Leanne Toshiko Simpson discovered her love of creative writing at UTSC, where she volunteered her time as senior editor of Scarborough Fair and shared her short fiction at many COW meetings. After winning the creative nonfiction category of the UTSC Creative Writing Contest in 2014, Leanne publicly shared her struggle with bipolar disorder for the first time at the Scarborough Fair launch party. It sparked a passion for mental health advocacy through both research and creative writing.
After graduating in 2016 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English and high distinction, Leanne went on to complete a Master’s degree in Professional Communication at Ryerson University. Her Master’s research paper was an autoethnographic analysis of Goffman’s Asylums, which challenged the stigma surrounding psychiatric institutionalization. After working at SickNotWeak, a community-based mental health organization, she landed a full-time job in corporate communications at Bell Canada. She was featured in Bell Let’s Talk, and has toured schools across the province promoting better support for student mental health.
Thanks to the mentorship of UTSC instructors like Daniel Tysdal, Andrew Westoll and Sheryl Stevenson, and the continuous support of her undergraduate classmates, Leanne won SSHRC funding to complete her dream degree – a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. She is currently working on a young adult book about mental health, while teaching writing and communications at the University of Toronto and Ryerson. Last summer, she completed an international research project with the University of London. She also launched a creative writing program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) with another UTSC graduate, and is a board member and instructor for InkWell Workshops.
UTSC’s encouragement of diverse learning styles was crucial to Leanne’s success, especially considering the severity of her mental illness at that time. The communication and critical thinking skills she developed during her English degree have helped her succeed across multiple spheres – in the corporate world, in mental health advocacy, and in her new career as a teacher. Leanne hopes that she will be able to recreate the positive environment she experienced at UTSC in her own classroom, so that she can challenge her students to start more critical and empathetic conversations.