Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Sheniz Janmohamed

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Sheniz Janmohamed is a spoken word artist, author and graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. She has been mentored by Dionne Brand, Kuldip Gill and Janice Kulyk Keefer. She is also is the founder of Ignite Poets, a youth spoken word initiative with an emphasis on social awareness. She has been performing for over seven years and has been featured at the TedXYouth Conference (Toronto, 2010) and This is not a Reading Series to name a few. Her work has been published in the Hart House Review, South Asian Ensemble and a number of anthologies.

Her first book, Bleeding Light (TSAR) a collection of sufi-inspired English ghazals, was published in 2010.

Visit Sheniz's website, Follow her on Twitter @shenizj

Please send your questions and comments for Sheniz Janmohamed to

The Proust Questionnaire, with Sheniz Janmohamed

Sheniz Janmohamed is Open Book's July 2012 Writer in Residence. In her answer to the Proust Questionnaire, Sheniz tells us about the colour of Kenya's soil, her current state of mind and the scent of lavender and jasmine.

Bleeding Light

By Sheniz Janmohamed

From the publisher:

Bleeding Light is a collection of poems in ghazal form that traces the steps of a woman’s journey through night. She knows that in order to witness dawn, she has to travel through dusk first. Throughout her journey, she is caught between West and East, religion and heresy, love and anti-love, darkness and the knowledge of light. Each couplet is an independent thought and reflection, a pearl strung into a necklace. Bleeding Light is fraught with opposing, stark and often violent imagery heavily influenced by Sufi philosophy.


Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Queen Gallery Poetry Night with Sheniz Janmohamed


Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 7:00pm


Queen Gallery
382 Queen St. E.
Toronto, ON
M5A 1T1


Don't miss the fourth monthly Queen Gallery Poetry Night hosted by Bänoo Zan with special guest, spoken word poet Sheniz Janmohamed. This open–stage night welcomes any style of poetry or music in any language.

Doors open at 6:15 p.m and sign-up begins at 6:30 p.m.

This event is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.


Queen Gallery
382 Queen St. E.
Toronto, ON M5A 1T1 43° 39' 21.4344" N, 79° 21' 48.2796" W

Bringing Literature Home

As a child, the library was my haven. A space where I could quietly read and let my imagination run free. Every summer, my mom would take us to our local library in Unionville, where we were allowed to choose a handful of books to take home. The library was a safe place, a sacred place, a place where if you spoke above a whisper, you'd get a stern look. It taught me to love reading. It taught me discipline. It taught me to care for possessions that were not my own. My book bag became a portal to a world of quirky characters, colourful illustrations, silly puns and magical lands.

The Art of Finding Things

When I was a kid, I wasn't interested in taking care of my toys- even my favourite ones. I used to carry around a purple Cabbage Patch Kids bag filled with plastic bangles. It would accompany me on family dinners, road trips and walks.

It was left behind at a restaurant.

I didn't miss it.

There were other things: a velvet sparkly bean bag frog (I have to admit that I do miss him sometimes, he was a beautiful frog), a clown doll (now the idea of me sleeping with a clown doll freaks me out), a necklace with multicoloured plastic hearts...the list goes on.

Objects to Inspire IV

What these gentlemen keep (or do not keep) on their desks:

"I don't keep any objects when I write beyond a hand-written and electronic plethora of notes, in my effort to write electronically rather than in a notebook. I have memos that I conjure and capture at incredibly odd moments - watching my children at a swimming lesson, mid-way brushing my teeth - that I then elaborate at my desk in a near-windowless basement."

- Nitin Deckha, author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications)

Kuldip Kaur Gill

Yesterday's events saddened and shocked me. It was impossible for me to understand how a place of worship became a place of carnage within only a few minutes.

I knew I wanted to write about it, but instead of focusing on how angry and frustrated I am, I have decided to celebrate my relationship with Canadian Sikhs and my encounters with Sikhism.

The Journey Ends

And so my residency has come to an end. It has been an interesting journey...I've made new friends along the way and discovered things about myself and the Toronto lit scene in the process.

Here are some of the things I've learned:

1. Writers, despite their competitiveness, take comfort in each other.

2. More people read your work than the comment boxes suggest.

3. It's okay not to know what you're going to write about until you write it.

4. There are still opportunities out there for those of us who refuse to give up.

5. Missed opportunities give us more reasons to create our own.

6. Sometimes it's necessary to talk about writing.

7. Sometimes it's not.

8. Humour can be the greatest asset a writer possesses. (coffee helps too)

Objects to Inspire III

"Having a bulletin board, inspiration board style, above my desk is hugely helpful to me. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of writing, I’ll read a magazine, or see an image somewhere, or read a phrase, and it excites me because it’s a concrete version of something in my head- an idea, an emotion, a character that I’m trying to express. It always feels so serendipitous, and it’s always inspiring.

10 Questions with Sonia Saikaley

Sonia Saikaley's Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter takes the reader from Lebanon’s olive groves to Montreal’s frigid winters and underground malls. These closely connected poems present a narrative threaded with the rich traditions of the Middle East, from its dazzling varied food to its bustling Arabian marketplaces and passionate politics.

A lover longs to be reunited with his beloved. A woman mourns the loss of her father and must find her place in a male-dominated culture, while another must relinquish her unborn child. Honest, accessible, and humane, Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter is a strikingly moving and powerful sequence of poems exploring themes of alienation, intergenerational disconnection, love, and loss.

Objects To Inspire II

Objects to Inspire II:

More lovely tidbits on what local authors keep on their desks & around them while they write...

Second Book Woes

The wonderful thing about writing your first book is that you're clueless. You have no idea what the reception to your book will be, you can write (at least your first draft) with freedom and abandon, you aren't looking to critics or book reviewers to give you better reviews this time around.

Ignorance truly is bliss.

The second book is a little tougher. You have a readership, a publisher, an agent (if you're lucky...or in some cases, unlucky) and some haters. You want to trump your first book. You have to prove your critics wrong. Or do you?

It's a constant battle between sticking to your vision and predicting how your readership/critics will respond.

Over the last few months, I've been trying to write my next book.

Objects to Inspire

One Object of Inspiration

I asked authors to describe one object of inspiration on their writing desks and briefly explain the significance of the object. Here are the first responses for the series:

"I have a tiny glass pig on my desk; she wears an optimistic expression and sports two bodacious pink wings. I tell myself that if I work hard enough, and she shares a dash of her magic, I can achieve my wildest writing dreams."

-Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Hungry Mirror and West of Wawa (Inanna).

The Writing Desk

The creative mind plays with the object it loves. - Carl Jung

After this weekend's heart heavy post, I decided to lighten the mood with a series:

On The Writer's Desk.

Throughout the week, I will be asking Canadian authors and poets one question:

What is on your writing desk or in your writing space?

When I was enrolled in the Creative Writing MFA at the University of Guelph, David Young was teaching playwriting. He told our class that he kept a chunk of amber on his desk to focus his mind and inspire him during the writing process.

Over the last few weeks, I've been purging my room and unearthing random objects and papers- but I haven't touched by desk.

Some of the things on my desk:

A Moment Against Silence

Writers are often selfish. It's part of what we do. We need to have privacy and silence to craft the perfect line or envision the perfect scene. We ignore dinner plans, phone calls, doctor's appointments and anything else that may get in the way of writing.

But sometimes, we look up. We walk the streets. We hear the spray of gunshots. We re-read the newspaper until we are sick with sadness or moved to tears.

Some of us write to escape the world.
Some of us write because we can't change it.
Some of us write because we want to change it.

And some of us write to write.

To write because there is nothing else we can do. There is no adequate response, no grand gesture, no display of grief that can possibly match the sorrow that makes our hearts burn.

Letting Go

Letting Go

Writers are often forced into corners by editors and publishers. We're told to cut our lines in half, remove our adverbs, "kill our darlings" and tighten our writing. The craft of editing has become just as important as writing itself. We're constantly honing our work until it is polished and perfect...or as perfect as it can be.

Travel Necessities for Writers

Travel Necessities for Writers:

1. Laptop & charger

2. Pen & Notebooks. In case your laptop runs of out of battery and you forget your charger, or it freezes, or you're too lazy to lug it around the city/town/country you're visiting.

3. Books. It's so tempting to take the five books you're currently reading, but let's face it- you probably won't read them when you're visiting ancient ruins and walking around Paris.
One or two will suffice.

Hoarding With Caution

Sometimes writers are hoarders.

We hold onto that little red shell we found at some beach somewhere.
We find a purpose for a pencil without lead in it.
We keep the scraps of paper with one or two illegible lines written on them.
We keep an empty coffee tin on our desk in the hopes that we'll fill it one day.

It's important. To keep. Crap.

I started to clean my room the other day (spring cleaning is fashionably late when you're a writer- procrastinating is one of our greatest talents).

I found a crystal paperweight with a bull sculpture suspended in it.
I rediscovered my neatly written notes (and the doodles that accompanied them) from a university lecture on the Canterbury Tales.
I re-read a brilliant attempt at a Spenserian sonnet.

Emotional Allergies

Allergy (n): 1911, from Ger. Allergie, coined 1906 by Austrian pediatrician Clemens E. von Pirquet (1874-1929) from Gk. allos "other, different, strange" (see alias (adv.)) + ergon "activity"

Last night I attended a magical horse show. You know, the one in the big white tents you can see from a mile away? It was as inspiring as I had hoped it to be.

But within 10 minutes of getting there, I felt my throat tighten. My nose became stuffy. My eyes started to water. Hives cropped up on my neck.

I discovered that I am allergic to horses.

How to Prolong Writer's Block

Most writers want to get rid of writer's block. It's understandable. No excuse to ignore family, forget to eat, drink excessive amounts of coffee, go for long walks, stalk strangers, talk to yourself, show up late for work....

What's not to love about writing? But sometimes it's more fun (and less painful?) to have writer's block.

Here are some tips on how to prolong yours:

1. Get a job. If you have a job, keep it. No daydreaming.

2. Read brilliant books. They'll discourage you from writing (caution: they could also inspire you to write. Choose carefully)

3. Spend the morning googling "The God Particle".

4. Write about writing instead of writing.

5. Answer your cell phone. Have a full conversation. Don't pretend that you're under a tunnel or on the TTC.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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