Joy of Canadian Words: April 25th fundraiser for Kogawa House – Actors read Canadian Literary works to Astound!
April 25th, 2006
Christ Church Cathedral
Georgia and Burrard
A beaming Joy Kogawa stands between
the evening's co-hosts Todd Wong (Save Kogawa House committee) and Bill
Turner (The Land Conservancy), following a magical evening of reading
performances – photo Deb Martin
audience listened attentively to literary interpretations of how Coyote
played a role in the Japanese internment and confiscation of property,
as written through the comical lens of Thomas King. The short
story “Coyote and the Enemy Aliens” was read by Chief Rhonda Larrabee
of the Qayqayt First Nations. It is painted a funny but ugly
truth about how Canadians of Japanese descent were deprived of basic
citizenship rights, and had their property confiscated for no reason
other than possessing Japanese ancestry, even if they were 3rd
generation Canadian. The trickster figure of Coyote is used to
create a metaphor for mischief, as the BC and Canadian government found
reasons based on racism, to move the Japanese out of Canada, and keep
them from reclaiming their wrongfully confiscated property, homes and
event was to raise money and awareness about the house that author Joy
Kogawa grew up in. When she was 6 years old, her family was
forced from the only home she had ever known and forced to live in what
she described as shacks for the next 30 years. The family was
interned in Slocan, than sent to work beet farms in Alberta, “to work
for nothing and prove their loyalty to Canada,” as Coyote said in the
Thomas King story.
and cultural celebrities were invited to read some of
Canada's most important literary works. Obasan and some of the works
read such as Anne of Green Gables are listed on the recent Literary
Review of Canada's 100 Most Important Canadian Books Ever
Written. Authors such as Thomas King and Leonard Cohen were also
presented, to create a short but incredibly rich and diverse samplng of
Canadian literary riches.
Bill Turner, co-host for the evening, executive director of The Land Conservancy – photo Deb Martin
executive director of The Land Conservancy of BC, opened up the evening
explaining how the Land Conservancy became involved in
leading the fundraising to turn Kogawa's child hood home into a
literary and historic land mark for Vancouver. “It is much more
than a house,” stated Turner citing the importance and role of Kogawa
House in the literary works of Obasan and Naomi's Road, “It is a symbol
of what we can create for society, to ensure that such racism never
Sheryl Mackay, reads from Anne of Green Gables – photo Deb Martin
Sheryl Mackay, host of CBC Radio's weekend program “North By Northwest”
read from Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. McKay is
a native Prince Edward Islander, and told of many people who go to
visit “Anne of Green Gables House” telling themselves “This is where
she slept.” McKay secretly commented to the audience “She isn't
real – she's just a work of fiction.” McKay also pointed out that
Kogawa House is real, and that Joy Kogawa actually slept in the
bedrooms of Kogawa House, and it would be wonderful to save the house
for generations to visit.
Joy Coghill read from Emily Carr's “Klee Wyck” – photo Deb Martin
Joy Coghill, esteemed and legendary actor
read from Emily Carr’s “Klee Wyck,” a collection of sketches about
Carr's experience with First Nations peoples. The book had won
the Governor General's prize for non-fiction
Coghill was amazing to watch. The timing and
delivery was breathtaking as she read from Emily Carr's
“Klee-wyck.” As I watched, I knew that we had really hit the
jackpot when we decided to ask actors to choose a book to read.
Doris Chilcott read poems by Alden Nowlan – photo Deb Martin
3rd up was actor Doris Chilcott, again amazing to watch as the actor's
craft of presentation and speaking unfolded. Doris read three Alden
Nowlan poems, a gifted writer who served many writers in residence
programs across the country.
Leora Cashe lifts the musical mood with Leonard Cohen's “Dance Me to the End of Love” with Jay Krebs on piano – photo Deb Martin
Next up to hit a home run, was gospel jazz singer Leora Cashe. How
could she not hit a home run while singing Leonard Cohen's song “Dance
Me to the End of Love.” Definitely a winner.
Rhonda Larrabee, Chief of Qayqayt First Nations, reads “Coyote and the Enemy Aliens” by Thomas King – photo Deb Martin
Larrabee hit another home run, with the insightful and wickedly ironic
and humourous Thomas King story titled “Coyote and the Enemy Aliens”?
Imagine the trickster figure of Coyote behind the internment of
Japanese Canadians and the confiscation of their property. It all
sounds like a bad dream, and King makes it so!
Bill Dow reads Aron Buchkowsky's “The Promised Land” – photo Deb Martin
actor Bill Dow, as having recently performed in the play The Diary of
Anne Frank, relating how the House of Anne Frank is a major tourist
attraction in Amsterdam, and how Kogawa House could be that for
Vancouver. Tourist and people making pilgramages could say to each
other “This is the house that Joy was taken away from.”
Bill gave a dramatic reading of Aron Buchkowsky's “The
I pointed out that Buchowsky, Leora Cashe and Joy Kogawa all had
fathers who were ministers. Rhonda Larrabee's great grandfather had
been a minister.
Maiko Yamamoto, Manami Hara, Bill Dow and Hiro Kanagawa read Dorothy Livesay's “Call My People Home” – photo Deb Martin.
Bill next invited to the stage actors, Hiro
Kanagawa, Maiko Yamamoto and Manami Hara to read Dorothy Livesay's
radio documentary poem “Call My People Home.” Written in 1949, it is
one of the first written pieces to criticize the internment of Japanese
Canadians. It was a magical group reading, as the voices took
turns speaking alone or in unison, each giving voice to different
aspects of the internment and the dispersal of Japanese Canadians, away
from their homes on the BC West coast.
Marion Quednau spoke about the cultural importance for saving Kogawa House – photo Deb Martin
Marion Quednau of the Writer's Union of Canada,
gave a spirited explanation about why Kogawa House is an important
landmark for all Canadians, by telling the story of how she convinced
the city council of Mission to support Kogawa House, by explaining the
historical Japanese connections in the Fraser Valley.
Joy Kogawa was thrilled with both the audience and the evening's performances – photo Deb Martin
privileged to introduce Joy Kogawa, and held up the program asking
everybody to look at the cover picture of Richmond school children with
a smiling white haired lady raising her arms in happiness. “That's Joy
Kogawa…” and I shared some of Joy's accomplishments.
Joy stood at the podium, and stated simply, “This is wonderful…. how
could you ask for anything more.” She thanked members of The Land
Conservancy and the Save Kogawa House committee for helping bring a
dream closer to reality. “I believe in miracles, and these people are
miracles,” she shared,
Joy then read from the prologue of
Obasan, then a section describing the house. She then read from a
section she had never read from before. It was about the process of
how the Canadian government had voted to keep the Japanese Canadians
interned up to 1947, and decided to continually exclude them from
resettling on the Pacific Coast. It was all decidely heart-breaking
and apalling to learn that this was the Canadian government's doing.
Bill Turner came back and explained how the audience could help support the vision of Kogawa House.
It was a wonderful evening. An evening where there were friendly
smiles on everybody's faces. Strangers greeted strangers. And books
were bought and signed. A six year old girl named Ashashi proudly
showed me the copy of Obasan that Joy had signed for her.
Then on the evening CTV news… we saw Bill Turner interviewed at our
event, as he made his plea for Canadians to support the Kogawa House
To donate for Save Kogawa House – check out www.conservancy.bc.ca
For more information – check www.kogawahouse.com