Leanne Toshiko Simpson

Leanne Toshiko Simpson Spotlight on members of the Trinity Community: Leanne Toshiko Simpson

Posted January 25, 2021

Writer, advocate and educator – Leanne Toshiko Simpson merges her passions to build community. She attended Trinity in 2010, and returned as a Writing Centre Instructor in 2017 while completing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. Since then, she has finished her first novel, Infinite Snails, which is due out next year. And during the pandemic, she was accepted to OISE’s EdD in Social Justice Education at U of T, where she will study the intergenerational effects of the internment on Japanese Canadian mental health.

In her spare time, she teaches creative writing for people living with mental illness and addiction at CAMH and the ROM. She has also started the Trinity College BIPOC Writing Circle to create a space for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour students to expand their writing practice and share their experiences.

We sat down (virtually) with Leanne to learn about the Writing Centre, the BIPOC Writing Circle and what her life is like amid the pandemic.

Trinity College (TC): Back in March 2020, when you heard that the campus was closing due to COVID-19, what was your initial reaction?

Leanne Toshiko Simpson (LTS): The day before the announcement, I was teaching a Continuing Studies course, and I remember saying goodbye to my students with the easy assumption that we’d be gathered again the following week. By the next day, the announcement was out and I knew we’d all need to make drastic adjustments to get through the term together. Even then, I was worried about everyone’s mental health. Part of being a student at U of T is finding your community, and I think right now many of us miss the connections that helped us face challenges in the past.

TC: How is Trinity’s Writing Centre supporting students during the pandemic?

LTS: Writing Centre appointments may look a little different, but I’m finding that my students and I are still able to accomplish our goals. We now offer two options: e-tutoring, which allows students to upload their papers and receive text comments by the end of their scheduled time, and online synchronous appointments, where students share and discuss their papers with us in real time. I find that we’ve been as busy as ever, and it’s been a bit easier for commuting students to fit their appointments in between classes. Especially since everyone is working on their own, it’s nice to provide a space for students to brainstorm ideas and chat about structure, grammar and style.

(TC: for more information about the Writing Centre and to book an appointment with an instructor, click here.)

TC: As the new term gets underway – what advice do you have for students?

LTS: It’s a difficult time for advice, but I’d like to remind students to be gentle with themselves. During the pandemic, my new favourite saying has become “sometimes done is better than perfect.” It’s impossible to be perfect right now (or ever, really), and we have to give ourselves credit for accomplishing the small things amidst such uncertainty.

TC: Can you talk the BIPOC Writing Circle – why you created the group, the experience, and how students can get involved?

LTS: When I first came to Trinity as an undergrad, I didn’t feel like I fit in with the culture but didn’t have the language to explain why. Over the summer, I read the open letter to Trinity College and recognized the truth in it – that this campus has often felt exclusive. As a racialized educator, I felt like I could help change things. With the BIPOC Writing Circle, my goal is to provide space for Black, Indigenous and POC students to have an opportunity to connect over their experiences, engage with amazing BIPOC literature, and write their own stories and know that they matter.

Trinity’s BIPOC Writing Circle meets Mondays from 4:30 to 5:30 pm EST on Bb Collaborate on Quercus. Right now, we’re a small but mighty group. We usually begin by checking in with everyone before reading a short excerpt from a story, poem or essay. Next, we move through a few creative and reflective prompts and talk about how the texts relate to our own experiences. It’s very laid back and no writing expertise is required – it’s just a creative way of making new connections in a lonely time. In the future, we hope to host interactive events with BIPOC authors. I think it’s cool to see people you can relate to doing incredible things in the world.

To join the workshop, students can email me at leanne.simpson@mail.utoronto.ca.

TC: Do you have any words of wisdom for inspiring writers?

LTS: If you’d like to start writing but don’t know where to start, the university offers a range of creative opportunities. If you can’t attend Trinity’s writing circle, Hart House offers a first-year journaling community and “Write Outside Your House,” a social media campaign to inspire nature writing across the GTA. Creative writing courses are offered through the English department, but also through the School of Continuing Studies – it’s a great opportunity to use your SCS credit when you graduate! Many writers (myself included!) also began their careers by publishing work in student journals, including The Trinity Review, Goose Fiction, The Hart House Review and Echolocation.

Rapid Fire Questions:

TC: Since the start of the pandemic, what has been…

TC: …the best way for you to stay/feel connected with others?

LTS: During the pandemic, I have been teaching writing workshops for a few community organizations in addition to my work at Trinity. With so much happening in the world, I think it’s nice to take an hour to check in with yourself and record how you’re feeling. Writing in a group is even better, because it’s a much-needed reminder that we need to keep looking out for one another.

TC: …your new-found hobby or activity?

LTS: My new year’s resolution was to learn Japanese with my mother. It’s safe to say I have been receiving many strongly-worded reminders from Duolingo! I’d like to take a full class at U of T next year if my schedule permits.

TC: …the last show/series you binge-watched?

LTS: I fell in love with Jane Austen novels at Trinity College many years ago, so I was very drawn to the backdrop and drama of Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgerton!

TRINfocus wordmark

>> Back to TRINfocus main page