University of Toronto graduate uses fantasy genre to pursue real-life change

It is by fantasy that Marquela Nunes found an outlet for activism in the real world.

The future University of Toronto graduate Scarborough used the book genre – characterized by elements such as magic and epic characters – to create a safe space to unbox and rewrite history so that LGBTQ rights and the racial equality have always existed.

Her first novel, the first version of which has been completed, draws on the mythologies and stories of West Africa and Central Asia in order to “re-imagine how wonderful our world could be”.

“It’s almost too crude to write non-fiction because I’m not happy with the world we live in,” says Nunes. “Sometimes I want to get away from it all and writing fantasy is that escape for me.

“At the end of the day, I love writing fantasy because it opens up a world of possibilities.”

Nunes, who graduated this week from the Honors English Co-op program with a minor in Creative Writing, says two professors in the English department at the University of Toronto in Scarborough have had a profound influence on her: Karine Vernon, who fed his interpretation of the course material; and assistant professor SJ Sindu, which helped her gain self-confidence while working on the novel.

“Being able to bounce off some ideas from her and get in-depth feedback has been very valuable to me,” Nunes said of Sindu. “She had a huge influence on me.”

Nunes’ efforts to initiate conversations about equity and inclusion are shaped by her many volunteer and communications roles on campus and in the community. In 2017, Nunes began volunteering with the Imani College Mentorship Program, an initiative that helps black youth in Scarborough pursue post-secondary education.

“It helped me decide what kind of activist I wanted to be. It was a stepping stone to what I’m doing right now with my writing.

As a cooperative student, Nunes worked as an online project coordinator to support the development of training modules on Unconscious Bias – an equity and diversity initiative led by Maydianne Andrade, Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Nunes has designed a series of web videos to provide a user-friendly experience for University of Toronto staff and faculty to learn how to spot unconscious bias in the workplace.

Nunes is currently working in finance and continues her part-time equity work at Federation of Black Canadians, a nonprofit organization that works with community partners to advance the interests of black communities across the country.

After juggling work and school throughout the pandemic, Nunes’ advice to students is not to let grades define your worth – and not to compare yourself to others.

“Grades are part of your time in college,” says Nunes. “Do a lot of self-research and prioritize learning about who you are as a person.”

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