At 13, Michael Mohammed Ahmad wrote his first story for Westside, a literary magazine showcasing writers, artists and photographers of western Sydney.

Now a final-year English literature student, Ahmad had good reason to smile at the recent launch of Westside 08 – he’s the magazine’s editor.

“It’s a beautiful success story,” says Tim Carroll, artistic director at Bankstown Youth Development Service and founder of Westside. “You only hear bad things about young Lebanese Muslim men and this is the polar opposite: a young man who is passionate about literature and writing.”

Celebrating its 10th year, Westside gives writers of diverse cultural backgrounds a chance to express themselves in their own “accent”.

Ahmad says his approach to dealing with stereotypes and racism associated with his ethnic background is simple: “Be the best you can be. You can’t change it in one hit. One person at a time.

A manifestation of that for me is this magazine. Someone gave me a shot and I took it,” he says.

“I’ve arrived at schools to run workshops and heard the receptionist say, ‘It’s that Arabic guy’. I don’t see that as a deliberate form of racism, just ignorance. I don’t think she would have said ‘It’s that fat guy’.”

Ahmad believes Westside is not only about finding great writers, but creating and developing them. “You can bring out good writing. Through visiting schools you can show young people writing is a wonderful form of creative expression, that doesn’t rely on discipline or aggression.”

– Linda Daniele

*This article was first published in Festival News, Issue 1, 2008.

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2008