writing for ten years, we learn about as much as is imaginable in terms of just the technical abilities to do it. So once you've kind of got all those technical skills, then it becomes to me really about one simple concept across every single form, whether you're writing novels, whether you're writing a play, or whether you're writing non-fiction or poetry. I don't dabble in all the forms. I'm very restricted to non-fiction, prose and playwriting. 

But as an editor and as the director of Sweatshop, I teach all the forms. I edit poets, I work with poets for example. The number one thing that connects all of these creative writing forms together is a concept that we actually teach in creative writing at the university, which is referred to as an original contribution to knowledge. So when you're creating a piece of art, whether it's a whether it's a play or whether it's, say, a novel, what you're seeking to do is contribute something to the world of knowledge that the collected knowledge of the human race that is new, that is original, that hasn't been done before. That's a very, very difficult thing to achieve, which is why so many people who aspire to be writers are not very good at it. I would argue 99% of people who call themselves writers or aspire to be writers will never really be able to do it and that's fine. It's a bit insulting to say that, but it's fine because if it was easy, then it wouldn't be special. What makes great art special is that it's actually very hard to do as hard as any other form. So the idea of creating an original contribution to knowledge is always what's driving me. So when I write a sentence, if one of my characters is saying something to someone else, whether it's in a play or whether it's in a novel, if I'm setting up a scene or a sequence of events in a play or in a novel, I always go back to the question, is this scene I've created? Is this dialogue, is this moment? Is this description an original contribution? Has it been done before or is it reproducing, tired and boring clichés? And if it's an original contribution to knowledge, then I trust that the audience is going to appreciate its value and its quality.

Courtney Ammenhauser: The Demon has a really great team attached to it. What's it been like collaborating with people from different fields?

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Incredibly significant. I can say the classic things like, I love this team so much. They're so awesome and they're so talented 

Courtney Ammenhauser: Blowing me away. 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Yeah. And you know, in closing, like, you can see us all on stage hugging and kissing each other. But but actually, there's something more technically important when I say it's significant, which is how do you make a work that is looking at First Nations experiences of genocide and ongoing dispossession. How do you make a work that is looking at the ongoing xenophobia and demonisation and violence against Asian communities in Australia from the moment they arrive? How do you make a work that looks at Islamophobia and anti-Arabness? And how do you make a work that links these three legacies together? And then also attempts to address issues of orientalism and colonialism and imperialism. Like how do you make a work that addresses all these issues on your own? You can't because I don't inhabit all of those different identities. So you can only make it collaboratively and you can only make it with the communities themselves. And you can't make it with the communities in a consultative way that is an old white colonial model. You have to make it together in collaboration with each other, where everybody is empowered through the experience, where everybody is invested financially, professionally, where everybody grows through the process and everybody makes a contribution to knowledge that expands expands the capacity of Australia to be thinking critically about itself. And so to bring together such a culturally and linguistically diverse team for a show like this, and for a story like this is the only way. And so, of course, when we talk about the actors, when we talk about the the other writers that I worked with, when we talk about the directors and the the choreography and the stage management, the dramaturgy, when we're talking about it and we say that the the team who created this reflect on every level, the, the people that are being spoken about and spoken for in the show. This is the only way that we can ethically make a work in the year 2022. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah, it's that whole thing of, like, nothing about me without me. 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Exactly.

Courtney Ammenhauser: The show's got a season at the Opera House, which is very exciting. Did you ever think that your work would be on at the house? 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: No, I didn't. And it wasn't a goal of mine. My goals have always been about people, you know, and I'm not saying this in a romantic way. just to just to establish what my views are and how I feel about the work I create. Once I'd had the epiphany that I no longer wanted to be rich and famous and a Hollywood movie star. 

Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah. 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Once I'd had the realisation that there was something toxic about the way our community was represented, I really didn't only transform the field of work that I was in, you know, move into writing, but I also transformed what its purpose was. I didn't want to be world famous anymore and I didn't want to be rich. What I wanted to do was create art that inspired and empowered the people I cared about and that I loved. And, and so my work has always been focussed on creating a, an experience for an audience that pushes them as far as they can be pushed to ask hard questions and hopefully to have some kind of transformative experience and, and an experience that we share together not one that is me just being a teacher, but maybe always being a student and a teacher trying to listen to my audience and create work that respects their interpretations.

But here's the thing about putting on a work at the Opera House. I was very fortunate when I was starting off to get a few gigs out like, say, Belvoir, for example, Belvoir Street Theatre. And I remember finding out when I was a lot younger that Belvoir was a quite a respected and very loved space. And when you go and you perform there, you'd get quite a middle class, primarily white Australian audience who really appreciate that kind of alternative space. You know, this little theatre in on a random street in the inner west, there's something very alternative and trendy about that. But when my family members and my Arab Australian friends from these, you know, lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the western suburbs of Sydney were rocking up to Belvoir. They were just like, Bro, this is just some trashy little theatre. Like, what are you doing here? You know? And it's, it's really that contrast between people who have privilege, a kind of look for alternatives. You know, they play it down. And people who don't have privilege play it up. And there's a name for that is conspicuous consumption. 

That's why, the kind of the common thing that a lot of my friends used to pick up when they go to Newtown is, “bro, the people here are rich, but they act poor.” And in contrast, you see a lot of people in the western suburbs of Sydney like really opting for the most expensive TV or the most expensive handbag or, you know, the most expensive car because they're trying to compensate for their low socioeconomic status, performing a level of privilege and wealth to hide the socioeconomic disadvantages. And so, you know, it was so interesting to realise that a space like Belvoir could be very much appreciated in one socio political context, but not the other. And the other is the one that matters more to me, is my own community, how they receive that, this kind of work. And so for them, for, you know, for a lot of the communities that I grew up around, they can't really understand the value of some of these more alternative spaces, theatre spaces in Sydney they have a kind of more conventional understanding of what theatre is.

And really for them the Opera House is the symbol of the very best and the highest point of theatre that you can reach and that you can have. And so I'm so excited about it at this point. Now, having finished a play and knowing that it's going to be put on at the Opera House because I know it, it'll mean a lot to our communities. The working class, culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Western Sydney. We have a show that is born and bred in Western Sydney and that represents our communities and it's being put on in the most iconic theatre in the country. I'm hopeful that for that reason some of these communities from Western Sydney are going to have the chance to come and see it.

Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah. And see, you know themselves on the stage as well. To wrap up, we like to ask our guests about people on their radar or, you know, artists who are coming up that we should keep an eye on. Is there anyone that you think is, you know, going to make some waves? 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Oh yes of course. That's a terrific question. So firstly, I can't talk about everybody because I run a nationally renowned, very successful literacy movement. So there are just so many amazing arts practitioners that I'm working with at the moment. So the first thing I would say is this for anybody who's interested in my work and in the work that I'm doing in my community in the western suburbs of Sydney, please check out the Sweatshop website. the WS stands for Western Sydney. So that's how you remember it. But you can jump on our website and find out about all the amazing artists that we're working with. You can check out some of the publications, the amazing anthologies and books that we've published from these up and coming superstar writers.

Now, some of the style writers that I'm really excited about in the next, say, 12 months. Shirley Le, who's a Vietnamese Australian writer who grew up in Yagoona in western Sydney, has a novel coming out called Funny Ethnics. She's just signed with Affirm Press. It'll be out in March of next year. Iit is an autobiographical fictional novel about her experiences as a Vietnamese Australian woman growing up in the western suburbs. So keep an eye out for that one. 

And then you've got Sara Saleh, who's an important Palestinian Australian award winning poet who's going to release her debut novel next year as well. Also with Affirm Press. And Sara’s book is called Songs for the Dead and the Living. And it's, say, an intergenerational diasporic novel about the experience of being a Palestinian Australian. And I think, again, it's an incredibly important novel, especially as we have more and more intense and more honest conversations about the plight of the Palestinian people. And I think Sara's book is going to be a real game changer for that conversation. 

And then lastly, a writer that I'm very, very excited about is Winnie Dunn, whose debut novel is coming out next year with Hachette, Australia, so a multinational publisher. Winnie’s book is called Dirt Poor Islanders. I guess the other side of the Crazy Rich Asians coin. And it's, believe it or not, the first Tongan Australian novel ever published. And it is frightening to think that after hundreds of years of Pacifica communities engaging with Indigenous communities, that there's never been a mainstream novel yet that represents the Pacifica community. And so Winnie will be the first. She  happens to also be the general manager of Sweatshop. The editor of a new anthology that just came out called Another Australia, which you can find on the sweatshop website. And so I'm particularly excited about Wendy's debut novel because I think it's going to make a very important contribution to Australian literature.

Courtney Ammenhauser: Thank you so much for coming in today. It's been a real treat. 

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: Thank you and thank you very much for having me.

Courtney Ammenhauser: That was Michael Mohammed Ahmad, writer, playwright and founder of Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement. I’m Courtney Ammenhauser and this has been Up Next, a podcast from the Sydney Opera House. From Audiocraft, the show is produced by Bernadette Phương Nam Nguyễn mixed by Glen Morrow, executive producer is Selena Shannon. From Sydney Opera House, Head of Digital Programming is Stuart Buchanan, and Digital Programming Coordinator is Christie Yip. The Up Next theme music is by Milan Ring. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.