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“Some people hoard their knowledge,” says Priscila Uppal, “and this keeps a community stagnant and marginalized.” As a writer and educator, keeping what you know to yourself is a foreign concept to Uppal.
For her, leadership is about sharing and is a serious responsibility. “It’s about shaping knowledge into a form that people can take away and build on.” Uppal puts this into action every day in her classroom at York University, where she teaches English.
But it’s what she does outside the classroom that really defines her leadership style. Uppal hosts an annual barbeque for current and former students. Last year attendance fell just short of 100 and was preceded by emailed regrets from people as far afield as Australia and Dubai. The event gives her guests a chance to connect with each other and Uppal the opportunity to see her influence on them. “You don’t realize the impact you’ve had until they tell you about the books you’ve recommended that have had an impact on them.” It’s not unusual for groups to form there that go on to co-publish. And one former student set up a lending library in the military base where she works using books from her course.
Starting out Uppal faced her share of obstacles. She was the youngest person nominated for a Griffin prize (one of the world’s most prestigious poetry prizes) as well as being the youngest on York University’s Faculty of Arts. “I was considered too inexperienced but overcame everything by hard work and diligence.”
These qualities she comes by naturally. Her father is a quadriplegic who raised Uppal and her brother on his own. “Watching his daily struggle to provide a life for my brother and me made me realize how strong people can be.”
Priscila Uppal is a candidate on the DiverseCity Voices roster. Through DiverseCity onBoard she was appointed a director of the Toronto Arts Council where she helps shape the future of the arts in Toronto.