BIPOC Writers Connect

BIPOC Writers Connect
Facilitating Mentorship, Creating Community

October 29, 2020
8:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

November 19, 2020
8:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

BIPOC Writers Connect Web Banner


Last year, The Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets invited selected Black, Indigenous, and racialized emerging writers from the Greater Toronto Area to connect with industry professionals, funding officers, and established authors. Each attendee left feeling energized and inspired about their own writing practice. We are pleased to be able to continue and expand this program this year with Toronto and Vancouver events.

We are committed to cultivating space where BIPOC writers can share tools, strategies, feedback, and knowledge. We are also cognizant of the continuing uncertainties and risks surrounding COVID-19. The Union and the League have monitored announcements from public health authorities and each level of government in Toronto and Vancouver since we launched the conference in April. After much consideration toward the health and safety of each participant, volunteer and staff members, TWUC and LCP have ultimately decided to move forward with adapting both conferences for online delivery.

We are confident that BIPOC Writers Connect will be a fulfilling, exciting, and inspiring event for Black, Indigenous, and racialized emerging and established writers. Amid the uncertainties we are all facing in these unprecedented times, we believe that this opportunity for mentorship and community is more valuable than ever before.  


Manuscript Evaluation & Mentorship 

Each successful applicant will be paired with a professionally published Black, Indigenous, or racialized writer, who will have had an opportunity to read their work-in-progress in advance of the online conference. At BIPOC Writers Connect, writers have the chance to take part in a one-on-one discussion with their selected mentor for feedback on their submitted work-in-progress.

Toronto Mentors (beginning at top row, left to right): Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, Kamal Al-Solaylee, Ramabai Espinet, Farah Heron, Nadia L. Hohn, Djamila Ibrahim, Carrianne Leung, Thea Lim, Kai Cheng Thom. Additional mentor TBA.

Vancouver Mentors (beginning after Kai Cheng Thom, left to right): Hiromi Goto, Chelene Knight, Helen Knott, Sonnet L’Abbé, Doretta Lau, Jen Sookfong Lee, Danny Ramadan, Monique Gray Smith. Additional mentors TBA.


Mohmed Abdulkarim Ali Photo Credit: Philip Sutherland. Kamal Al-Solaylee Photo Credit: Gary Gould. Hiromi Goto Photo Credit: Dana Putnam. Doretta Lau Photo Credit: Ming Kai Leung.

Grant Writing Essentials 


This workshop will be led by funding officers in each conference region, reviewing the grant writing process, and equipping each attendee with the tools to construct a compelling grant application. Selected conference applicants will learn the dos and don’ts of navigating government funding opportunities for artists, and have their uncertainties aboutarts funding answered along the way.

Toronto Facilitators (top and bottom): Catalina Fellay-Dunbar (Toronto Arts Council), Bushra Junaid (Ontario Arts Council)

Vancouver Facilitator: Facilitator TBA.

Connect with Literary Professionals 

Our online conference will still provide guided networking opportunities between conference guests, which include established authors, industry professionals, and other emerging writers.

First Page Challenge & Industry Panel

Join us for a two-part closing panel, featuring literary industry professionals at each stage along a writer’s journey toward getting published. First, panelists will offer on-the-spot expertise after hearing the first pages of anonymously submitted manuscripts.* Following the first page challenge, there will be a moderated discussion on some of the challenges, pressures, and opportunities that come with immersing oneself into the world of writing.  

Toronto Panelists (furthest left to right): Akin Akinwumi (Willenfield Literary Agency), Whitney French (Dundurn Press), Victoria Liao (Augur Magazine and Looseleaf Magazine). Additional speaker TBA.

Vancouver Panelists (furthest right to left): Brian Lam (Arsenal Pulp Press), Jessica Johns (Room Magazine). Additional speakers TBA.


Jessica Johns Photo Credit: Burhan Osman. Victoria Liao Photo Credit: Kerrie Seljak-Byrne

*Applicants can to decide whether or not to allow their manuscript/work-in-progress to be evaluated during this session, keeping in mind that anything read aloud for this challenge will be anonymized.

Accessibility & Accommodations

  • The Union has set aside some funding to accommodate tech rentals for participants who may require. 
  • This event was created in response to the unique barriers faced by Black, Indigenous, and racialized emerging writers navigating the literary industry.

Learn more about accessibility at the Union

Land Acknowledgment

While BIPOC Writers Connect has moved online, the vast majority of participants reside in two locations, the first of which in Tkaronto, a Mohawk word which translates to “Where The Trees Meet The Water,” or “The Gathering Place.” Tkaronto is bound by Dish With One Spoon, a treaty between the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee to share the territory, promote peace and protect the land.

Participants attending the second mentorship conference are on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples–Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.

TWUC acknowledges the histories of these lands, and any other Nations who have cared for the land - recorded and unrecorded. We pay our respects to Canada’s first storytellers.


BIPOC Writers Connect Facilitating Mentorship, Creating Community is a free event, but advance application is required. Applications are now closed, and results will be sent to all applicants by August 2020. 

More Information

For more information about this event, contact Membership, Equity & Engagement Coordinator Jessica Kirk at

Participant Bios


Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and lived in the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands before immigrating to Canada as a teenager. He currently lives in Toronto. Angry Queer Somali Boy is his first book.

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Kamal Al-Solaylee, a professor of journalism at Ryerson University, is the author of the national bestselling memoir Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes which won the 2013 Toronto Book Award and was a finalist for the CBC’s Canada Reads, the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction. His latest book, Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), was hailed as "brilliant" by The Walrus magazine and "essential reading" by the Globe and Mail. It was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for Nonfiction, the Trillium Book Award and won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. He was previously a theatre critic at the Globe and Mail and has written reviews and features on arts and politics for all major Canadian publications, including Toronto StarNational PostThe WalrusToronto LifeQuill & Quire and Literary Review of Canada

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Ramabai Espinet was born in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Toronto. She is an academic, a writer, and critic. Her published works include the novel The Swinging Bridge, the collection of poetry Nuclear Seasons, and the children’s books The Princess of Spadina and Ninja’s Carnival.

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Hiromi Goto is an emigrant from Japan who gratefully resides on the Unceded Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil Waututh Territories. Her first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms, was the 1995 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book, Canada and Caribbean Region, and co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Award. Her second book, The Kappa Child, received the 2001 James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award (now known as the Otherwise Award). She’s published three novels for children and youth, a book of poetry, and a collection of short stories. Her other honours include The Sunburst Award and the Carl Brandon Parallax Award. Her first graphic novel, Shadow Life, with artist Ann Xu, will be published in 2020 with First Second Books. Hiromi is currently at work trying to decolonize her relationship to writing, and to be a responsible guest on Indigenous lands. 

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Farah Heron weaves complicated story arcs and uplifting happily ever afters in her daydreams while pursuing careers in human resources and psychology. She started writing those stories down a few years ago, and never looked back. She writes romantic comedies and women’s fiction full of huge South Asian families, delectable food, and most importantly, brown people falling stupidly in love. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, along with a gerbil and a rabbit. She is considering getting a cat. Farah’s debut novel, The Chai Factor, was released by HarperCollins Canada in June of 2019. It has been named one of the summer’s best books by The Globe and Mail, and has been praised in Book Riot, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Bustle and more. Farah’s next release will be will be The Right Spice, by Forever/Grand Central Books.

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Nadia L. Hohn is an educator, writer, and overall artist. She is the author of six books, incluing the Malaika's Costume series and the recent A LIKKLE MISS LOU: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice. Nadia completed degrees at the University of Waterloo and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She has studied writing at George Brown College, Voices of our Nation (VONA), Highlights Foundation, and Humber College School of Writers. She has presented in the UAE, UK, US, Trinidad, and all across Canada. When Nadia is not reading, traveling, or daydreaming, she is teaching and writing in Toronto. 

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Djamila Ibrahim's debut short story collection Things Are Good Now was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Djamila’s stories have been shortlisted for the University of Toronto’s Penguin Random House Canada Student Award for Fiction and Briarpatch Magazine’s creative writing contest. Things Are Good Now was one of Now Magazine's 10 Books To Be Excited About in 2018 and has made several CBC lists of Books/Writers To Watch For as well as being reviewed favourably in many other publications. The Globe and Mail has called Things Are Good Now "[an] essential fiction for right now.”  Djamila was formerly a senior advisor for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. She now lives and works in Toronto.

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Chelene Knight is the author of the Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and longlisted for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals plus the Globe and Mail, the Walrus and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized and Making RoomLove Me TrueSustenanceThe Summer Bookand Black Writers Matter, winner of the 2020 Saskatchewan Book Award.

The Toronto Star called Knight, "one of the storytellers we need most right now." Knight was the previous managing editor at Room magazine, and the previous festival director for the Growing Room Festival in Vancouver. She is now CEO of her own writer's studio, Breathing Space Creating Literary Studio, and she works as an associate literary agent with Transatlandic Agency. Chelene often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling. 

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Helen Knott is a Dane Zaa and Cree social worker, truth-teller, and writer from Prophet River First Nations. Her debut book, In My Own Moccasins, was longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize and shortlisted for one of the BC Yukon Book Prizes. She has work published in a film format through CBC Arts, and her advocacy work has been the feature of a CBC Shortdoc, Peace River Rising. Helen's writing has been published by the Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, and Chatelaine.

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Sonnet L’Abbé is the author of three collections of poetry, A Strange Relief and Killarnoe, and Sonnet’s Shakespeare, which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry PrizeTheir chapbook, Anima Canadensis, won the 2017 bp Nichol Chapbook Award. In 2000, they won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35. In 2014, they were the guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry in English. L’Abbé lives on Vancouver Island and is a professor of Creative Writing and English at Vancouver Island University. 

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Doretta Lau is the author of the short story collection How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014). The book was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and was named by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2014. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. She has written on arts and culture for Artforum International, South China Morning Post, The Wall Street Journal Asia, ArtReview, and LEAP. She completed an MFA in Writing at Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Day One, Event, Grain Magazine, Prairie Fire, PRISM International, Ricepaper, Room Magazine, sub-TERRAIN, and Zen Monster. She splits her time between Vancouver and Hong Kong, where she is writing a comedic novel about an inept company struggling to open a theme park about death and an essay collection about navigating volcanoes, illness, and other enormities on the worst timeline. She is the cofounder of an editorial and marketing services company Start to Finish Agency.

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Jen Sookfong Lee was born and raised in Vancouver’s East Side, and she now lives with her son in North Burnaby. Her books include The Conjoined, nominated for International Dublin Literary Award and a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, The Better Mother, a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, The End of EastGentlemen of the Shade, and Chinese New Year. Jen teaches at The Writers’ Studio Online with Simon Fraser University, edits fiction for Wolsak & Wynn, and co-hosts the literary podcast, Can’t Lit

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Carrianne Leung is a fiction writer and educator. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Equity Studies from OISE/University of Toronto. Her debut novel, The Wondrous Woo (Inanna Publications), was shortlisted for the 2014 Toronto Book Awards. Her collection of linked stories, That Time I Loved You, was released in 2018 by HarperCollins and in 2019 in the U.S. by Liveright Publishing. It was also shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards and longlisted for Canada Reads 2019. Her work has appeared in The PuritanRicepaperThe Globe and MailRoom MagazinePrairie Fire, and Open Book Ontario.

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Thea Lim is the author of An Ocean of Minutes, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her writing has been published in Granta, The Paris ReviewGuernica, The Globe and MailThe Guardian, Best Canadian Stories, and others. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast. She grew up in Singapore and now lives with her family in Toronto, where she is a professor of creative writing. 

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Danny Ramadan is an award-winning Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker and LGBTQ-refugees activist. The Clothesline Swing, Ramadan’s debut novel, won the Independent Publisher Book Award for LGBT Fiction, The Canadian Authors Association’s award for Best Fiction, and was shortlisted for Evergreen Award, Sunburst Award and a Lambda Award. It was long listed for Canada Reads 2018. The novel is translated to French, German and Hebrew. His children book, Salma the Syrian Chef, is released in March 2020 by Annick Press. Ramadan is currently working on his next novel, The Foghorn Echoes, a collection of short fiction, The Syrian Survival Notebook, and a YA novel, Son of the Silk Maker. He was named among the Top Immigrants to Canada 2017 as well as awarded the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Award for Excellency. He is currently finishing his Masters in Fine Arts – Creative Writing at UBC and lives with his husband, Matthew Ramadan, in Vancouver.

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Monique Gray Smith is an award-winning, and best-selling author of books for children and youth, as well as adults. Her works include; My Heart Fills With Happiness, You Hold Me Up, Tilly and the Crazy Eights and soon to be released, When We Are Kind. She is a proud mom of teenage twins, and is of Cree, Lakota and Scottish ancestry. Monique is well known for her storytelling, spirit of generosity and belief that love is medicine. She and her family are blessed to live on the traditional territory of the WSÁNEĆ territory. 

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Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, community worker, adult educator, wicked witch and lasagna lover based in Toronto, the traditional lands of many Indigenous peoples including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat.  She is the author of several award-winning books in multiple genres, including the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir, the picture books From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, and the non-fiction collection I HOPE WE CHOOSE LOVE. Kai Cheng is a winner of the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Writers, as well as a Stonewall Honour Book Award. 

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Akin Akinwumi is founder and principal agent at Willenfield Literary Agency, an international boutique agency at the intersections of contemporary literature, arts, and culture. He represents literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, and poetry. His clients include writers who have won or have been nominated, longlisted, or shortlisted for the CBC Short Story and Nonfiction Prize, Writers’ Trust McClelland/Stewart Journey Prize, Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Pushcart Prize, Sawiris Cultural Prize, National Magazine Award, New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, PEN Open Book Award, Foreword INDIES Book Award, Santa Fe Writers’ Project Literary Award, and many others. You can find him on Twitter @AEAkinwumi

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Catalina Fellay-Dunbar is the Dance & Literary Arts Officer for the Toronto Arts Council, responsible for the management of dance and literary grants programs. Catalina has spent many years as a dance artist, educator and advocate. Her professional dance experience has long focused on a personal heritage in Flamenco and Classical Spanish dance. Catalina has a BFA and MA in Dance Studies at York University, an MA from the Drama Centre at the University of Toronto, and certification in Movement Analysis from the Laban Institute for Movement Studies. As a PhD candidate in Dance Studies at York University, her research examines the intersections between cultural policy and dance arts from fluid, pluralistic perspectives. Catalina comes to TAC after serving as co-chair of the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists - Ontario Chapter. 

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Whitney French is a storyteller and a multi-disciplinary artist. She is the editor of Black Writers Matter, a critically acclaimed anthology published by University of Regina Press in 2019. Her writing has been published in Geist Magazine, Canthius Journal and The Quill and Quire and anthologized in Black Notes: Young Black Voices (2017) and The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry (2010)Currently she lives in Toronto, Canada where she works as an acquisitions editor for Dundurn Press. 

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Jessica Johns is a Nehiyaw-English-Irish aunty and member of Sucker Creek First Nation in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta and is currently living on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She is the Managing Editor for Room Magazine, the festival director for the 2020 Growing Room Literary & Arts festival, and a co-organizer of the Indigenous Brilliance reading series. 

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Bushra Junaid is Outreach and Development Manager at the Ontario Arts Council and manages the Skills and Career Development: Indigenous Arts Professionals and Arts Professionals of Colour and Deaf and Disability Arts programs. Born in Montreal and raised in St. John’s, Bushra has spent more than a decade supporting the development and artistic practices of artists from a diverse range of communities and cultures. Bushra has also worked in social housing, low income and homeless initiatives, and newcomer and refugee settlement. As an artist, Bushra explores history, memory and representation through mixed media collage, drawing and painting. Recent exhibitions include They Forgot That We Were Seeds (Carleton University Art Gallery), and Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art (Royal Ontario Museum, Musée des Beaux Arts, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia), among others. Bushra received a Bachelor of Environmental Design and a Masters of Architecture from the Technical University of Nova Scotia. 

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Brian Lam is the publisher and president of Arsenal Pulp Press, based in Vancouver. A graduate of the University of Victoria’s creative writing program, has been with Arsenal since 1984, becoming co-owner of the company in 1992. He is a former president of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, a current board member of the Association of Canadian Publishers, and a former board member of the Association for the Export of Canadian Books. He won the Community Builder Award from the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop in 2014, the Ivy Award from the Toronto International Festival of Authors in 2018, and the Publishing Professional Award from Lambda Literary in the US in 2020. 

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Victoria Liao is a mad, queer, Chinese-Canadian creator based in Toronto. She edits for Augur Magazine and Looseleaf Magazine, and some of her writing can be found in The SpectatorialGoose: An annual review of fictionRicepaper, and Living Hyphen. She reads, writes, and dreams about fantasy worlds where marginalized people can tell their stories and every cat gets its cuddles. She cares about editing compassionately and collaboratively, and exploring the power speculative fiction has to imagine alternate, healing futures. You can find her online doing makeup or talking about video games @suntorya. 

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This event is funded by the Ontario Arts Council with additional sponsorship support from Historic Joy Kogawa House.