Dr. Simran Jeet Singh
2020 Keynote Speaker
New York based Dr. Simran Jeet Singh is an award-winning educator, activist, and scholar. He speaks on language, culture and representation. He facilitates workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion for a variety of audiences, from preschools to university campuses, and from local community centers to corporate boardrooms.
Simran is also the host of the new show, ‘Becoming Less Racist: Lighting a Path to Anti-Racism’, as well as the podcast ‘Spirited’, which explores how leaders from marginalized groups think about and navigate justice work. While he is an accomplished professor with graduate degrees from Harvard and Columbia universities, Simran uses personal stories, dad-jokes, and a love for pop culture to connect with people where they are. That’s because he understands that marginalized groups will not lecture their way into dignity and that empathy is really built when we connect with one another as human beings.
Simran is the author of ‘Fauja Singh Keeps Going’, a new picture book biography about the oldest person to ever run a marathon. Simran is also writing an adult non-fiction book for Penguin Random House on cultivating empathy and connection in our tumultuous world.
I began to feel a real urgency to begin writing stories featuring minority communities who are not historically or even presently represented in kids’ books.
Balli Kaur Jaswal
2019 Keynote Speaker
Balli was born in Singapore with family having roots in Punjab. She grew up living in countries such as Japan, Russia, the Philippines, Australia and the United States of America. She is a global citizen with rich perspectives on language, arts and culture.
Balli is an award-winning author of four novels, including Singapore Literature Prize finalist Sugarbread, and the bestselling Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, which was a selection of Reese Witherspoon’s book club. Her debut novel Inheritance won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist award. A former writing fellow at the University of East Anglia, she teaches creative writing at Yale NUS College. Her non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Cosmopolitan.com, Harper’s Bazaar India and Salon.com, among other publications. Her latest novel The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters was released internationally earlier this year.
It is in your blood — the language, the food, the way things are, these things are not erased just because you grew up elsewhere.
2018 Keynote Speaker
Parveen Malik is a highly respected writer of Punjabi fiction and a distinguished broadcaster. Malik’s published short fiction includes ‘KeJanaN MaiN Kaun’, ‘Nikkay Nikkay Dukhh’, and an Urdu novel ‘Aadhi Aurat’. Her autobiography ‘Kasiyan da Pani’ was published in 2016. She has written numerous screenplays for Pakistan Television and anchored a literary program called ‘Likhari’ for Lahore Television. Her popular program ‘Punjab Rut’ aired on Lahore Radio from 1988 to 1998.
Malik is a recipient of several prestigious literary awards and distinctions including Waris Shah and Baba Fareed Awards and Sitara Imtiaz by Government of Pakistan in 2016. She has served as Deputy Director of the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Pakistan. She is currently serving as Secretary of Punjabi Adabi Board, Lahore, which is a leading organization promoting Punjabi language and culture in Pakistan.
Mothers for centuries have taught their daughters to be silent…‘even if you have a good reason to speak remain silent’…. As a woman Punjabi writer, I want more women to come forward, write and tell their stories.
2017 Keynote Speaker
Khelsilem is an inspirational young educator and community organizer. He is both Squamish and Kwakwaka’wakw and lives in Vancouver. Khelsilem is passionate about creating opportunities for growth, renewal, and exploration for Indigenous peoples. He is the founder of a ground breaking Squamish language immersion program at Simon Fraser University and the Kwi Awt Stelmexw Cultural Society that is a platform for arts and education. He is an authoritative writer and public speaker on issues of Indigenous languages, cultural identity, and governance. Currently a lecturer at Simon Fraser University, he has worked with Indigenous communities in Canada to address the decline of their languages, including the Squamish Language and Halkomelem language.
So much of what we are today and what we are taught to be in our community, is to think of our ancestors, and what they did for us.
2016 Keynote Speaker
M. G. Vassanji was born in Nairobi, Kenya and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He received a BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, before going to live in Canada. He is a member of the Order of Canada and has been awarded several honorary doctorates. He currently lives in Toronto.
He is the author of seven novels, two collections of short stories, a travel memoir about India, a memoir of East Africa, and a biography of Mordecai Richler. He is twice winner of the Giller Prize (1994, 2003) for best work of fiction in Canada; the Governor General’s Prize (2009) for best work of nonfiction; the Harbourfront Festival Prize; the Commonwealth First Book Prize (Africa, 1990); and the Bressani Prize. The Assassin’s Song was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Prize, the Writers Trust Award, and India’s Crossword Prize. His work has been translated into many languages, including Hindi. Vassanji has given lectures worldwide and written many essays, including introductions to the works of Robertson Davies, Anita Desai, Mordecai Richler, and the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi. In June 2015, M. G. Vassanji was awarded the Canada Council Molson Prize for the Arts.
This is a truly wonderful initiative to promote literature, more so because it comes from a private initiative. By telling our stories we share our lives; this fiction prize will bring Punjab to us and through that the world. I wish it every success.
Shauna Singh Baldwin
2015 Keynote Speaker
Born in Montreal, Shauna Singh Baldwin grew up in India. Her first book A Foreign Visitor’s Survival Guide to America sold out but went unnoticed.
In 1996, Shauna won the Friends of American Writers Prize for her collection English Lessons and Other Stories, and the 1997 CBC Literary Award for her story Satya. Her first novel, What the Body Remembers won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize (Canada-Caribbean). A 20th Anniversary edition will be published in 2020.
Shauna’s novel The Tiger Claw was a finalist for the 2004 Giller Prize. Cross-cultural stories from her collection We Are Not in Pakistan were anthologized internationally. Her third novel The Selector of Souls won the Anne Powers Fiction Prize. Her play We Are So Different Now was staged in Toronto by the Sawitri Theatre Group. Reluctant Rebellions: New and Selected Non-fiction was published in 2016. The South Asian Literary Association presented Shauna their 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award.
Shauna’s work has been translated into 14 languages and published in magazines, anthologies, and newspapers. Her B.Comm. (Hons) degree is from Delhi University. She holds an MBA from Marquette University and an MFA from the University of British Columbia.
We tell, read and watch stories in every language because we wonder how it must feel to be someone else, to have that person’s point of view. We tell, read and watch stories to find out how others might deal with arrivals, departures and journeys, how they have solved problems that seem intractable, insurmountable, how they beat the system. Stories are the first virtual reality.
Waryam Singh Sandhu
2014 Keynote Speaker
Dr. Waryam Singh Sandhu is an award-winning Punjabi author of short stories and non-fiction books. He has produced five critically acclaimed short story collections and three works of non-fiction. His 1998 published collection of short stories, Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction), won India’s prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for Punjabi in 2000. Two of these stories were adapted into a film called The Fourth Direction in 2015. Sandhu has been honoured with numerous other awards, including the Sujan Singh Purskar Award and the Punjab Sahit Academy Award. His works have been translated into English, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. He is a highly sought-after speaker in global Punjabi literary conference.
Sandhu holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree and worked as a lecturer at Lyallpur Khalsa College in Jalandhar, Punjab. He spends his time between India and Canada while being an active in the global Punjabi arts and literary circles.
Some say Punjabi language will die in fifty years. I say Punjabi will never die as long its daughters and sons are alive, speaking and writing in Punjabi. Dhahan Prize inspires new writing around the world. Punjabi literature is rich with a bright future.