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Meet the Sydney student taking the stage at Sydney Writers’ Festival

15 April 2019
Ferdous Bahar will share her writing at Australia's premier writing festival
Ever wonder what it would be like to share your writing to an audience of hundreds? Law student Ferdous Bahar will do just that when she gives a live reading as part of the Writers’ Collective for Diverse Women.

Ferdous is in her last semester of a combined Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications)/ Bachelor of Laws degree. Outside of uni, she works as a paralegal at Ashurst and a supervisor at Redfern Legal Centre, and is currently developing a series of short stories and essays for Sweatshop and SBS Life.

Ferdous Bahar

What will you be talking about at Sydney Writers’ Festival?

I’ll be doing a performance reading of my short story. I will be one of six women of colour who will be published in Sweatshop Women – the first-ever collection of short stories, essays and poems by Western Sydney's women of colour. Mine is a creative piece but it’s a true story, a blow-by-blow account of an interview I had with a barrister in 2017. It was during a point in my legal studies and work experience where I was desperate for some commercial law experience and, to be honest, some paid work in the law. I loved volunteering but I was in my fourth year of university and applying for any and every paralegal opportunity that I'd find on 'Seek' or 'Jora Jobs'. Like many other law students, I'd often be rejected before the interview stage but a few times I made it to the interview. The story I'm reading at SWF recounts this one interview I had with a commercial law barrister, specifically the moment she asked me to "explain this", pointing to my hijab.

What is the Writers’ Collective for Diverse Women?

The Writer's Collective for Diverse Women was launched last year by the Western Sydney literary group Sweatshop. Sweatshop is a really fantastic organisation that empowers writers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds through training and employment opportunities as well as some incredible networking opportunities. Last year the Collective ran monthly workshops in Parramatta and most workshops were facilitated by Australian women of colour authors like Randa Abdel-Fattah, Michelle de Kretser and Roanna Gonzsalves. It's been fantastic having this kind of access to women who not only understand the world of book deals and publishers, but who are bold and unapologetic about speaking truth to power and magnifying the voices of marginalised communities.

How did you get involved with Sweatshop?

A good friend of mine reached out to me and said, “hey, there’s this movement for Western Sydney women for creative writers, is this something you’d be interested in?”. She was talking about the Writers’ Collective for Diverse Women. I had an informal meeting with Sweatshop manager and editor Winnie Dunn, and I realised it was a space that would not only drastically improve my writing skills and publishing know-how but a space that would clarify my overall purpose and direction in creative writing. I am so grateful to my friend Lieu-Chi for encouraging me to join!

What encouraged you to get more serious about your creative writing?

The very short answer is: this Collective. Until I had met Winnie, I never entertained the possibility of pursuing my creative writing as seriously as I wanted to. I love writing and have been writing forever, but as a woman of colour who knew very few other women of colour writers and had little to no knowledge of the Australian publishing industry, I didn't think it was going to happen. Meeting Winnie was the turning point. I also recently met Michael Mohammed, the founder of Sweatshop, in a dinner celebrating Sweatshop's one-year partnership with SBS Life and it struck me just how fantastic they have been in helping each and every writer in this Collective realise the importance of her work. So many sentences start with "in the current political climate" but truly, in the current political climate I think it is more important than ever before that we project the voices of people from Indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds. I am grateful for the opportunity to be one of those voices and bring attention to the subtle forms of racism that I have experienced. I hope that my work emboldens other women, especially Muslim women from immigrant backgrounds, to call out offensive behaviour when they encounter it and to unapologetically express their faith.

Hear Ferdous read her short story at the Sweatshop Women panel free event on Friday 3 May.

Discounts to Sydney Writers' Festival are available for students – check the latest Student News for the code.