Wayson Choy at Vancouver Writer's Festival

Wayson Choy appears at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival for two events.

Event #47 – Saturday Oct 23, 7pm – Waterfront Theater

Isabel Huggan In Conversation With Wayson Choy

Event #54 – Sunday Oct 24,  8pm – Stanley Theatre

The Bill Duthie Memorial Lecture

Wayson Choy

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Wayson’s new novel All That Matters is nominated for the Giller Prize. Founded in 1994, The Giller Prize awards $25,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. All That Matters is a prequel to The Jade Peony which shared the Trillium Award with Margaret Atwood.

Tonight’s event was a graceful conversation between writers Wayson Choy and Isabel Huggan. Both have written novels and memoirs. Topics discussed included: memory, writing about truths and secrets, relationships with family, the writing process and also their recent health challenges / near death experiences.

Both writers are very engaging and were able to quickly develop a good lively rapport both with each other and the audience. Wayson grew up in Vancouver, but lives in Toronto and recently retired from Humber College. Isabel, while growing up in Bellevue ON, currently lives in France, but returns annually to Canada to include teaching at Humber College.

Special topics included Wayson’s discovery that he was adopted, which occurred the week after The Jade Peony was launched in Vancouver. Wayson discussed the nature of drawing out the truth, and the variations of truths, when contexted in memory, as the truth is often different for individuals as their realities are most often always perceived differently. Both Wayson and Isabel encouraged writers not to try to write a universal perspective to appeal to all readers. The result, they explained, short shifts both the writer, and the reader, as it no longer becomes the truth of the story or experience.

During the book signings, I shared with Wayson my frustration about book reviewers who complain that All That Matters merely retreads material and settings already covered in The Jade Peony and his memoir Paper Shadows, and is therefore undeserving of the Giller Prize. “It always happens,” Wayson sighed, “but fortunately the Giller Prize judges were able to see beyond that.” He agreed with me that such critics fail to see that they are marginalizing and pigeon holing Asian Canadian writers, in the same way that racism marginalized and stereotyped Asian communities.

“If we can only write about what we know, then Chinatown and Asian Canadian issues are all that are possible, and writing about anything else would be beyond our experience. The Asian Canadian experience is part of the Canadian experience,” I said. Wayson agreed that Chinatown stories are Canadian stories, and stories about Asian Canadians are stories about Canadians. End of criticism.

In 2002, I was on the inaugural One Book One Vancouver committee for the Vancouver Public Library. We built an entire program around making Wayson’s first novel The Jade Peony, come alive for readers through readings, lectures, walking tours, discussion groups, a documentary movie, and even a dim sum lunch with his closest friends.

Throughout the summer, I learned not only what a wondefully crafted book The Jade Peony was, but also what a warm genuine and gracious person that Wayson Choy was. While the OBOV event officially wrapped up at the Word On The Street on the last Sunday of September, Wayson was feted at the inaugural Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop Community Builder’s Dinner held that evening at Flamingo Restaurant. Also honoured at the dinner were Paul Yee and Roy Mah.

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