Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (born April 21, 1975 in Worcester, Massachusetts) is a Toronto and Oakland-based poet, writer, educator and social activist. Her 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 her work is the interconnection of systems of colonialism, abuse and violence.
Early life and education
Piepzna-Samarasinha was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. She graduated from Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City in 1997.
Her writing has been published in the anthologies Homelands: Women's Journeys Across Race, Time and Place, Bitchfest, We Don't Need Another Wave, Undoing Border Imperialism, Colonize This!, Dangerous Families, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, the Lambda Literary Award-nominated Brazen Femme, Without a Net, Geeks, Misfits and Outlaws and A Girl’s Guide To Taking Over the World.
In April 2006 Piepzna-Samarasinha published Consensual Genocide (TSAR Publications), her first collection of work.
Her second book of poetry, Love Cake, was published by TSAR Publications in fall 2011 and won the Lambda Literary Award in 2012.
Bodymap was published in 2015 by Mawenzi House. In it she sings a queer disabled femme-of-colour love song filled with hard femme poetics and disability justice. In this volume, Leah Lakshmi maps hard and vulnerable terrains of queer desire, survivorhood, transformative love, sick and disabled queer genius and all the homes we claim and deserve.
In 2015, she also released a memoir entitled Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home which was published by Aresnal Pulp Press.
Piepzna-Samarasinha's freelance journalism can be seen in magazines such as Colorlines, NOW, Xtra, Bitch, Bamboo Girl, Herizons and other publications, where she focuses on documenting LGBT of color artists and activists.
She has been performing spoken word since 1998.
As a spoken word artist she has performed widely in the United States, Canada and Sri Lanka. She has 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. Her first one-woman show, Grown Woman Show, debuted at Toronto's Alchemy Theatre in August 2007.
In her one-woman show, Grown Woman Show Piepzna-Samarasinha talks about being "a queer girl of Sri Lankan descent", and claims that she was a survivor of incest perpetrated by her mother. Grown Woman Show has been performed at the National Queer Arts Festival, Swarthmore College, Yale University, Reed College and McGill University.
In 2001, frustrated with the racism of the local white dominated queer and trans poetry scene and the homophobia of the local People of Color poetry spaces, she began Browngirlworld, a reading series with the goal of creating queer and trans people of color. focused poetry and performance space. Beginning as a weekly event, the event became a binannual large scale poetry event bringing artists such as Mango Tribe and D'Lo to Toronto, in partnership with the Toronto Women's Bookstore. She began teaching writing to queer, trans and Two Spirit youth at Supporting Our Youth Toronto's Pink Ink program. In 2004, inspired by radical APIA arts and poetry youth education programs she encountered at the APIA Spoken Word Summit, she and Gein Wong started the Asian Arts Freedom School. In 2005, she traveled to the Bay Area to study poetry with Suheir Hammad at Voices of Our Nations, an experience that she credits with changing her life as a writer. In 2006, she wrote and premiered her first one-woman show, Grown Woman Show, and, with Cherry Galette, after the two met on Friendster, created Mangos With Chili, with the goal of creating an annual tour of queer and trans people of color performance artists. in 2006, her first book of poetry, Consensual Genocide, was published by TSAR, a small independent press founded by South Asian diasporic writers in Toronto. In 2007, she relocated to Oakland, CA to attend MFA school at Mills College.
She is also involved with the biannual Asian Pacific Islander Spoken Word and Poetry Summit.
She was the 2009-2010 Artist in Residence at UC Berkeley’s June Jordan’s Poetry for the People. From 2009 to the present, she has been a commissioned performer with Sins Invalid, the national performance organization of queer people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
Peipzna-Samarashinha is a member of Bad Ass Visionary Healers, a California-based activist healing collective and has an "intuitive counseling" practice, Brownstargirl Tarot. She has been involved in organizing healing justice practice spaces at the Allied Media Conference, Safetyfest  and other spaces.
In 2001, Piepzna-Samarasinha taught writing to LGBT 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 she was 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. She was 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, she moved back to the U.S. and studied community-based poetic teaching through U.C. Berkeley's June Jordan's Poetry for the People Program, culminating in teaching for and being P4P's visiting writer from 2009-2010. 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.
Piepzna-Samarasinha won a Lambda Award in Lesbian Poetry in 2012 for Love Cake.
Piepzna-Samarasinha is the 2009 Bent Institute Mentor of the Bent Writing Institute of Seattle, WA.
Piepzna-Samarasinha is a 2004 recipient of the City of Toronto's Community Service Volunteer Awards.
- "browngirlworld: queergirlofcolor organizing, sistahood, heartbreak", in Colonize This! Young women of color on today's feminism, edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, ISBN 1-58005-067-0
- The Revolution Starts at Home at SouthEndPress.org
- "Bodymap Mawenzi House". www.mawenzihouse.com. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
- "Dirty River at Arsenal Pulp Press". www.arsenalpulp.com. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
- review of Consensual Genocide, in Canadian Literature, by Indran Amirthanayagam.
- "Consensual Genocide Reviews".
- Growing through pain: Theatre/ Looking for that love-fuck family connection, by Fred Kuhr, Xtra!, July 19, 2007, accessed 19 February 2008.
- "Sins Invalid | An Unshamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility". www.sinsinvalid.org. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
- "writing workshops". brownstargirl.org. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
- "City of Toronto: Community Service Volunteer Awards - 2004 winners". Toronto.ca. 2000-10-23. Retrieved 2013-12-03.