Multidisciplinary artist Aisha Sasha John is U of T Scarborough’s new writer-in-residence

U of T Scarborough new writer-in-residence, Aisha Sasha John.
Aisha Sasha John, new U of T Scarborough writer-in-residence, has many connections to U of T. (Photo by Yuula Benivolski)

Raquel A. Russell

For new writer-in-residence Aisha Sasha John, her new role at U of T Scarborough is serendipitous.

“I graduated from U of T, my very first gallery show was at UTSC’s Doris McCarthy Gallery, and this is my first academic writer in residency, so the fact that they both happened here – completely independently – makes me feel like I have a relationship to this campus,” says John.

John, U of T Scarborough’s writer-in-residence for winter 2018, is a poet, dancer and choreographer. In June 2017 her solo performance, the aisha of oz premièred at the Whitney Museum in New York. Renamed the aisha of is, the show will have its Canadian premiere in Montreal this April.

Aisha Sasha John was named one of ’17 writers to watch in 2017’ by CBC Books’ annual writers to watch list. Read more 

She has published three collections of poems: The Shining Material, THOU and most recently, I have to live. THOU was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the ReLit Poetry Award. John, who graduated from U of T with a B.A. in African Studies and Semiotics and the University of Guelph with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, has also had her work exhibited at the Doris McCarthy Gallery and Oakville Galleries.

From 2015 to 2017, John choreographed, performed and curated as a member of WIVES, a feminist collective based in Montreal and Toronto. In early 2017 she was commissioned by Art Metropole to do a public art residency at Union station. John invited four other artists to spend a week with her in Union Station’s west wing where each day they collaborated on a performance in response to the directive John designated as the project’s title: Let’s understand what it means to be here (together).

Aisha Sasha John at Union Project station.
Let’s understand what it means to be here (together) at Union Station. (Photo by John Elammar)

A self-proclaimed "singing dancer," John describes her various practices as spaces in which she develops critical faculties--as well as undergoes healing. “In some way--in an important way--my work consists of the knowledge I produce through self-healing.”

John says her work as a poet and performer is inspired by the transformation she sees art produce in herself and others.

“I’ll read something or I’ll see a show and afterward think to myself, I’m a different person now,” says John.

“I’ll read something or I’ll see a show and afterward think to myself, I’m a different person now,” says John.

The Montreal-born artist says she’s “excited about being part of a university community,” noting U of T’s notable library collections and the university emphasis on research. She’s also glad to be in Scarborough for the campus environment, especially being surrounded by nature.

On Jan. 24, John will deliver her first reading in the UTSC Library Makerspace. Back in the Makerspace on Jan. 25, she will facilitate a hand-on writers workshop. In addition to facilitating workshops and visiting classes, John will consult with students on manuscripts-in-progress while also working on a new collection of poems.

John’s office hours will be held Tuesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in HW 324 where she welcomes anyone on campus to drop in and consult with her.

To learn more about the writer in residence program at UTSC, or to explore how Aisha Sasha John might contribute to your class or event this term, please contact Andrew Westoll at