OUR

TEAM

WORD STAFF

Aida Lilly
Program Coordinator

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris
Program Deputy

Blaire Bridges
Operations Coordinator

Michelle Malonzo
Head of Operations

Suzi Q. Smith
[margins.] Conference Director

Viniyanka Prasad
Executive Director, Founder

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Bunmi Ishola

Board Chair

Editor-Writer Mentorship Chair

Deidre Dumpson
Board Member

Jenna Nishimura
Board Member

Liza Bevams

Board Treasurer

Manuel Aragon

Board Member

Olivia Abtahi

Board Secretary

EMERITUS MEMBERS

Sangeeta Mehta

Board Member Emeritus

 

Sasha Hutchings

Board Member Emeritus, Co-Founder

Viniyanka Prasad

Executive Director, Founder

Viniyanka founded the Word in 2016 and serves as its current Executive Director. She speaks regularly on issues of cultural equity, including the recent keynote address The Power to Hear Another's Truth at the 2019 Red Pencil Conference.  Viniyanka serves as a Commissioner with the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, where she is the Chair of the Outreach and Engagement Committee. She has previously served on the 100th Anniversary Committee for Children's Book Week, and the advisory committee for the Colorado Teen Lit Conference.

 

In addition to her work with The Word, Viniyanka is a practicing criminal defense attorney representing clients appointed by the Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel. She formerly served as a litigation attorney and the Chief Appellate Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Federal Community Defenders, and also litigated with a civil rights firm in Denver focusing on police misconduct claims. Her legal commentaries have been included in the Chicago Journal of International Law as well as presented to committee at the United Nations. 

Viniyanka began honing her legal craft in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project at the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of The University of Chicago. She holds a J.D. from The University of Chicago, a Publishing Certificate from The University of Denver Publishing Institute, and a B.A. in Government and Business Foundations Certificate from The University of Texas. 

 

Aida Lilly

Program Coordinator

Aida Z. Lilly (she/her) is the Program Coordinator for The Word | A Storytelling Sanctuary and, alongside Viniyanka Prasad, spearheaded the creation of #MarginsBookselling Month and its programming. She now calls the East Coast home after spending several years in Denver, Colorado, where she attended the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute (Graduate Certificate) and worked as a retail manager and bookseller for a large indie bookstore. Aida is also an associate literary agent at KT Literary.

Aida is based in Virginia, loves to travel, and lives to read. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Montevallo with a BA in English (minor in writing) and has an MA in Organizational Management with a specialization in Media Management.

 

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris

Program Deputy

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris is a queer Afro-Latinx Dominican and Puerto Rican writer, wife, mother, and community organizer. She crafts heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places she has been. Alyssa was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her partner and daughter.

Her upcoming picture books are PLÁTANOS ARE LOVE (Atheneum 2023), THE BRONX IS MY HOME (Little Brown/Ottaviano 2023) and GLORIANA PRESENTE A First Day of School Book (Little Brown/Ottaviano 2024).

Prior to immersing herself into the publishing industry, she worked to alleviate poverty in India,  taught English at an orphanage in Tanzania, and facilitated the establishment of the Women’s Witness Protection Program for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Alyssa earned a B.A. in political science and graduated magna cum laude from Arcadia University.

She founded Schools for Sustainability. She assembled a team of 70 volunteers that fundraised, wrote curriculum, built a water purification system, and constructed an aquaponic unit (produces both fish and crops in a closed-loop system without waste) in the Monte Plata region of the Dominican Republic.

 
 

Blaire Bridges

Operations Coordinator

Blaire Bridges (they/them/he/him) is an educator, multimedia designer, and poet. As a consultant, Blaire has led organizational change initiatives and worked in multimedia design with diverse organizations, creatives, and businesses. Blaire completed the Poetry Certificate program with the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, OR and holds a degree in Organizational Leadership, with certificates in Nonviolent Communication and Somatic Trauma Therapy. He facilitates writing workshops and men’s groups, serves as the Choir Manager for one of the largest queer youth choruses in the nation, and teaches mindfulness in public high schools. Blaire produces the monthly mindfulness and creativity newsletter Goodnight Friday, rooted in a reverence for rest.  

Michelle Malonzo

Head of Operations

Michelle Malonzo (she/her) is an experienced publishing professional and most recently has been a buyer at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe and Phoenix, AZ. She serves on the board of directors of the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and is a longtime member of the ABA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Previously she served on the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association board. Michelle won the 2021 BIPOC Bookseller Award sponsored by Duende District Bookstore and The Word, was a 2020 Bookselling Without Borders Fellow, a 2019 Kirkus Judge for Fiction and for nearly 10 years worked at Penguin Random House.

 

Suzi Q. Smith

[margins.] Conference Director

Suzi Q. Smith is an award-winning artist, activist, and educator who lives in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of A Gospel of Bones, available from Alternating Current Press, and her newest collection, Poems for the End of the World, is available from Finishing Line Press. 

 

As a community organizer, Suzi began her career working for a civil rights organization in Denver. She has remained actively involved in serving her community in a number of capacities for over 20 years. Suzi was the first Slammaster of Denver’s Slam Nuba, and she spent 12 years in the poetry slam arena as a coach, organizer, and performer, earning her way to dozens of local, regional, national, and international finals and championships. In addition, she has worked extensively with youth, serving as a Teaching Artist with Youth On Record, and as a coach of Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, resulting in two international championships. She has served a number of community organizations locally in Denver, including the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and many more.

 

Bunmi Ishola

Board Chair, Editor-Writer Mentorship Chair

Raised in Texas and Nigeria, Bunmi Ishola spent most of her childhood reading. She thought she wanted to be an author, but Nigerian practicality forced her to pursue journalism instead (which still wasn't practical enough for most of the Nigerian adults in her life). She studied English and journalism at Texas A&M University and later got a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. After working for World Literature Today, The Norman Transcript, The Dallas Morning News, and CURE magazine, Bunmi left journalism to teach middle school social studies and English. After seven years in the classroom, she decided to take a chance and find a job working with one of her biggest passions: books. She now works as an editor for Penguin Random House, primarily focusing on children's books.  While she spends most of her time reading, Bunmi also loves to travel, and so far has been to almost 20 countries on six continents. You can see what she's been reading lately, or where she goes on her next adventure, on Instagram (@bunmi_ishola).

 

Chris Aguilar Garcia

Board Member

Chris Aguilar Garcia is a Queer Chicanx writer and editor from Thornton, Colorado with an extensive career in community minded organizations. He is currently acting as Director of Community Relations at Queer Asterisk Therapeutic Services, and on staff at the Anythink Library Commerce City branch. As Program Manager at Point Foundation, the National LGBTQ Scholarship Fund, he managed a suite of leadership conferences, a grant-funded internship program, and roles with the alumni and mentoring committees. Additional positions included Office Manager at GLAAD and assistant to Independent Spirit and Emmy award-winning producer Andrea Sperling.

 

A longtime Prince scholar, Chris has presented papers at conferences including Purple Reign: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Life and Legacy of Prince at Salford University in Manchester, UK; Prince from MPLS at the University of Minnesota, and at the Pop Culture Association national and regional conferences. He is writing a book on the Queerness of Prince.

 
 

Deidre Dumpson

Board Member

Deidre Dumpson is a native New Yorker with roots in Trinidad and Tobago. For Deidre, the path to the book industry began when she was able to read stories that allowed her to know that her circumstances were never permanent. It expanded when she found that the words and ideas she held on to from books allowed her to navigate the world with confidence and curiosity. It blossomed when she stumbled upon the revolutionary stories written by women of color while pursuing her Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies graduate degree. Deidre has previously served as a bookseller at both The Dolphin Bookshop and WORD Bookstores in New York. Currently she is working as the Retail and Library Success Manager at Above the Treeline and working to open the lines of communication across the book industry. She is most passionate about literacy, education, and reading Black women's literature. 

 

Jenna Nishimura

Board Member

Born in Colorado but raised in Texas, Japan, and the Pacific Northwest, Jenna returned to her birthstate in early 2017. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon and the University of Edinburgh (UK), and her professional background is a mélange of nonprofit and small business entrepreneurship. She is currently working on her first book, a WWII historical fiction centered on the Japanese American experiences in America's concentration camps. When she is not writing or lost in a book, she enjoys cooking and traveling with 23 countries and 24 states under her belt. You can see what she's reading and other random musings on instagram: @jnishimura. 

 

Liza Bevams

Board Treasurer

Liza Michelle Bevams is a writer and teaching artist - which is all to say that she helps people communicate their stories.  Her practice encompasses community building and the creation of accessible imaginative experiences.  She has taught creative writing to elementary, middle and high schoolers, ESL students, and adults.  Her work appears or is forthcoming in Houston & Nomadic Voices, MadCap Review, AmberMagazine, SweetDeluge, and elsewhere.  Bevams is a graduate of Dickinson College and the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College.  Originally from Southern California, she has lived in many states and countries, and currently calls Denver home.  She is currently interested in the intersections of oral history and medicine, and at work on a long-form study about self-preservation in wild and lonely places.

 

Manuel Aragon

Board Member

A graduate of NYU’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at Tisch, Manuel has spent most of his working career at nonprofits, in a variety of roles. He is currently working on a short story collection, Norteñas. Norteñas is a collection of speculative fiction short stories centered in the Northside, a Mexican and Mexican- American centered part of Denver, and the people, ghosts, and demons that live there. His work has appeared in ANMLY. His short story, "A Violent Noise," is nominated for the 2020 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers.

 

Olivia Abtahi

Board Secretary

Olivia is a writer and director based in Denver, Colorado. A graduate of NYU Film, Olivia’s first gig out of school was as a shooter in Havana, Cuba, where she interviewed clandestine bloggers like Yoani Sanchez and hitchhiked around the island. Since then she’s received her masters in advertising from VCU Brandcenter, where she went on to write copy at agencies like The Martin Agency and MullenLowe.

As a writer, Olivia enjoys working on projects that feature multicultural protagonists, just like her. Her debut novel, Twin Flames, is a 2018 New Visions Award winner and is slated for 2020 release by Tu Books. She is currently working on her documentary, M.E.N.A, about the 2020 Census' declassification of the Middle-Eastern North African ethnicity category. You can follow her on the socials at @oliviaabtahi 

Carissa Villagomez

Communications Fellow

Carissa Villagomez (she/her) is passionate about helping writers forge their unique paths in a more inclusive publishing world. She is currently an intern for Serene Hakim at Ayesha Pande Literary and a Junior Editor at another Colorado nonprofit, Brink, and its partner journal F(r)iction. Carissa is thrilled to be The Word’s Communications Fellow and can’t wait to interact with you all on our media channels!

 

Maya Prasad

Program Consultant

Maya Prasad is a Caltech graduate who spent nine years working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. But the longing to see South Asians like herself reflected in literature was strong enough to get her writing. She now resides in the Pacific Northwest, where she spends dreary gray days writing in coffee shops and raising a bookworm of a toddler. She was a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentorship program, mentored by Padma Venkatraman (A TIME TO DANCE). Her novels feature unwieldy technologies, Indian culture, and subversive STEM girls. Visit her website www.mayaprasad.com or tweet her @mayaprasadwrite.