News and Interviews

The Dirty Dozen with July Writer-in-Residence Irfan Ali


Meet our July 2020 writer-in-residence, Irfan Ali!

A Toronto-born poet, essayist, and educator, Ali's previous book of short poetry Who I Think About When I Think About You found him shortlisted for the 2015 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. His newest collection, Accretion (Brick Books), re-purposes the ancient Persian tale of Layla and Manjun to trace the complicated relationships of a modern immigrant family. Ali's evocative and thoughtful lyrical style shines through these poems, rendering a raw, humane portrait of struggle and triumph within the challenging confines of urban life.

Head over to our Writer in Residence page to read Irfan's posts over the next month. You can get to know him better through his Dirty Dozen interview below, where he discusses how a Dungeons & Dragons obsession led him to writing, reading Stephen King's IT as an impressionable pre-teen, and how he walked away from an alternate existence as a Japanese variety show host.

The Dirty Dozen with Irfan Ali:

  1. My childhood nickname was “Big Ears” for likely obvious reasons. While my face has become more proportional in adulthood, I still feel like my ears are abnormally large.
  2. I got my start writing by creating bootleg Dungeons & Dragons “modules” to play with my brothers. My mom had found a copy of the D&D rulebook at a garage sale, but not the Module Set or Monster Manual, so I stepped in to fill the gap. I don’t remember much about these stories other than one involved fighting a giant lobster on the deck of a pirate ship.
  3. The first “adult” novel I ever read was Stephen King’s It, at age 12. Yes, reading a book like that is bad for the development of a pubescent brain. Yes, I’m still terrified of horror movies now as a result.
  4. I used to be primarily a visual artist. Most of my high school friends thought I was going to become a comic book artist. 
  5. I was in a bad car crash in my first year of university and was blind for about a month and a half afterwards. According to my doctor, the fact that I wear glasses might’ve been the only reason that loss of vision didn’t become permanent. This event also subconsciously made me pivot away from visual art and back into writing; I guess coming close to losing the sense most needed for drawing and painting impressed on me a need to diversify my art practice.
  6. My educational background is in economics and business. I actually have a B.Comm. I used to be embarrassed about this to the point of trying to hide it, given how many business types are borderline or overt sociopaths.  
  7. I lived (a very unusual life) in Japan for several years in my early 20’s. Two weeks before returning to Canada on my mom’s insistence, I was offered a gig as a variety show host. Unfortunately, I had to turn it down. That’s still a bit of a sore spot for me knowing that in an alternate universe, I’m big in Japan.
  8. My handwriting looks like it belongs to a Victorian woman. Seriously, ask any of my friends.
  9. Though, like most writers, I’m a textbook introvert now, I used to DJ and throw a lot of parties in the city. I’m very much at peace with the transition into a much quieter lifestyle (that’s far more amenable to the act of writing), but there are a lot of memories from those nights that rank amongst my most cherished.
  10. There’s an Instagram fan page for me created by the students of one of the high schools I teach at.
  11. My most cherished possession is my cast iron pan. I treat it with more care than I do myself most days.
  12. I had a $5,000 bet running with my mom that I’d have a book deal before my 33rd birthday. I won, but she still hasn’t paid up. Mom, consider yourself officially on blast for that.


Irfan Ali is a poet, essayist, writer, and educator. His short poetry collection, Who I Think About When I Think About You was shortlisted for the 2015 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Accretion is his first full-length work. Irfan was born, raised, and still lives in Toronto.

Buy the Book


An extraordinary debut set in Toronto, unfurling against the backdrop of an ancient Persian love story.

The story of Layla and Majnun, made immortal by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi in the 12th century, has been retold thousands of times, in thousands of different ways, throughout literature. Against the backdrop of this story, to the soundtrack of modern hip-hop, and amid the struggle of an immigrant family to instill an old faith under new conditions, Irfan Ali’s Accretion hurtles toward an unsustainable, “greater madness.” Majnun, one of the foundational literary characters who haunt Accretion, is also an Arabic epithet for “possessed.” In this tradition, Ali has written a book from the places where the self is no longer the self; places where, in order not to shut down forever, the debris must be cleared, and the soul must inch toward love and hope, “on memory’s dusty beams.”

Accretion is written in a contemporary lyricism that honours ancient poetic traditions. It is a familiar story, imbued with a particularity and honesty that only Irfan Ali could bring to the table.