Why He’s Top 40: For sharing Edmonton’s stories with national and international audiences, while nourishing the development of future writers and rappers.
Guilty Pleasure: “Twitter. I love sharing and learning on Twitter. But it’s hard to be present in the moment when you know there’s usually more interesting conversations being had in your pocket.”
From an early age, stories were important to Omar Mouallem – he just needed to find avenues for them. At age 17, Mouallem left his hometown of High Prairie to attend Vancouver Film School, followed by Langara College (also in Vancouver) with hopes to pursue a career in film.
“It’s the whole cliché of having to network and schmooze your way into the position you want,” says Mouallem. “I wasn’t prepared to do that. I was just this prairie boy and all I wanted to do was tell stories.”
Upon graduation, Mouallem moved to Edmonton, and used his expertise in film and music (Mouallem also moonlit as rapper A.O.K.) to write movie and music reviews.
Having found his fit in the world of publishing, Mouallem joined Avenue in 2008 – as an intern, then assistant editor, followed by associate editor – before moving on to pursue a freelance career in 2012.
As a generalist writer of essays, features and international travel pieces for publications including Metro, Wired, The Walrus, Eighteen Bridges and The Globe and Mail (to name a few), Mouallem has earned many awards.
Most recently he snagged National Magazine Awards gold for a profile he wrote of a man who held 36 people hostage at the Canadian Embassy in Beirut. The story’s a reflection of Mouallem’s love of stories with unlikely heroes (or antiheroes).
It’s perhaps why, when he served as Edmonton Public Library’s writer-in-residence last year, he ran a workshop at the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre to help kids explore their own stories through the recording of their own rap album.
“It’s important for them to see that a rapper doesn’t have to look, act and behave like a criminal,” says Mouallem.
As the editor of The Yards, a quarterly magazine set to launch next month, focused on downtown issues, this storyteller still has plenty of tales to tell.