Passings: Professor Priscila Uppal was Canada’s coolest poet

The York University community is mourning the loss of one of its most distinguished teachers and writers, the poet, novelist and playwright Priscila Uppal (BA Hons. ’97, PhD ’04). She died on Sept. 4 in Toronto at the age of 43.

Poet Priscila Uppal

Professor Uppal, or simply “Priscila” as she preferred, arrived in the Department of English from Ottawa as an undergraduate in 1993, and graduated summa cum laude in 1997. After earning a master’s degree from the University of Toronto, she returned to York University for her doctorate, which was awarded in 2004. At the same time, she was also becoming a renowned poet, novelist and teacher. She was appointed to a faculty position in the Division of Humanities before she graduated, and as coordinator of York University’s Creative Writing program, brought her unstinting energies to its renewal and revitalization into the distinguished program it is today. She was a Fellow of Founders College.

Priscila Uppal reads poetry at CAN Fund Athlete House in Vancouver 2010

In 2006, she became a tenured professor and achieved the rare distinction of full professorship before she was 40. Her works have been published internationally and translated into numerous languages including Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Korean and Latvian. In 2010 she was the CANFund poet-in-residenceduring the Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics and was dubbed “Canada’s Coolest Poet” by Time Out London magazine. In 2014 she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Beloved as a teacher, a friend and a colleague, Priscila was an outstanding mentor to an entire generation of now well-established writers, editors, and publishers. Dozens of her former students will tell you she was the one who convinced them they could write. She was a luminary in the Canadian Literature community in Toronto and across the country. Her generosity and kindness are cited again and again. Her house parties, her enormous social network, her glamorous clothes and her many, many flamboyant wigs and hats were all part of an already legendary persona.

An enormously difficult childhood, canvassed in her memoir, Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother, frames Priscila’s achievements – and perhaps first and foremost she invented life for herself. She wrote 11 books of poetry and frequently collaborated with other writers to write in other genres. She faced the diagnosis of synovial sarcoma, a rare and life-threatening form of cancer, with the wit and bravery on display in her last play, “What Linda Said.” Priscila brought to life – and kept alive – both her own and other people’s voices through a meticulous attention to form and a profound respect for the power of imagined feeling. Just before she died, she was editing what would turn out to be her final poetry collection, On Second Thought (Mansfield Press, 2018), as well as the Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (Mansfield Press, 2018). She found inspiration and sustenance in her ability to survive and create right up until the end – an end that, despite the severity of her condition, no one expected.

York University has established The Priscila Uppal Memorial Fund for a Creative Writing Fellowship in the Department of English. To learn more or to contribute, visit: www.giving.yorku.ca/inmemory.

May we seek and find consolation in her beautiful and searching work.

Forthcoming: On Second Thought: Collected Poems (Mansfield Press, Fall 2018), and Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (Mansfield Press, 2018).

Poetry: Sabotage (2015), Summer Sport: Poems (2013), Winter Sport: Poems (2010), Successful Tragedies (poems 1998-2010) (Bloodaxe Books U.K. 2010), Traumatology (2010); Ontological Necessities (2006); Live Coverage (2003);Pretending to Die (2001); Confessions for a Fertility Expert (1991); How to Draw Blood from a Stone (1998).

Novels: To Whom it May Concern (2009); The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002).

Memoir: Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother (2013).

Short stories: Cover Before Striking (2015).

Plays: Six Essential Questions (2014); What Linda Said (2017).

Scholarly: We Are What We Mourn (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2009).

Collections and Anthologies: Best Canadian Poetry (2011), Exile Book of Canadian Sports Stories (2009), Exile Book of Poetry in Translation: Twenty Canadian Poets Take on the World (2009), Barry Callaghan: Essays on his Works(2007), Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets (2004), Uncommon Ground: A Celebration of Matt Cohen (2002).