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She’s helping write success stories

A young couple came to Canada in 1980. Both were students in the US and on moving here, faced the same situation that  many newcomers face today.

A physicist, he soon found employment at the University of Toronto but in spite of a degree from a US college, she worked at temporary jobs before also landing a position as a lab technician at the UofT.

“Toronto was very different from what we have today,” she says. “There were very few restaurants offering desi cuisine. Not like now when there has been a phenomenal explosion of South Asian culture in food, clothing, theatre... The face of the city has changed. Go to any hospital and you are likely to be seen by a doctor of Indian background. Now newcomers find a comfort level that didn’t exist back then.”

Also missing were books by South Asian authors. Her husband wrote a short story, but struggled to find a publisher. The material was too ‘foreign’. Frustrated, he said they would start their own publishing company.

The man who struggled to find a publisher gained renown as the celebrated author MG Vassanji. Today, he has to just announce a new book in the works for a bidding war to break out among mainstream publishers. The magazine they launched was The Toronto South Asian Review (TSAR), now known as Mawenzi House, and she is Nurjehan Aziz, who has published over 200 titles and worked with over 80 authors. 

“Things are different now!” says Aziz, who is also an editor.

Mawenzi House is known for focusing on multicultural literature and poetry, particularly Canadian authors and subject matter, people writing about African, Caribbean, Asian, women and LGBTQ issues. When they started out, it was just the two of them, and this while both were holding down full-time jobs. While her husband quit after his first book was published to devote his time to writing, she continued for a further 10 years.

“While also raising our sons, I might add!” she says with a laugh.

If it was challenging at the start as a fledgeling publisher, it continues to be no less so as an independent publisher that hasn’t been swallowed by giants and functions in a rapidly changing media landscape. But they keep at it because of their love and passion for it.

Aziz tells aspiring authors to persevere with their passion. “People start and then get distracted or they get disheartened and give up. I know it’s hard to make a living as a writer, but if they have the talent, my advice to them is to stay with it in spite of hardships they may face. Because ultimately, staying power leads to recognition, leads to success.”

Posted: Apr 7, 2020

May 2020

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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