Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

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Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha on The Laura Flanders Show in 2015

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (born April 21, 1975, in Worcester, Massachusetts) is a U.S./Canadian poet, writer, educator and social activist. Their writing and performance art focuses on documenting the stories of queer and trans people of color, abuse survivors, mixed-race people and diasporic South Asians and Sri Lankans. A central concern of their work is the interconnection of systems of colonialism, abuse and violence. They are also a writer and organizer within the disability justice movement.

They are queer, non-binary, and disabled.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Piepzna-Samarasinha was raised in Worcester, Massachusetts[2] and are of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma ascent.[1] They have lived in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Toronto and currently reside in South Seattle, Duwamish territories.[2]

They are non-binary and use she and they pronouns.[2] In comparison to climate activist Greta Thunberg, they have described themself as "an autistic femme."[3]


Piepzna-Samarasinha graduated from Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City in 1997. They received their Master of Fine Arts from Mills College.[1]



Piepzna-Samarasinha is a member of Bad Ass Visionary Healers, a California-based activist healing collective and has an "intuitive counseling" practice, Brownstargirl Tarot.[4] they has been involved in organizing healing justice practice spaces at the Allied Media Conference,[5] Safetyfest [6] and other spaces.

Performance art[edit]

Piepzna-Samarasinha has been performing spoken word since 1998.[7]

As a spoken word artist, they have performed widely in the United States, Canada and Sri Lanka and have been featured at Bar 13, Michelle Tea's RADAR Reading Series, The Loft, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, as well as at universities including Yale, Sarah Lawrence, Oberlin, Swarthmore and the University of Southern California.

In 2001, frustrated with the racism of the local white-dominated queer and trans poetry scene and the homophobia in the local poetry spaces for people of color, they began Browngirlworld, a reading series with the goal of creating a poetry and performance space for queer and trans people of color. Initially held weekly, the event became a biannual, large-scale poetry event in partnership with the Toronto Women's Bookstore, bringing artists such as Mango Tribe and D'Lo.

Piepzna-Samarasinha began teaching writing to queer, trans and Two Spirit youth at Supporting Our Youth Toronto's Pink Ink program.

In 2004, inspired by radical Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) arts and poetry youth education programs at the APIA Spoken Word Summit, Piepzna-Samarasinha and Gein Wong started the Asian Arts Freedom School.

The following year, Piepzna-Samarasinha traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area to study poetry with Suheir Hammad at Voices of Our Nations, an experience they credit with changing their life as a writer.

In 2006, Piepzna-Samarasinha wrote and premiered their first one-woman show, Grown Woman Show, in which they discuss being "a queer girl of Sri Lankan descent" who is a survivor of incest perpetrated by their mother.[8] Grown Woman Show has since been performed at the National Queer Arts Festival, Swarthmore College, Yale University, Reed College, and McGill University.

Later that year, Piepzna-Samarasinha met Ctheirry Galette on Friendster and created Mangos With Chili with the goal of creating an annual tour of performance artists who are queer and trans people of color.

Piepzna-Samarasinha is also involved with the biannual Asian Pacific Islander Spoken Word and Poetry Summit.

They were the 2009-2010 Artist in Residence at UC Berkeley's June Jordan's Poetry for the People. From 2009 to the present, they has been a commissioned performer with Sins Invalid, the national performance organization of queer people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.[9]

While in Toronto, with Syrus Marcus Ware, they co-created Performance.Disability.Art (PDA), a performance based disability arts collective. Through PDA, the pair co-curated Crip Your World: an Intergalactic Mad, Sick and Disabled Extravaganza for Mayworks Festival.


In 2001, Piepzna-Samarasinha taught writing to LGBTQ youth at Supporting Our Youth Toronto (SOY) through the Pink Ink program. This included working with the zine 10 Reasons to Riot which won Best Zine in Toronto in 2006. For this work they were awarded the Community Service to Youth Award from the City of Toronto in 2004.

In 2005, along with Gein Wong, co-founded the Asian Arts Freedom School, a community-controlled school teaching writing, performance and radical education on Asian/Pacific Islander history to youth. They were also involved with The Canadian Sri Lankan Women's Action Network, an activist group seeking to promote peace with justice through a feminist lens to end Sri Lanka's 24 year civil war.

In 2007, they moved back to the U.S. and studied community-based poetic teaching through University of California Berkeley's June Jordan's Poetry for the People (P4P) Program, culminating in teaching for and being P4P's visiting writer from 2009 to 2010. She has taught in living rooms and college campuses and everywhere in between, and loves and believes in the delicious liberation of places to learn and live freely outside traditional school systems.[10]


Piepzna-Samarasinha has published nine books independently, been included in ten anthologies, and edited two anthologies. Their work has also appeared in Yes, Vice, Room, Autostraddle, ColorLines, NOW, Xtra, Bitch, theirizons and other publications.

Awards and honors[edit]


Awards and honors for Piepzna-Samarasinha
Year Award / Honor Ref.
2020 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction [11][1]
2020 US Artists Disability Futures Fellowship [12]
2009 Bent Institute Mentor of the Bent Writing Institute of Seattle
2004 City of Toronto's Community Service Volunteer Award [13]
Voices of Our Nation Fellow

Written works[edit]

Awards and honors for Piepzna-Samarasinha's works
Year Work Award Result Ref.
2012 Love Cake Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry Winner [14]
2016 Bodymap Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry Finalist [15][16]
2016 Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction Finalist [17]
2016 Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir or Biography Finalist [18]
2016 Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home Over the Rainbow Project Book List Top 10 [19]
2019 Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction Finalist [17][20]
2020 Tonguebreaker Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry Finalist [15]
2021 Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, Lambda Literary Award for Anthology Finalist [21]


Anthologies edited[edit]

  • The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, with Ching-In Chen and Jai Dulani (2011)
  • Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, with Ejeris Dixon (2020)

Authored works[edit]

  • Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home ()
  • Consensual Genocide (2006)
  • Love Cake: Poems (2011)
  • Brown Femme Survivor (2013)
  • Bodymap: Poems (2015)
  • Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice (2018)
  • Tonguebreaker: Poems (2019)
  • Bridge of Flowers, illustrated by Syrus Marcus Ware (2019)
  • The Future is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs (2022)


  1. ^ a b c d Gentes, Brian (2020-05-13). "5 Questions with Jeanne Córdova Prize Winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  2. ^ a b c "About Leah". Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. 2018-09-12. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  3. ^ Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (September 25, 2019). "As an Autistic Femme, I Love Greta Thunberg's "Resting Autism Face"". Truthout. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  4. ^ brownstargirltarot.wordpress.com
  5. ^ "Home Page - Allied Media Projects".
  6. ^ "safetyfest 2010".
  7. ^ "Consensual Genocide Reviews".
  8. ^ Growing through pain: Theatre/ Looking for that love-fuck family connection Archived 2007-10-04 at the Wayback Machine, by Fred Kuhr, Xtra!, July 19, 2007, accessed 19 February 2008.
  9. ^ "Sins Invalid | An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility". www.sinsinvalid.org. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  10. ^ "writing workshops". brownstargirl.org. Archived from the original on 2016-03-11. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  11. ^ Gentes, Brian (2020-05-13). "Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha Wins 2020 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  12. ^ "Disability Futures Fellows". Ford Foundation. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  13. ^ "City of Toronto: Community Service Volunteer Awards - 2004 winners". Toronto.ca. 2000-10-23. Archived from the original on 2013-12-06. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  14. ^ Poetry Editor (June 13, 2012). "Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha, "femmes are film stars"". Lamba Literary. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  15. ^ a b "Finalists Announced for 2020 Publishing Triangle Awards". The Publishing Triangle. 2020-03-16. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  16. ^ "The Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  17. ^ a b "The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  18. ^ "Lambda Literary Awards Finalists Revealed: Carrie Brownstein, Hasan Namir, 'Fun Home' and Truman Capote Shortlisted". Out Magazine. 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  19. ^ "Over the Rainbow Project book list | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  20. ^ "Publishing Triangle Announces Best LGBTQ Books of 2018 at 31st Annual Triangle Awards Ceremony". The Publishing Triangle. 2019-04-26. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  21. ^ Gentes, Brian (2021-03-15). "2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2022-01-19.

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