Priscila Uppal was a legendary Canadian poet, novelist, playwright, fiction writer, and a professor of Humanities and English at York University. She also served as Board of Directors in the Toronto Arts Council. She has acknowledged as “Canada’s coolest poet,” for raising a political voice through her courteous poetry. Her writing mainly revolves around the issues faced by women all around the world such as violence, sexuality, infertility culture, religious and ethnic clashes, physical and psychological disorders. Her writing includes the expression of grief and mourning rituals towards different communities. She has featured and edited many anthologies, author of two novels, have a short story collection and eleven books of poetry.
Early life and Education
She was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1974 to a father of South Asian origin and a Brazilian mother. At the age of two, her father becomes quadriplegic by drinking contaminated accidentally. When she was seven, her mother abandoned her children and disabled husband and drained all the family bank accounts and disappears to Brazil. Uppal was raised by a single father. In 1993, she has joined the Department of English from Ottawa's Hillcrest high school as an undergraduate. She graduated in English literature and creative writing from York University in 1997. After earning her Master’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1998, she returned to York University for Ph.D. in English literature which was awarded in 2003.
Career and Achievements
Throughout her studies, she gained much recognition as a famous poet and novelist. She got selected as an Assistant professor in the Division of Humanities and a coordinator for a writing program at York University. The program has brought young people. Her efforts brought a proven renewal and revitalization into this distinguished program to date. She was also served as a Fellow of Founders College. In 2006, she was appointed as the youngest full professor with distinction. She was also awarded as poet-in-residence for the Canadian Athletes. During the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, she was elected as a first Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament poet-in-residence. In 2014, she was selected as a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), due to the recognition of her work worldwide. Her work has been published in the internationally renowned journal includes poetry, novels, an academic monograph, a memoir, and few anthologies also translated in many languages.
According to the Vice-Chancellor at York University, she is a gifted poet, writer, and mentor because of her excellent dedication towards the students in the art community. She convinced many of her students to write and produce many writers, editors, and publishers under her mentorship. Because of her vigorous personality and deep poetry, she got fame in the Canadian Literature community in Toronto. In her personal life, she was very generous and kind, enjoys the parties at home, and takes part in social work. She has a lovely persona as she loves to carry glamorous clothes and flamboyant wigs and hats. The anticipated nature of Uppal’s always let her research and explores the different field. She believes that her work can bring motivation from diverse disciplines, taking into consideration the blending of thoughts and bring innovative perspectives of thinking and adapting the approach towards work.
Poetry and Novels
There is a famous saying of Uppal stated: “The power of poetry is difficult to measure or quantify and let you know its power when you witness its effects.” Her poetry always has powerful voice for violence and prejudice in this modern era. The writing has enough bizarre and the grim blends distinctively to provoke a reader. The first collection of her poetry How to Draw Blood from a Stone was a stunning release in 1998 about the power of religion, mythology in the life of an individual. Next year in her collection Confessions of a Fertility Expert (1999) gain an immense appreciation for visualizing the importance of ordinary experience and perspective of a woman.
In 2001, another successful piece of writing Pretending to Die has been shortlisted for a ReLit Award for Poetry about the knowledge of mortality and the survival of the past in the present. Live Coverage (2003) was a great mix of the news report and Greek mythology beautifully presents the psychologically stark and portraits of life. In 2005, she delivered Holocaust Dream with a famous photographer Daniel Ehrenworth, contemplation on the horror of Auschwitz and was followed by Ontological Necessities (2006), shortlisted for the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize. In 2010, her contemporary collection of poetry includes Traumatology, Winter Sport: Poems and Successful Tragedies gained an international reputation for bold and proactive poetry.
As a saboteur Uppal breaking down the barriers by playing well with language, also building novel connections and move toward the issues of cultural importance. Her best poetry Sabotage is a covert investigation of open and private demonstrations of annihilation and wreckage in the 21st century. With subtle effortlessness, award-winning Uppal explores the cultural legacies that shape the analysis of violations through familiar legal and legendary measures. Uppal truly has the finger on the pulse of the reader. A famous and beautiful piece of a poem from her poetry collection Sabotage is as follows:
There Are No Timeouts in History
At best there are pauses between rounds
to stitch skin, wipe blood, spit into the bin,
& except for a few predictable platitudes,
collect bets & wave to what's left of the crowd.
Uppal also published two novels that depict the audacious and deep thinking of a writer. The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002) was her debut and portrays the mysterious and thrilling story that captures a disturbing yet beautiful connection between the purity and brutality of adolescence. Later To Whom It May Concern (2009) was a fantastic fiction novel that presents the re-telling of King Lear, where she uncovered the tragic and comedic measures between love and betrayal.
Anthologies, Memoir, and Plays:
Uppal has edited and co-edited many anthologies including Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets (2004), The Exile Book of Poetry in Translation: 20 Canadian Poets Take on the World (2009), and also authored some academic works, We Are What We Mourn: The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy (2009).
A very emotional nonfiction memoir, Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother (2013) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize. The ruthlessly composed memoir reflects her emotional reunion with her mother, yet offers solace to confront the uncertain familial relationships. A famous line of this novel, “I do not like to fight for things. If someone wants to fight me, I hide.” truly shows her empathy with her mother. She explains this delightfully and elaborates that she does not believe that her mother is cruel, she called her coward. This shows her psychology as a child when she never fights for something she wanted. Confronted with the possibility to fight, she advised evading failures disappointment, and conflicts.
In 2017, What Linda Said premiered in Toronto’s Summer Works Theatre and Performance Festival, based on the relationship with an actor Linda Griffiths who died of cancer.
She was elected for the Canadian Athletes Now Fund poet-in-residence for Vancouver Winter Olympics and Paralympics (2010) and Summer Olympic Games in London, England (2012). The magazine Time Out London named her the “Canada’s coolest poet”. She also worked with York’s Existere: a Journal of Art and Literature, which helps the emerging talent in York and across the world. She also served in Toronto Arts Council as a member of the board of directors. Her work is published and translated in different languages such as Latvian, Korean, Dutch, Croatian, Greek, and Italian. Uppal was among the 2,000 Canadian scholars, scientists, artists who were elected as ranked best in their fields.
In 2015, Uppal was diagnosed with rare cancer, named synovial sarcoma. She wrote multiple pieces of poetry and essays about her disease and openly talks about it, called it the “Kick In Your Face cancer”. During her illness, she appeared in Griffin Poetry Awards with full grace and dignity. But at the age of 43 on September 5, 2018, after a long battle, she passed away. Julia Creet, an Associate English Professor at York shares a memory of Uppal and said: “It’s hard to truly express or measure who and what we lost in her death.” As York deeply mourns the loss of Uppal, the director of the Writers’ Union of Canada, John Degen said, “I deeply admired her openness and kindness to others in the business. Her generosity with other writers will likely be referenced again and again in tribute because she was all generosity. We’ve lost an irreplaceable artist.”
Before her death, she was working on two pieces of poetry collections On Second Thought (2018) and Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (2018) which turn out to be her last collection. She discovered motivation and inspiration in her ability to endure and make until the end, regardless of her serious condition. The York University has established a Memorial Fund in the name of Priscila Uppal for a Creative Writing Fellowship in the Department of English.
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