Marel Alemany is a singer-songwriter and film director from the Dominican Republic. He is the son of educator Pura Sanchez and creativity has been at the root of his formation and passion since he was born. A singer from an early age, in 2003 he released his debut single, “Palabras en el Aire” and started making music professionally. He has released two albums (“De Papel” in 2006 and “Carne” in 2009) and several singles, including (“Tu Guerra y la M a,” 2017, and “Navegar ” 2019). He has also composed numerous advertising jingles and two songs for the children’s books, “Super Niños” and “Tun Tun,” both written by storyteller Anya Damiron. Alongside his career as a musician, he’s worked for more than 15 years as a film director of commercials, short films, and music videos. He majored in Advertising at Seville University and later studied filmmaking before returning to his hometown of Santo Domingo in 2002. He is in the process of completing the post-graduate Children’s Media Program at Centennial College in Toronto.
Marel is a true master of many trades, whose talents in music, production, and leadership supported us in the success of our workshops and programs. We are incredibly grateful and proud to have Marel on our crew, and we can’t wait to share more about him with you!
1. A lot of what you do with us at Story Planet is guiding young folks in their creative writing journey. What or who inspires you in your creative journey?
Creativity is intrinsic to me. When I get any free time, I start day dreaming or start thinking of how to improve the world or my life and my family’s. I think they are a huge inspiration for me. My kids and my wife. They’ve inspired songs, and stories and they motivate me to look at the world with an open and critical mind.
2. We’re approaching your one year anniversary with us! Can you tell us about some of your favourite moments at Story Planet?
I enjoy everytime I read a story from a Young Authors and it blows my mind. This kids are capable of so much at such a young age, that is always a humbling experience. One of the things I enjoy the most is helping the kids create songs for the podcast or now with the songmaker program. I like when they realize they can get their ideas across with music and rhyme.
3. Aside from facilitating and being our go-to media man, you’ve also produced our first podcast and developed our SongMaker program. Do you have any hidden talents or hobbies you would like to share?!
I’ve being a singer-songwriter since I was 10, and this is very public, so not sure about if is a hidden talent. I’m also a die hard soccer fan.
What keeps you motivated?
My family. Being a good person, doing something that helps me shape a better future.
4. In our workshops, we’re often transported to fantastical places with the kids – outer space, futuristic cities, medieval kingdoms. What three items would you take with you to a deserted island?
A fishing pole, a hunting knife and a satelite phone so I can ask someone to pick me up after I’m done exploring.
5. You’re a creative, multitalented maven! Can you tell us about what made you want to pursue a career in the creative industries?
My mother was an educator with a passion for theatre, and I always had a musical inclination. When I was 5 I was signing in front of an audience. I remember expending hours and hours playing by myself, making up fantasy worlds, future versions of my life. Books, movies and music where my favourite friends when I was little. Even playing sports. I used to play basketball by myself, imagining I beat Michael Jordan one on one. I don’t think I could do anything, but create. I’m just happy there are industries for that.
6. What’s next for yourself?
I’m new to Canada, and I hope I can make a life here. I wish I’m able to keep creating content (music, tv shows, stories) to inspire others, especially kids, to be kinder, creative, engage with their communities. So, I’m going to keep writing and hope that I can sustain my family by doing what I love.
7. If you had a superpower, what would it be? And why?
I would love to be able to teleport in space and time. I just love to travel and learn about different cultures and places.
8. If you were a were-hamster (werewolf + hamster), what would you do?
Probably find other’s like me and move to the wilderness.
9. How would you describe Story Planet in one or two words?
Inspiring and necessary.
10. What is your favourite colour?
11. If you could choose one age to be for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
30 is a sweet spot of youth, independence, energy, experience, but what would be sweet is to be 70 in the body of a 20 year old.
12. What is your favourite children’s book?
The little prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
13. What’s a song that you like a lot?
If I have to choose, I’d say Beautiful Boy by John Lennon.
14. What is your favourite place in the world? What’s a place you’d like to visit next?
Playa Bonita, Samaná in the north of the Dominican Republic. I want to go to Japan, Italy and Mexico next.
On March 28, Story Planet partnered with Thorncliffe Park Urban Farmers (Facebook, Instagram) for a writing workshop with Pushcart Prize nominated local writer, Nadia Shahbaz!
Here are what some of the students of Marc Garneau said:
“I went deep and wrote about my ancestral roots which I wasn’t expecting.”
“I thought I didn’t have anything to write about but then I put my pen to paper and realized I did.”
By the end of the workshop, participants had a collection of story ideas and early drafts. Keep an eye out for their stories in “More Than a Garden,” a book on community, nature, rootedness, and interconnection—and watch this space for more events coming soon!
JoyceDason is a facilitator, studying Equity Studies and Environmental Studies at University of Toronto. She joined Story Planet in 2019 as a volunteer. Falling in love with all that we do (of which the feeling is mutual), she is now a facilitator and loves being more involved with the kids at Story Planet. She’s been integral in the success of our workshops: from leading workshops multiple days (on a weekly basis!) to collaborating with community partners and planning programs, we’re incredibly grateful to have Joyce, an extraordinary human and member of our Story Planet family.
A lot of what you do with us at Story Planet is guiding young folks in their creative writing journey. What or who inspires you in your creative journey?
My creative journey is inspired a lot by just what’s around me. Walking in nature, being really present in the moment, I find that helps me get into a more creative space. Creativity for me comes in a lot of forms. A lot of journal writing. I really do like to journal and get my thoughts down on paper, answer journal prompts, things like that, and I find that I answer a journal prompt best when I’m in the moment, throughout my day.
So engaging with my family, engaging with my friends, going out and taking a walk, being away from my phone, things like that help me get into a more creative mindset. And so when I go to journal in the evenings, I have a lot more to write and a lot more to reflect on and think about in a creative way.
You’ve been with us since 2019! Can you tell us about some of your favourite moments at Story Planet?
There’s so many, but one of the most memorable to me was my last in-person workshop, pre-COVID, and we were in a classroom. It was the last of a four week series, and I had this one student who I had worked with a few times and their story was coming along great. We talked about it a lot. They were really inspired by their story. They had been telling me about their loose tooth for the last four weeks and how they had this tooth that was becoming looser and looser.
In the final session, they pulled it out of their mouth and they showed me their tooth that they had pulled out and they said, “Oh my goodness, you have to go to the office and get one of those little treasure boxes. Do they still do that?” That’s how it was for me.
And they were like, “Okay, yeah.”
I went to do something else, came back and I said, “what happened to your tooth?”
“I swallowed it.”
Immediately, I was like, “What? What do you mean, you swallowed it? Where did it go?” “Oh, I just decided to swallow it.”
So it’s a very out of the box experience, I guess you could say, but it’s definitely one that stuck with me as it was just such a funny moment for them to look at me and just so calmly say, “I’ve swallowed it. What’s the problem?” And I in my mind was like, “I’m not sure if there’s a problem here, to be honest, anyway.” They ended up adding that into their story as something that their character also did. So it was a little bit of inspiration from real life in the moment and game, which was memorable to me and obviously to them as they wrote it into their story.
Some other memorable moments: moreso because of COVID, we’ve been online, which of course, has had its pros and cons. But one of the pros is that we see a lot of the kids over and over because we do multiple workshops with them within a year. And so it’s so fun when you get to do more than one workshop series with the same class and you come back and the students recognize you and they’re excited and they say, “Oh, it’s so nice to see you,” and we’re excited and they get so excited for storytelling, and it’s so nice to meet that more long term connection with them. I’ve had groups of students that I’ve just connected with over those four weeks, and it’s so upsetting to have to say goodbye. But then it’s so exciting to come back with a new workshop series, whether it’s a CityMaker or Young Authors following their first workshop. Those are always meaningful experiences to me as well.
You’ve also led our first songwriting workshop (Podcast Episode 1) last spring. Do you have any hidden talents or hobbies too?
So in terms of hidden talents and hobbies, I’m not sure how hidden it is, but I was very musically-inclined as a child. I played classical piano for about ten years. I also played guitar for a few years and would sing while I played guitar. I performed at both my siblings’ engagement parties, and one sibling’s wedding. That was something I was very into. I played saxophone in school from grades five to nine. I played the flute for a couple of years as well. In school, I picked up the violin for about a year. It’s not something I stuck with. It’s a very difficult instrument to learn for sure.
I also sang in choir for about ten years, which was a very meaningful experience for me. I have a lot of friends that I am still connected with today through choir. I always loved to sing. I wish that I did it more now. It’s a little harder when you’re older, there’s an organized choir practice, every week unless you seek them out. Those are probably my “hidden talents” – that I was musical for many years of my life.
What is your favourite music genre?
My favorite genre of music, it’s not quite a genre, but my favorite artist of all time is Lizzo. I absolutely love Lizzo. I have her playing in the background all the time. That’s certainly my favorite artist.
I think that she is a very funny person as well. I follow her on social media. She’s just naturally funny and personable, and I think that’s such a nice trait to have along with her amazing music.
In our workshops, we’re often transported to fantastical places with the kids – outer space, futuristic cities, medieval kingdoms. What three items would you take with you to a deserted island?
I think on a more practical note, I would take matches. One for warmth, two for cooking food. And on that note, I would probably also bring a fishing pole or fishing gear. I don’t know if that counts as more than one item, but I think that would be handy as I can catch some fish to eat. And then on a more personal note, I would probably bring my journal. It’s something to do. It’s something I can write down my experiences on this deserted island, maybe publish them when I’m finally discovered again.
What’s next for yourself?
I’m about to graduate and finish my undergrad degree, which is really exciting. This is my last semester, so I’ll be done in April. I’m hoping to go to law school come September. I’m still waiting for acceptances on that front, but I’m really excited about the next chapter of my life and just seeing what happens post-law school.
I hope to come back to underserved communities and work in them and with them in some way. I’m not sure quite what that looks like yet, but I’m sure law school opened my eyes to the opportunity there. I do hope to continue to work in these neighborhoods that we’re already working in Story Planet.
If you had a superpower, what would it be? And why?
If I had a superpower, it would definitely be mind reading. I think that being able to understand someone’s thoughts is a very cool thing. It’s also very private, I understand, so it would come with a lot of responsibility on my part to know when to use my power, also when not to use it, not to hurt myself because maybe you don’t always want to know what someone’s thinking. I think that would be a really cool power.
The other is flying. I feel like that’s a classic. I would love to just fly around and zoom around and get wherever I want to go, not have to be stuck in traffic. That would be pretty cool.
How would you describe Story Planet in one or two words?
Working at Story Planet is inspiring and fun. Those are probably my two words for it.
What is your favourite colour?
My favorite color is probably forest green. I like that kind of calming sense that green gives you, and I really like green in interior decorating.
Can you tell us about the wackiest character you remember from a workshop?
The wackiest character member from a workshop was Banana Man. There were actually multiple banana men in this workshop, but the one that I was with my group creating had a superpower. Their superpower was that, if they knew when someone else was hungry, they would be able to go to them and give them a banana. So essentially solving world hunger. They lived in a banana house. Their whole life was just bananas, and they never actually died because they would die and then come back to life. So they were just this never ending banana character, which is pretty cool. And that was one of the wackiest.
There were a lot of other details to it that I’m trying to recall right now, but that was definitely my wackiest character, I think.
If you could choose one age to be for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
If I could choose one age, it would be 17. I really liked my life when I was 17. I had really close friends who I’m still friends with today. I was just learning to drive and so I had a bit more freedom. I was starting to understand what I wanted to do in life, you know, applying to universities, looking at programs, things like that. And it just felt like everything was just in front of me. And at the same time, I still had that childlike or, you know, younger self not having to worry about much, just getting to live life and be with my friends, and drive around wherever I wanted to go. And looking forward to university, prom, and all the things that came with senior year. I think 17 was my year.
What is your favourite children’s book?
My favorite children’s book was The Penderwicks, a chapter book. It was my absolute favorite book. I read it probably like 50 times, and I used to read another book and then come back and read The Penderwicks. There were three books. There was The Penderwicks, The Penderwicks on Garden Street, and a third one as well.
And my favourites were the first two. I think the second one was my absolute favorite because it was just them in their everyday lives and lives, and it was these four sisters who had lost their mother and were being raised by their father. The oldest sister took on this motherly role. One of the sisters was this creative writer, and plays things. One of the sisters was really into sports, and the youngest sister was just the youngest. And she was very cute and she wore ladybug wings everywhere.
I just loved listening to their lives. It was like a comfort book. I just read it over and over and over again. I haven’t read it in a long time. I feel like I should go back and read it.
What’s a song that you like a lot?
I really like the song Beyond by Leon Bridges.
Could you hum it for us, please?
Could I hum it, perhaps let me think for a minute. You know, I can’t. I can’t right now.
It will come to me… okay, I’m going to say no for now.
What is your favourite dog name?
I personally have two dogs: one is Duke and one is Bear. I really like the name Bear. I chose the name Bear. And he’s actually very small, so it’s funny that his name is Bear because you think you’re going to get this big dog, and then this little Shih-Tzu runs out.
I do like the name Duke as well. Duke was not my first choice for the dog’s name, but I have come to love him as Duke. But I think my favorite dog name is Bear.
Who is your platonic crush?
I think I’m going to go back to Lizzo. I think Lizzo is such a cool person. She’s super inspiring what she’s doing in terms of self-love and confidence in yourself and all these different things. She’s an outspoken, proud woman of colour. I think she’s just really funny. I think she would be a fun person to hang out with. Yes, I think Lizzo would be a fun time. She’s my platonic crush. If I could be friends with anyone, it would probably be Lizzo.
We’re kicking off this International Women’s Day with a round-up of our favourite women writers!
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
“We Are Water Protectors” is an illustrated picture book about a young Ojibwe water protector who must protect the precious resource from a snake.
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
“The Henna Wars” is a young adult rom-com about two teen girls with rival businesses who fall in love.
Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega
“Ghost Squad” follows the adventures of two girls who accidentally cast a spell that awakens evil spirits. can they save the town before it’s too late?
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
“Legendborn” is a young adult novel full of adventure. When sixteen-year-old Bree discovers she has magic powers, that monsters are real, and there’s a secret society at her school, she must decide her place in the coming magic war.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali
“The Proudest Blue” follows Faizah and her older sister Asiya, who’s wearing her first hijab on the first day of a new school year.