I feel humbled that my first ever spotlight is about an artiste who has carved her own niche in the world of arts through talent, diligence and hard work. Sheniz Janmohamed is an author, artist educator and spoken word artist. A graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph, Sheniz has been mentored by authors Dionne Brand, Kuldip Gill and Janice Kulyk Keefer. She is also the founder of Ignite Poets, a spoken word initiative with an emphasis on collaboration, innovation and social awareness.
BRIEF HISTORY, UNDERTAKINGS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Sheniz has performed nationally and internationally for 10 years, including features at the TedXYouth Conference (Toronto, 2010 the Jaipur Literature Festival (Jaipur, 2013) and the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto, 2014). Her work has been published in various print and online journals and anthologies including West Coast Line, SUFI and Descant.
Her first book, Bleeding Light (Mawenzi House, 2010), is a collection of English ghazals that explores a woman’s journey through night. Throughout her journey, she is caught between West and East, religion and heresy, love and anti-love, darkness and the knowledge of light. Sheniz’s second collection of poetry, Firesmoke (Mawenzi House, 2014) traces the inception and annihilation of sacred fire and explores the meaning of truth and the self, finding them both in form and emptiness.
Sheniz offers spoken word and creative writing workshops for children, youth and adults. Through Mariposa in the Schools, she has visited dozens of schools and libraries to teach and perform. Sheniz enjoys partnering with community organizations to develop tailored programs to respond to their unique needs. She assists participants in finding their voices, channeling their creativity, and collaborating together to create unique, meaningful work. Sheniz recently completed her Level III Artist Educator Course (Certificate of Mentor Artist) at the Royal Conservatory, Toronto
SHENIZ, SO GREAT TO MEET WITH YOU! LET’S START WITH WHAT YOU DO CURRENTLY AND WHAT YOU WANT TO PURSUE NEXT:
I work as a full-time spoken word artist, writer and artist educator. My career aspirations include: developing a stronger brand, teaching more consistently, and creating a writing workshop model that everyone has access to and can participate in. I’d also like to start writing my next book and develop new spoken word pieces.
COULD YOU SHARE WITH SAPNA TORONTO YOUR PROFESSIONAL TRIUMPHS?
- Getting into the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph-Humber.
- Receiving the Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming Creative Teaching -Scholarship from the Royal Conservatory to continue my training in Arts Education.
- Having my first (and second) book published.
- Hosting a spoken word fundraiser in the heart of Nairobi, Kenya with local poets and musicians.
- Curating and performing in a 3-part spoken word series at the Aga Khan Museum.
- Hosting two readings at the International Festival of Authors, after attending the festival for many years.
- Teaching writing workshops at the University of Toronto, my alma mater.
- Being invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival after dreaming about it for years.
- Mentored by brilliant, award-winning authors and learning from them.
- Meeting and interviewing people I admire and respect.
A FAVOURITE LINE FROM YOUR INNOVATIONS
“Root yourself in this earthand it will root itself in you.”
– Kilimanjaro, from Firesmoke
People are my heroes at different times in my life for different reasons. I think everyone can be a hero. Sometimes I’m in a classroom and a student will read something they’ve written– and I’ll think, “Wow, you’re my hero!” because heroism is courage– and courage has many faces. It takes courage to be authentic and kind in a world that makes it easier for us to be fake and unkind. I believe in everyday heroes.
WHAT ARE YOUR ULTIMATE GOALS?
To be able to write and teach full-time. To have a space surrounded by countryside, where people can come and write, take walks out in nature, and collaborate with each other. I want to create a safe space for people (including myself) to be innovative, reflective and collaborative in the work they are engaged in. To be happy, to travel, to create and learn from others.
ADAPTING THE ROLE OF A MENTOR, THROUGH SHENIZ’S EYES
Experience, patience, insight, being able to see what someone’s potential is rather than trying to make them a carbon copy of myself. During one of my classes during my time at the University of Guelph-Humber, the brilliant Andre Alexis once told us that he reviews books based on what the author was trying to achieve– was the author successful in achieving it? I think that is also the approach to mentorship. It’s not about what the mentor would write, or how they would write it, but how it was intended to be written.
WANT TO FOLLOW SIMILAR CAREER PATHS? SHENIZ’S ADVICE:
Find a mentor, read work that you want to write, emulate, and then step into your own style. Research your industry. Know it well. Look outside of your industry and find opportunities where there are none. Collaborate, learn from others, and hustle. Think two steps ahead. Stay humble. Instead of competing with others, think about what makes you unique, and work that angle. You’ll have zero competition– no one can be you. And take time for self-care.