[Skip to Content] download Acrobat Reader
Ontario Arts Council
Grants Advanced Search
Grants Advanced Search

Fuel for Fire: Panelists Profiles



Kamal Al-Solaylee

Kamal-Al-Solaylee.pngKamal Al-Solaylee 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 Canada Reads. His latest book, Brown was hailed as "brilliant" by The Walrus and "essential reading" by the Globe and Mail and was shortlisted for the 2016 Governor General Literary Awards in non-fiction. Mr. Al-Solaylee was previously a theatre critic at the Globe and Mail and has written reviews and features on arts and politics for major Canadian publications including the Toronto Star, National Post, The Walrus, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Quill & Quire, Literary Review of Canada and ELLE Canada. He holds a PhD in English and is an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto.


Gwen Benaway

Gwen-Benaway.pngGwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013 and her second collection of poetry, Passage, was released in 2016 by Kegedonce Press. Her third collection of poetry, What I Want is Not What I Hope For, is forthcoming from Bookthug in 2018. An emerging two-spirited trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker’s Award for a Young Author and in 2016 she was awarded a Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers Honour of Distinction by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally.


Ayesha Chatterjee

Ayesha-Chatterjee.pngAyesha Chatterjee was born and raised in India, has lived in England, the USA and Germany, and now calls Toronto home. Her poetry has appeared in The Missing Slate (Pakistan), The Moth (Ireland), The Rusty Toque (Canada) and elsewhere, as well as being featured by the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective and on the official website of Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke. Her first collection The Clarity of Distance was published in 2011. She is President of the League of Canadian Poets.





Anita Chong

Anita-Chong.png Anita Chong is a senior editor at McClelland & Stewart, where she acquires and edits literary fiction and narrative non-fiction, including memoir. She is the manager of The Writers’ Trust / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for emerging Canadian writers and the in-house editor for its associated annual anthology, The Journey Prize Stories: The Best of Canada’s New Writers. Authors she has worked with include Sharon Bala, Eleanor Catton, Michael Christie, Stacey May Fowles, Lorna Goodison, Amy Jones, JJ Lee, Saleema Nawaz and Rebecca Rosenblum.





Cherie Dimaline

Cherie-Dimaline.png Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. Her first book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007 and her novel The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy was released in 2013. In 2014, she was the recipient of the Premier’s Arts Awards for Excellence in the Arts Emerging Artist Award. In 2015, Cherie was named the Toronto Public Library’s first Writer in Residence – Aboriginal Experience. Her book A Gentle Habit was published in August 2016. The Marrow Thieves, a dystopian young adult fiction novel, will be released by Cormorant Books in 2017. Cherie lives and works in Toronto where she is the coordinator of the Indigenous Writers' Gathering and the Executive Director of the RIEL Centre, an organization mandated to create, share, protect and promote Indigenous literature.


Whitney French

Whitney-French.png Whitney French is a writer and a multidisciplinary artist. She is a certified arts educator who has executed over 300 workshops in schools, community centres, prisons, group homes and First Nations’ reserves. Her debut collection 3 Cities was self-published in 2012. Additionally, her writing has been published in Descant Magazine, Canthius Journal and Selfish Magazine, and anthologized in The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. French has work forthcoming in a collection of short fiction edited by Dr. Althea Prince. She is also the founder and co-editor of the nationwide publication From the Root Zine. Recently, French launched the successful workshop series Writing While Black, an initiative to develop a community of black writers. Since, she has transformed her findings from these workshops into a travelling lecture series having visited Montreal, New York, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. She is presently working on her upcoming science fiction verse novel entitled O.


Dalton Higgins

Dalton-Higgins.png Dalton Higgins is an author, publicist, National Magazine Award-winning journalist and music presenter whose six books and 500+ concert presentations since 2002 have taken him to Denmark, Australia, France, Colombia, Spain, Curacao, Germany, Cuba, England and throughout the United States. His biography of rapper Drake, Far From Over, is carried in Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame collection, and his bestselling book Hip Hop World is carried in Harvard University’s hip-hop archive. His latest book Rap N’ Roll is a collection of non-fiction essays that delve into a world where race, technology, music and counterculture collide. Higgins is currently editing a chapter he wrote for a forthcoming anthology about indigeneity and blackness in hip-hop culture.



Sam Hiyate

Sam-Hiyate.png Sam Hiyate has worked at literary magazines, small presses and with New York Times bestselling authors, editing and representing everything from debut fiction, memoir and narrative non-fiction to graphic novels since 1990. He has taught writing and publishing privately since 2000 and also at various universities. His most recent project is an online magazine, Don’t Talk to Me About Love, exploring love in literary and artistic works.






Saima S. Hussain

Saima-S-Hussain.pngSaima S. Hussain (moderator) is the editor of The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women. The book is a compilation of 21 personal stories told by Muslim women from all backgrounds and persuasions. Her book illustrates complex stories, all challenging conventions and stereotypes, and united by two ideas—Islam (or the Quran) and nationality (Canadian). Hussain earned an Honours BA in English and History followed by an MA in South Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. She is author of the award-winning children's book The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations, and Amazing Facts.




Jack Illingworth

Jack-Illingworth.png Jack Illingworth has been OAC’s literature officer since September 2013. Most recently, Illingworth was Executive Director of the Literary Press Group of Canada. Previously, he worked for the Association of Canadian Publishers, where he led the initial planning and visioning work for 49th Shelf and eBOUND Canada, and for the Porcupine’s Quill, a literary press based in Wellington County. His writing and criticism has appeared in a range of magazines and journals. Illingworth has served as a Director and Vice Chair for the Book and Periodical Council, the umbrella organization for writing and publishing in Canada, and as a Director of the Doug Wright Awards for excellence in Canadian cartooning and comic arts. He also has done advisory work for a variety of organizations, including the Canada Council for the Arts and the Cultural Human Resources Council.


Bushra Junaid

Bushra-Junaid.png Bushra Junaid is an artist, curator and arts administrator. She is OAC’s outreach and development manager and program officer for the Skills and Career Development: Indigenous Arts Professionals and Arts Professionals of Colour and the Deaf and Disability Arts Projects programs. At OAC Junaid has programmed/produced events including Front and Centre: Disability and Deaf Arts; Access Ignites: Professional Development for Indigenous Artists and Artists of Colour; Critical Dialogues: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Curating and Artistic Practice. Junaid illustrated Adwoa Badoe’s Nana’s Cold Days (Groundwood Books) and recently co-curated New-Found-Lands: An Art Project Exploring Historical and Contemporary Connections between Newfoundland and the Caribbean Diaspora. Prior to OAC, Junaid worked on social housing design, low income and homeless initiatives, newcomer and refugee settlement and community-engaged arts.


Adnan Khan

Adnan-Khan.png Adnan Khan (moderator) has written for VICE, Globe and Mail, Hazlitt and others. He was awarded the 2016 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award.









Jay MillAr

Jay-MillAr.png Jay MillAr is founder and publisher of BookThug, a literary press he runs in Toronto with Hazel Millar. Celebrating adventures in literary publishing since 2004, BookThug is best known for contemporary and engaging works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama and literary translation, by both emerging and established authors from Canada and around the world. As a publisher, BookThug is particularly interested in risk. Sometimes this risk takes the form of formal explorations of genre, sometimes it is found in the writing of marginalized voices. Sometimes it is both. Regardless, what is important to BookThug is a larger discussion regarding the possibility of what literature could be.



Shani Mootoo

Shani-Mootoo.png Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland and grew up in Trinidad. She holds an MA in English from the University of Guelph, writes fiction and poetry, and is a visual artist who has exhibited locally and internationally. Mootoo’s novels include Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award; Valmiki’s Daughter, longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize; He Drown She in the Sea, longlisted for the International Dublin IMPAC Literary Award; and Cereus Blooms at Night, shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award (formerly Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award), the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She is a 2017 Chalmers Fellowship Award recipient and a 2012 K.M. Hunter Artists Award winner for literature. She currently lives in Prince Edward County in Ontario.


Leigh Nash

Leigh-Nash.png Leigh Nash is the publisher of Invisible Publishing and the co-curator of The Emergency Response Unit, a chapbook press. She currently serves as treasurer for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), vice-chair for eBOUND Canada and sits on the board of directors for the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP). She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph and her first book of poetry, Goodbye, Ukulele, was published by Mansfield Press in 2010.





Jael Richardson

Jael-Richardson-(1).pngJael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, A Father’s Life and The Stone Thrower children’s book, which was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award. Richardson is a columnist on CBC’s q and is two-time Toronto District School Board Writer in Residence. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and lives in Brampton where she serves as the artistic director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD).





Aisha Sasha John

Aisha-Sasha-John.png Aisha Sasha John is a poet and dancer born in Montreal. Her third poetry collection, I have to live, is being published by McClelland & Stewart in April 2017. THOU John’s previous book, was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the ReLit Poetry Award. John choreographs, performs and curates as part of the performance collective WIVES, as well as authors solo performances. The aisha of oz, will be performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as part of the 2017 Independent Study Program exhibition. In February 2017, she was the first artist-in-residence for an Art Metropole project at Union Station in Toronto. John and four collaborators gathered to make their communion public; the project’s aim and title were one: Let’s understand what it means to be here (together). Video works created during the residency will be displayed on the digital columns in Union Station’s GO concourse beginning in March 2017.


Dianah Smith

Dianah-Smith.pngDianah Smith is a writer, teacher and arts educator based in Toronto. Her writing has been published in anthologies, high school textbooks, online and print magazines with the Centre for Policy Alternatives, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Nomorepotlucks, rabble.ca, Best of rabble and Shameless Magazine. She is in the process of completing her first novel for which she received an Ontario Arts Council Writers’ Works in Progress grant.






Léonicka Valcius

Léonicka-Valcius.png Léonicka Valcius (moderator) is a Toronto-based publishing professional who advocates for equity and inclusion in Canadian publishing and literature. She is the founder of DiverseCanLit, and is the Festival of Literary Diversity’s chair of the board of directors. She previously worked at Scholastic as a book buyer and marketer. Léonicka is currently a title analyst on the online and digital sales team at Penguin Random House Canada.






Phoebe Wang

Phoebe-Wang-(1).pngPhoebe Wang is a poet, reviewer and educator based in Toronto. Her debut collection of poetry, Admission Requirements, is forthcoming with McClelland and Stewart in Spring 2017. She is the author of two chapbooks and her work has appeared in Arc Poetry, Canadian Literature, Maisonneuve, The Malahat Review, Ricepaper Magazine, and This Magazine. She has twice been a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize and won the 2015 PRISM Poetry Contest. In addition to teaching English as a Second Language, she has also taught creative writing workshops through Artscape Youngplace and currently works at Seneca College as a student support officer. Phoebe Wang will moderate the panel on Funding, Grants, Residencies and Jobs.


Timea Wharton-Suri

Timea-Wharton-Suri.pngTimea Wharton-Suri has served as Toronto Arts Council’s literary arts officer since 2014. She received her MBA and a graduate diploma in Arts & Media Management from York University’s Schulich School of Business, with studies focusing on the publishing industry, federal arts policy, non-profit management, entrepreneurship and organizational leadership. Since then, she has held revenue development and communications positions in both the private and not-for-profit sectors, including at TVOntario and the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, an organization aiding artists transitioning into, within and from their careers. Since joining the Toronto Arts Council, she has participated in the early development of the Cultural Leaders Lab, Performing Arts Facilities, and Animating Toronto Parks programs, and implemented the Long-Term Dance Projects program, the What's Your Story literary outreach initiative, and the Toronto Lit Up literary dissemination initiative for local authors.


Anna Yin

Anna-Yin.png Anna Yin is Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet Laureate. Yin has published six books of poetry including her latest Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac and Nightlights. She has received numerous awards for her work including the Ontario Poetry Society’s 2005 Ted Plantos Memorial Award, two Mississauga Arts Council MARTY Awards, and a 2013 CPAC Professional Achievement Award. Anna was a finalist for the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Awards in 2011 and in 2012. Her poems have appeared in Arc Poetry, The New York Times, China Daily, CBC Radio, World Journal and Indiana Review. She teaches Poetry Alive at schools, colleges and libraries.