Sarah Ayoub, author of The Yearbook Committee and Hate Is Such a Strong Word talks To WestWords about why she started writing.

I started writing to make sense of my identity. Living in Western Sydney and growing up in a home where our Lebanese traditions and customs were paramount meant that I experienced a big sense of culture shock when I left my all-Lebanese Catholic school and my colourful, multi-cultural suburb for university. I thought that in many respects our culture had outdated ideals about women, and that even though I treasured my heritage, it was a big hang-up in my life. But the real world wasn’t rosy either. I encountered stereotype and racism and sadly there are many young people of Middle-Eastern heritage still experiencing that today. This is something that drives my work – I want them to see themselves in the literature and pop-culture they consume, but I want the wider world to see them for who they really are, without the sensationalism and superficiality that often accompanies their representation when they are portrayed. I know that we’re not alone and plenty of minorities and POC feel isolated and as a result face a lack of accessibility to opportunities, grants and events. Being a part of the first-ever festival focused on writers of Indigenous or culturally-diverse backgrounds gives me a platform to encourage minority voices, and to highlight the value of their own personal stories. Stories which speak of an Australia that I experience everyday, but that I don’t necessarily see in entertainment. Indigenous and culturally-diverse people are a fundamental part of our society – I’d like to see their words and reflections and insights go beyond the parameters that the wider world has drawn for them; I’d like to see them break down barriers and boundaries; and most of all, I want them to write of themselves and their experiences, even if it means confronting things that are a little unsavoury: in doing so, they are not only challenging perspectives but alleviating their own struggles and asserting their identity in a world that doesn’t recognise them for who they really are.

Join Sarah for the WestWords’  From Potential to Publishable creative writing workshop (for ages 16-18)  as well as the WestWords panel discussion What Needs to be Said, along with authors Helen Chebette and Roanna Gonsalves and panel convenor Irini Savvides.