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.
Five Fast by Viniyanka—
Places I’ve Lived (longest to shortest): Chicago, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Norman, India, Denver (you can find me here now!), Amsterdam, New Zealand (okay, that was just a long vacation; but I wish!)
Random Jobs I’ve Loved: Restorative Yoga Instructor, Graphic Designer
Memorable Lesson from a Book: Having the confidence and humility to know that “most improved” means moving from “stinko to just plain smelly.” Skinnybones by Barbara Park.
Five Must-See Classic Thrillers/Noirs: Le Samourai, Rear Window, The Third Man, Spellbound, The Big Sleep
Five Books I’m So Glad I Read: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Alanna by Tamora Pierce, Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Originally from Alabama, Aida Lilly moved to Denver, Colorado in early 2016. She studied English and writing at the University of Montevallo and attended the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. She holds an MA in Organizational Management with a specialization in Media Management. She previously managed a bookstore and is now an Associate Agent at KT Literary Agency.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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 (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 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.
Sangeeta Mehta has worked in the publishing field since the late 1990s. She has been an acquiring editor at both Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (the children's division of the Hachette Book Group) and Simon Pulse (the teen paperback division of Simon & Schuster). She currently consults on book projects for corporate and independent book publishers as well as individual authors. In 2016, she was elected to the Board of Governors of the Editorial Freelancers Association and launched the organization’s first Diversity Initiative. She also mentors aspiring teen writers through the Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES.
A California native, Sangeeta moved to New York City in 2002, after working for two literary agents and earning a masters degree in comparative literature from UCLA. She continues to live in the heart of the publishing industry and enjoys taking on clients from all over the world. Visit her website at www.mehtabookeditingnewyork.com.
Board Member Emeritus, Co-Founder
Guilty of tsundoku (just look at her bookshelves!), books and stories have always been a large part of Sasha’s life. She has devoted her career to the nonprofit and public service sector because people and their stories are her passion. Sasha has worked extensively with victims/survivors of interpersonal violence, marginalized communities, and at-risk youth and their families, striving to empower and give a voice to those who are so often silenced.
In addition to being the co-founder of The Word, Sasha is currently the Managing Director at Phamaly Theatre Company, a nonprofit organization inspiring people to re-envision disability through professional theatre. Sasha’s career has included being the Director of the Denver Victim Services and Advocacy Network at the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, and the Assistant Director at Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust. She also taught at an inner-city school in Boston, Massachusetts where she worked with her students to create their memoirs and tell their stories, and worked with juveniles to help inform the court system of their life stories while at the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. Sasha received her Master’s degree from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Religious Studies from Fairfield University.
When Sasha is not working, reading, or spending gratuitous time in bookstores, she can be found enjoying Colorado; spending time with her friends and family; or hanging out with her furry friends, Jack (her adorable dog) and Kink and Kelso (her crazy cats). Sasha’s favorite book (first read in Ms. Scott’s 5th grade class) is Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. If you have yet to read it, do.