Wali Shah recalls the moment he was given the news that he was selected to be Mississauga’s new Poet Laureate:
“Casey Oliveira from Culture called me while I was at Pearson on the way to Saskatchewan for a speaking tour waiting to board my flight with about 40 people around me and when she told me I was selected as the 2017 Poet Laureate, I was like “WHAT?!?! NO WAY!?!” I had a genuine shock moment with all these people staring at me like I’d just won the lottery.”
While this is another impressive credential on an already stellar resume, this achievement holds extra value for him.
On the nomination process, he says: “My buddy Jim Tovey from Ward 1, he’s such a gem and saw me at the start of my career...he was always supportive and when the nomination came out, he said I’m nominating you.”
There was a slight moment of hesitation as he felt his body of work wasn’t as wide as the previous Poet Laureate, Anna Yin, but he quickly realized and acted on the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mentality.
With this exciting opportunity ahead of him, Wali wants to connect with Mississauga’s talented Youth Poet Laureate, Rebecca Zseder and see what they can do together to inspire and support others in the community.
“I want to help the next generation of Mississauga talent because there’s so much talent here.
I want to help the kids that like writing and want to do something with their talents.
If I can be a mentor to them if I can open up a door or organize events for them that’s what I want to do. I want to partner with other organizations that are using writing as a tool to make a difference, like ink movement…Doing things for the community is so important to me.”
Wali choses to lead by example and hopes to inspire others to do anything they want to; “I’m so proud of Mississauga. I’ve lived in the 5 and 10 pocket nearly my entire life and it’s exciting to show others that a young guy from ‘Sauga can make it.”
I asked what his advice was for aspiring writers struggling to take their first proverbial step and Wali aptly replied with: “It’s the first push. It’s the first barrier you have to break through to start that will take you to bigger and greater things.
For me, when I broke that barrier was when I was 16 in Mrs. Riley’s English class while we were doing poetry readings. I went up and every step felt like a mountain as I was walking to the front of that classroom to share my first poem. It’s hard…but you never know until you apply yourself. Just show up, just do it, make an effort, try because you never know what that effort will take you.”
He’ll be reading his Canada Day 150 poem on July 1st at Celebration Square and he sees it as a tremendous honour and is quite excited to share it with our community.
It’s been an exciting path that’s led Wali from the steps of Mrs. Riley’s classroom to commanding the attention of over 15,000 people at the Air Canada Centre and summer, onto the Celebration Square stage. Yes, it’s admirable that his list of achievements is lengthy given his age. However, it’s his love of the community, wanting to give back and inspire others that’s most impressive.
With widespread support from family, friends and colleagues, paired with creativity, class and drive, Wali Shah, the “kid from 5 & 10” is proof that anyone can do anything.