5 Questions with Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan

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Majlinda Bashllari, Amanda Earl, Patricia Keeny, Jennifer LoveGrove, Nicholas Power and Dane Swan are six of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW: Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: New territories, striking images, brave figures of speech. Poetry is the highest form of human knowledge and the first exploratory tool of new realities. Through imagination and intuition, it enters in the darkest and most unknown macro and micro zones of the universe and opens up the ways for other forms of knowledge such as the philosophy, the exact sciences and technology to thrive and succeed.

Amanda Earl: I try not to look for anything. My mind’s open. Most recently I’ve been reading Lisa Robertson’s “3 Summers” and “Cinema of the Present.” I enjoy the intensity and sensuality of her imagery, the humour and play in her writing, the way she poses questions rather than answers them. In general I like poetry that is whimsical, imperfect, awkward and humble, connects with me in some way, and leads to more exploration.

Patricia Keeney: To go where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: I value the unexpected,  whether that’s in the language, the imagery, or conceptual concerns, I look for inventive ways these elements have been engaged and structured in a poem. I like to be surprised,  unsettled, destabilized by poetry.

Nicholas Power: I look for play in the form and tension in the line. I like to read poetry that somehow goes beyond the limits of the one writing it. I also enjoy the poet’s particular leaps, their sense of rhythm, and their understanding of poetic tradition without conformity. I look for poetry that isn’t simply about something, poetry that is something.

Dane Swan: Soul. When reading poetry I look for soul. If a poem has life, or is dirty, grimy and honest it will usually pique my interest. I’m not particularly interested in antiseptic writing that even an immature child can imitate. Poetry needs to have an energy that pulls the reader along. If the poem is dense, or is technically a lot to take in, as well as soulful, even better. Poetry is best when you’re driven to read it more than once.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Majlinda Bashllari: The hope that you can bring to life some good lines. When poetry is good, it turns into something bigger than the culture it springs from. Writing poetry is a challenge. Each time you sit and start a new poem, you realize that previous experiences mean very little or nothing at all. The fear of being repetitive, shallow, outdated is part of the process. You might become a master of the structure and lexicon, but could easily fail to give the right message. Timing is also another challenge even though we are taught to believe that poetry is timeless.

Amanda Earl: I like that I’m not beholden to convention. There are so many styles of poetry and no one style is the right one. This leaves the genre open to the possibilities of being broken (open).

Patricia Keeney: Going where I haven’t been.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Editing. I love best that stage of making a poem come together, when it finally begins to coalesce after a series of relentless tweaks and alterations – changing a word, a line break, a comma, deleting, rearranging, expanding, paring- until intuitively I know I’ve got it.

Nicholas Power: The surprises.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure love is the right word. Mind you, I’m not sure I even understand the word love. I’m simply personally driven to write. Whether people consider me a writer, or not, I’ll continue to write in some way, shape or form.

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IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Majlinda Bashllari: The Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. One of the finest poets of all times. Her poetry embraces the wisdom of old and new times; she can see through the core of human nature. It’s a unique school for everyone who aspires to write about almost anything.

Amanda Earl: Anne Carson.  She always surprises. (But I’d like to mention Lisa Robertson again, also Mary Ruefle, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Anne Sexton.)

Patricia Keeney: Ted Hughes

Jennifer LoveGrove: Right now, it would be Kim Hyesoon. Her work contains much of what I prioritize: strange, disturbing neo-surrealist imagery and logic, feminism, the grotesque, emotional confrontation. Her poems surprise, amaze and excite me.

Nicholas Power: Jack Gilbert (The Great Fires, The Dance Most of All, Refusing Heaven)

Dane Swan: Probably Langston Hughes

IFOA: What inspires you?

Majlinda Bashllari: Human resilience. The ability to start fresh. Also Greek and Roman mythology has been a great source of inspiration for me.

Amanda Earl: A good kiss, the forbidden, new lovers, my husband’s Sunday crepes, meandering conversations with dear friends over a pot of strong tea, solitary walks downtown early mornings in the cold spring air, drinking a peaty whiskey and listening to Nine Inch Nails while soaking in the tub, Agnès Varda’s film, “Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (the Gleaners and I), Hélène Cixous’ “firstdays of the year,” Djuna Barnes, “Nightwood,” the music of Tom Waits, gin, the stark bone white of Georgia O’Keefe’s desert paintings, the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, dark eyes in the paintings of Leonora Carrington, the green of Max Ernst’s paintings, tangled gardens, broken glass, candour and integrity, quirky lingo, tall, handsome men, wearing red, saying no, saying yes.

Patricia Keeney: Life.

Jennifer LoveGrove: Other poets’ work. And life, especially the bad parts.

Nicholas Power: What inspires me as a writer are (to use Gerard Manley Hopkins list) All things counter, original, spare strange; found phrases and objects, quantum physics, paradoxes, particularities of gesture, tone and humour, literary non-fiction and science writing, poets and writers who have stayed with the struggle to advance the art form over time.

Dane Swan: What doesn’t inspire me? I’m inspired by everyone and everything I meet. The skill is in culling my inspirations; understanding which are worthy of sharing, and when to share each inspiration.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Majlinda Bashllari: I am hard to please. (j/k!)

Amanda Earl: I learned that I love to do research, especially concerning the 20s and 30s. For “Kiki,” which is inspired and informed by artists and unbridled creative and licentious acts that took place in Montparnasse between the Wars, I read a lot of books and saw silent films, listened to music and watched a few documentaries about the era. I am still fascinated with that time period and continue to learn as much as I can about the personalities of that time and the work they produced.

Patricia Keeney: That the imaginative adventure never stops.

Jennifer LoveGrove: That the more I record and note my dreams, the more and better I remember them.

Nicholas Power: I feel that my work as a writer, especially in the form of poetry, where I freely associate through a wide range of source materials, has helped my receptivity in general. I also feel that this solitary work has helped me learn to sit with uncertainty, with imperfection and incompleteness.I’m also seeing how much I like to edit, in a positive way but also to rewrite, mess with, deviate from given texts.

Dane Swan: I’m not sure that I learned anything from A Mingus Lullaby. There’s a fair amount of research behind the collection, but I was more confirming what I already knew about Mingus. Technically, I merely put to practice concepts that I learned in the editing stages of Bending the Continuum with Elana Wolfe. I certainly didn’t come out of the experience writing this book as if it was spiritual — it’s a book. It’s a really good book. But, it’s just a book. Part of being a writer is becoming a good observer of others. The best way to hone that skill, is to initially observe yourself. A writer shouldn’t be suddenly surprised about themselves during the writing process. That’s a romanticized idea of how writing works. I’m constantly learning.

Q&A with Ivan Coyote

coyote-ivan_cr-sarah-race-photographyIFOA: When did you know that it was time to write Tomboy Survival Guide?

Ivan Coyote: I thought about this book for years before I started writing it, got a concept back in 2009 or so, started, then stalled. Worked on a couple of other projects, then came back to it, stalled again, switched up the vision again and then got back to work on it. But it was a book that was banging around in my head for longer than most. I had the title first. That never happens with me.

IFOA: You have been visiting schools for 15 years now and working with students and teachers to tackle the difficult subjects of family, class, gender identity, and social justice. Why is it important to you that kids have these conversations?

Ivan Coyote: Because they were conversations I really needed when I was growing up but was never afforded the opportunity to have. Even when I first came out into the feminist/lesbian/queer scene in the late eighties (I know!!) the class discussion wasn’t happening, at least not in the way I saw or that resonated with me. Kids are smarter these days than I remember us being at that age. Diversity isn’t a buzzword in the hallways these days, it’s a reality. So we have to make a space for the youth to have these conversations and ask their questions, and speak their own minds to them.

IFOA: Which is your favourite medium of storytelling – film, music, the written word or the spoken word? Why?

Ivan Coyote: I love and am inspired by them all, and incorporate each of them into my own craft.coyote_tomboysurvivalguide

IFOA: What is next for you?

Ivan Coyote: I’m working on a few things. Many irons, different sizes of fires. Touring the live show of Tomboy Survival Guide, we’re doing Dublin Fringe this fall, and a couple gigs at NAC for an audience that will contain many international presenters, so that’s exciting. Writing a new show, working on a collection of shorty short shorts, and carving out a chunk of time late summer to get seriously in the saddle on the new novel. deciding what I want the next couple of years to look like on the home front, too, and making off road life more of a priority than it has been.


Ivan Coyote will discuss Tomboy Survival Guide with Rachel Giese on April 5. Do not miss this inspirational one-on-one discussion.

Event information and tickets here!

5 Questions with Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter

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Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter are four of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW:  Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray:  I look for poems that have a seed of familiarity, where I recognize an emotion or a moment as so completely true that I feel like it has happened to me, even if I know it hasn’t.

David Goldstein: An immodest love of language.

John Nyman: The first thing I look for is the poet’s willingness to do something unexpected, even unsanctioned. After that I look for a kind of unusual wisdom, poems that gradually depart from the worlds they are born to while also bringing me closer to my own experiences.

Lisa Richter: Emotional punch, honesty, truth, beauty, self-discovery, surprise, and vulnerability. I love poems that are simultaneously accessible but multi-layered, that upon close reading or re-reading, invite multiple interpretations, vibrate on different frequencies.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray: I love the intricate machinery. Poems are never just words on a page- they are complex devices with each word a moving part. Editing a poem is trying to get the machine to run perfectly- tweaking and replacing, cutting and re-engineering. Sometimes you end up with something wonderful that is very different than what you set out to make.

David Goldstein: The way it opens me to the vocabulary of others.

John Nyman: It’s an exercise in urging my freest impulses to bloom.

Lisa Richter: First, what I don’t love: sitting down to write, and feeling stuck. Sometimes you just need to give your conscious mind a break and send it out for coffee. Some of my strongest, or perhaps I should say, most successful poems have started this way. I also have a slightly masochistic love of the revising process, sometimes it’s in the editing room that the magic really happens. Being a perfectionist, of course, can be a trap: the hardest thing in the world sometimes is to stop tinkering with a poem, let it breathe, and walk away.

IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Julie Cameron Gray: Oh, such an impossible question! I’d have a different answer every time you ask. I think right now I’d say Gwendolyn MacEwen, but if you asked me in an hour, I would probably say Yeats. Wait, does Virginia Woolf count as a poet? Her imagery is so finely distilled I feel like she might.

David Goldstein: Dickinson Rilke Celan. That’s one poet, right?

John Nyman: This is a cruel question. But I think I’d have to answer Erin Mouré, especially if I’m allowed to include her many quasi-pseudonyms and (of course!) her translations. I think her writing, at various points, does almost everything I really love in literature: it’s bold and sharp, it’s experimental, it charges headfirst into political and philosophical arguments, and it immerses me in strange and dense thickets of language; yet it’s also expressive, exuberant, and all kinds of emotional, and speaks candidly about the basic elements of life.

Lisa Richter: Ah, the dreaded desert island question. After giving this a lot of thought, I wouldn’t necessarily choose a poet whom I’d actually call a favourite—Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Mark Doty, or Phyllis Webb, to name a few—but one that I want to understand better and learn more about, whose work has fascinated me for years: T.S. Eliot. The breadth and depth of Eliot’s work, the musicality of his language, and richness of his intertextuality make him the perfect desert island poet, one whose work has many layers, but can be appreciated on a surface, sensory level as well.


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IFOA: What inspires you?

Julie Cameron Gray: Everything. Mistakes, anxiety, the human theater of our daily lives. The heartbreaking reality of our mundane. We live in a technologically advanced age in one of the best countries in the world and yet we are often miserable, and creators of our own misery. I find that endlessly fascinating.

David Goldstein: The way the everyday stumbles into art without noticing.

John Nyman: Most thoroughly, critical theory and the larger philosophical tradition. Poetry, for me, is a close cousin of the kind of language we use to think through the world and do justice to the truth of things. I’m also a very systematic thinker, even artistically, so I’m turned on by complex conceptual mechanisms.Other inspirations include, in no particular order, video games, fine art, hip-hop, houseplants, and life’s incongruities.

Lisa Richter: Art, architecture, language, cities, music, large bodies of water, documentaries, graffiti, desert landscapes, long road trips and bus rides watching the scenery go by, the seasons (especially spring), tarot cards, Greek and Roman mythology, Women who Run with the Wolves, grassroots social movements and environmental activism, community, feminism,acts of courage, random acts of kindness, imperfections, people being their flawed, authentic selves, being in love.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Julie Cameron Gray:
That I love exploring the same idea over multiple poems. Lady Crawford as a whole is an examination of personal identity, how we construct ourselves based on the choices we make, the things we do or do not do and how our actions (or lack thereof) define us. In the book I have a whole cast of characters other than Lady Crawford that I used to explore that theme, but the central character of Lady Crawford was the part of the collection I found the easiest to write. I think my next collection might be an entire examination of a particular story, each poem an exploration of a larger idea or poetic narrative, but we’ll see.

David Goldstein: How well I remember marigolds.

John Nyman: I think I’ve learned that even my most far-flung projects never escape the orbit of my style. No matter what I do, it’s always me doing it.

Lisa Richter: That I can finish what I started, and seeing a manuscript through to its completion. After so many years of dreaming of writing and publishing a full-length collection, I finally did it. It’s an incredible feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Questions with Gary Barwin

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2016 Giller nominated author Gary Barwin is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how he celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some help writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some help from professionals.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Gary Barwin: Though it might be impossible, I’d say try to think about the person you’re writing to rather than about yourself writing the letter. Imagine them reading the text and how they might respond. Also, it helps not to start with an empty page but with some element to bounce off. Start with an image, or a saying, or a form. Something material. I always tell my writing students that “the writing knows more than you do,” so if you have some writing to lead you, to guide you, it makes it easier and more fun. Also, mostly, try not to take it too seriously. You can be very “romantic,” “touching,” “intimate” and “genuine,” without being too serious.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still?Barwin, Gary

Barwin: As a young teen, I wrote a mushy heart-ton of love letters of every description. I don’t tend to write Valentines today. You know words, they’re so duplicitous, sneaky, and as easy to ride as a weasel with a golden saddle into the castle of inflated and platitudinous feelings. Also, my wife is inundated with enough of my words. So these days, I try to express our relationship through action and doing something nice. Also, I reckon, bringing her coffee and toast in bed throughout the year is better than some perfume-infused cardiac-ridden encarmined missive. We’re in this for the long haul!

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Barwin: I think my favourite is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

After hundreds of pages (and an entire lifetime) there is that final scene where the two older lovers are finally together on a boat floating forever on a river that can never dock. I find it intensely romantic to imagine my wife and I being old people together (though, likely when we are, I’ll rage against my aging body and the shortness of time…though maybe it’ll be a new and exciting pleasure to kiss without teeth…)

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Barwin: Books. Ok, books and whiskey. Ok, books, whiskey and chocolate. Oh! you mean for me to give…right…it’s not all about me…um…I like to give my wife (we’ve been together since I was 18) flowers, usually not roses, but something that feels like spring is almost here, something that feels filled with birdsong, sunshine, and… reproduction.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Barwin: I think bpNichol is one of the greatest Canadian poets and, specifically, one of the greatest Canadian poets to write about love. It infuses much of his entire oeuvre. His work reflects a lifetime of devotion, intimacy, tenderness, and thoughtfulness to his partner and the life they shared together.

My favourite quote, a perfectly tweetable love poem:

every(all(toge(forever)ther)at once)thing)

Lit Jam 2017: Meet the Teams

IFOA is delighted to introduce to you the talented emerging writers from some of the province’s most esteemed creative writing programs who will participate in Lit Jam! Join them on February 1st and see them perform on our stage!

 

From University of Guelph Creative Writing MFA:

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Kris Bone is a writer (allegedly), a comedian (unfortunately), a humorist (ostensibly), and a bartender (or at least that’s what it says on his tax return). His writing has previously been featured in magazines like Broken Pencil and OxMag, and he was long listed for the CBC Canada Writes short story prize like four years ago and has never let anybody forget it.

 

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Award-winning animal-fanatic playwright, Radha Sciara-Menon was a working actor in British Theatre and television. A real beast. She moved to Canada and learned how to make films; but returned to her theatrical roots to explore the use of heightened language. In addition, Menon is an award-winning art director for indie and art house films and an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at University of Guelph. Her play Ganga’s Ganja, finalist of Herman Voaden Playwriting contest 2013 opens at Storefront Theatre, Toronto in April 2018.


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Talal Achi
is a first-year student in Guelph’s MFA program. He writes poetry and fiction. At the age of twelve he failed the rite of passage into adulthood. As he came before the table on which the knife, the conch shell, and the snakeskin were arranged and extended his hand in the proper way over the objects, he fainted quite inexplicably. As everybody knows, you only get one crack at the rite. Thus, Talal will never learn which of the three kinds of men he is, or if he is a man at all.

Their strategy for winning this competition:

1) Dress to impress.
2) Invoke the thrice-forsaken dark literary rituals, at the risk of our very souls, in order to commune with the spirits of Canadian authors past and bring their hallowed talent to bear on our performance.
3) Have fun and make friends.

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From the Humber School For Writers:

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Nicky Borland attended the Humber School for Writers Fall Workshop in 2016, where she was mentored by author Samantha Harvey. She has also taken IFOA writing courses and workshops with novelist Brian Francis. Nicky has worked as a proofreader, writer and transcriber and currently edits web content for a living. Sometimes she writes things about books and words and posts them on www.nickyborland.com.

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Trish Bentley is the editor-in-chief and founder of thepurplefig.com. She received her degree from The New School University in NYC where she endured endless fiction writing workshops and a few cop ride-alongs in Harlem reporting the news. She is a regular columnist for The Huffington Post and has written for The New York Press, 12 St. Journalshedoesthecity.com. She has also published the children’s book, About Town with Benny Be. Trish lives in Toronto with her husband, their three boys and Benny the dog.

 

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Adam Elliott Segal is a Toronto-based writer and editor. His work has been published in enRoute, Chatelaine, Reader’s Digest, The Vancouver Province, Sportsnet, The Feathertale Review and subTerrain. In 2013, his short story “Richard” won first runner-up in the 2013 LUSH Triumphant Literary Awards. After previous editorial positions at Toro, Spafax and Sportsnet, he published MMA Now and Basketball Now with Firefly Books and is currently at work on a forthcoming magazine feature for Maisonneuve about black market adoption in Montreal. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the Ryerson Publishing Program, he recently completed the Humber School for Writers Fiction Workshop and is currently working on a novel through the Humber School For Writers Correspondence Program.

Their strategy for winning this competition:

1. Create interesting, relatable characters.
2. Collaborate as storytellers and connect with the audience.
3. Be spontaneous!

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From Ryerson University English Faculty of Arts:

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Kathryn Stagg is a recent graduate of Ryerson University’s Literatures of Modernity MA program. Following graduation, she worked as a post-graduate Research Assistant in the Department of English at Ryerson. Kathryn is currently working as a freelance writer, a staff writer for the Town Crier, and an organising member of the Slackline Creative Arts Series. In her free time, Kathryn writes fiction that ranges in quality from positively poor to could-be-worse. She lives in Toronto.

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Kailey Havelock is presently completing a SSHRC-funded MA in Literatures of Modernity at Ryerson University. She works as a poetry reader at The Puritan, a columnist on The Town Crier, and an Editorial Assistant at White Wall Review.
Her creative and academic writing has been published in print and online by Soliloquies Anthology, Subversions, F Word, Integrated Journal, L.U.C.C. Proceedings, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality, Lemon Hound, and Writers Read. Links and details are available at kaileyhavelock.com.

 

maluka

Daniel Maluka is a writer of poetry and prose and an infrequent artist. Daniel values self expression and is drawn to work that moves. He is looking forward to doing some travelling after University.

Their strategy for winning this competition:
1. Create a fun and engaging story.
2. Brush up on our improvisation skills.
3. Make Ryerson proud!

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From University of Toronto Scarborough English Department

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Trevon Smith is a 4th year Journalism student and habitual procrastinator. He never gave much thought to creative writing, but after a few classes at UTSC it’s all he really thinks about. Maybe he’ll get around to writing a book someday, but for now he’ll just be brushing up on the basics.

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Janet Monk is a third year student at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, currently enrolled in the Creative Writing Minor, Music and Culture Major, and History Minor programs. She enjoys writing short fiction, memoir, and is currently writing her first science fiction novel. In her spare time, Janet volunteers for two Toronto conventions where she directs the Ad Astra Masquerade and co-directs the Anime North Masquerade. Most recently, Janet and her brother Ian began the production of their first puzzle-horror video game, for which she has written the original soundtrack and script. Janet enjoys taking risks in her writing and sets boundaries for herself in order to challenge the limits of her creativity. Improvisation of literature is a new concept which Janet is excited to explore with her teammates. She wishes all participants good luck and looks forward to meeting everyone at the event.

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Cassandra MacDonald is a self-proclaimed queen and otherwise-proclaimed dork. She is a student of mental health, creative writing, and sociology at UTSC, and an unashamed tabletop role-play geek. She was drafted into this against her will. But she is still full-committed to this wild Lit Jam ride.

Their strategy for winning this competition:

1) Have absolute trust in our teammates.
2) Have absolute trust in our individual ability to tell a story with confidence.
3) Practice, practice, and even more practice

 

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