Yaya Yao is a writer and educator born and raised in Toronto’s Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods. She has worked as an educator in arts, health, and social justice settings for 15 years. She is currently based in Hokkaido, Japan, where she lives with her family and teaches middle school.
Yaya’s first collection of poetry, Flesh, Tongue, was published by Mawenzi House in 2015. Her poetry has appeared in journals including CV2, Fireweed, the Toronto Review of Books and TOK 7. She developed Tongue, a short play, through Nightwood Theatre’s Write From the Hip and fu-GEN Theatre’s Kitchen playwriting units. Through these units, staged readings of excerpts of the play were directed by Yvette Nolan and Marjorie Chan, respectively.
Yaya is the recipient of the 2008 Wayson Choy Scholarship of the Humber School for Writers, where she was mentored by Olive Senior. She was awarded a playwrights grant from the Toronto Arts Council in the same year.
Yaya also writes accessible, plain language reference and curricular resources with a focus on equity and health; she was the lead writer of The Equity Educators Companion Guide, a primer for Ontario teachers, and a forthcoming handbook for service providers.
As a multidisciplinary performer, Yaya uses spoken word, music, movement, martial arts and theatre. She has performed at venues in Toronto, Montreal, Hong Kong, Sapporo, Singapore, Japan, and the Philippines.
Yaya has also been blessed with opportunities to stretch her creative practice with groundbreaking arts organizations such as Diaspora Dialogues, where she was mentored by Olive Senior and Margaret Christakos, Ill Nana/DiverseCity Dance Company, MataDanze, Urban Ink Productions, Asian Arts Freedom School, and the now defunct Theatre in the Rough, founded by Amah Harris.