Monthly Archives: October 2011

Playwright Tara Beagan comes to Kogawa House

Playwright Tara Beagan comes to Kogawa House
Sunday, October 30, 2 to 4pm
1450 West 64th Avenue, Vancouver

Tara is a Toronto playwright of Thompson River Salish heritage. She won
the Dora Mavor Moore Award for her first play, Thy Neighbour’s Wife.
She is currently artistic director of Native Earth Theatre, Canada’s
oldest professional Aboriginal performing arts company, and we've
brought her to
Vancouver for a conversation with our writer-in-residence, Susan Crean, about writing as a means of social change.

Admission by donation – Space is limited
To reserve a seat, please RSVP to

Vancouver Opera goes West Side Story

I saw Vancouver Opera's West Side
Story on Wednesday night.  It is wonderful!

West Side Story
Vancouver Opera
Elizabeth Theatre October 22 – 29, 2011

The talented cast and crew brings the
gritty reality of ethnic clashing in multicultural inner city. This is the 1957 classic composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim.  Vancouver Opera has thankfully decided to use the original dance choreography by Jerome Robbins. 

It is a well-done production that every musical theatre student should see.  And judging by the audience, many young theatre and musical students were there.  It is a treat to see a full production treatment of West Side Story, instead of a community or high school theatre production.  Everything sparkles and sings in its detail.

The stage design is set amongst graffittied walls of urban renewal – it could be contemporary Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.  A few figures slink along the chain link fence, as one youth climbs over it.  These are the Jets, a neighborhood gang. They taunt a hispanic person walking through their “turf”, who returns with members of his own.  There is no singing or talking, just the balletically stylized leaps and jumps by the gang members scrimmaging against each other.  This is what Bruce Springsteen wrote about in his song Jungleland:

“The midnight gangs assembled and picked a rendezvous for the night
meet `neath that giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light
there's an opera out on the turnpike
There's a ballet being fought
out in the alley
Until the local cops, cherry tops, rips this holy

The singing by the multitercultural cast includes is lead by Italian-Canadian
LUCIA CESARONI as Maria.  She is a strong soprano, and her speaking voice is a strong Puerto Rican accent.

ROBYN WONG as Consuelo, and many more. 

Wish we
could see more art about contemporary life issues- maybe Occupy Wall
Street will become an opera, similar to Vancouver Opera's recent productions of Lillian
Alling, and Nixon in China. There are recent stories about a national remount of Louis Riel.  There have been recent operas in Canada about Pierre Eliot Trudeau and Brian Mulroney…. But my dream wish opera would be – a Terry Fox
I wonder if it is applicable to 21st Century Vancouver…
imagine if Vancouver had ethnic gang wars, and new immigrants named
Maria, trying to integrate into Vancouver Mainstream Multicultural
society… by intercultural dating…

I have always fantasized there should be an
East Side Story set in Vancouver… about a young Chinese-Canadian man, maybe
who plays the accordion… and one day a young Italian-Canadian woman
hears him playing… and falls in love with him. Her name is Maria…
Maria… he just meets a girl named Maria…

Or it could be a Maria who has just arrived from the Phillipines? And her brother Bernardo is in a Phillipine gang that is struggling with finding their own place in the Asian-Canadian landscape against multigenerational Chinese-Canadian gangs.

It isn't that far removed an idea – especially when the Greater Vancouver area has news stories of gang fights between Filipino, Vietnamese and other ethnic groups, as well as organized gangs.

My review to be continued and will posted later today….

check out Vancouver Opera

West Side Story
Vancouver Opera
Queen Elizabeth Theatre October 22 –

Evelyn Lau is officially named as Vancouver's Third Poet Laureate

Poster for the event announcing appointment of newest poet laureate

Evelyn Lau became the third Poet Laureate for the City of Vancouver on Saturday October 22nd at Simon Fraser University Woodwards Centre, as part of the Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference organized by then current and outgoing Poet Laureate Brad Cran.  Lau's first book of poetry Oedipal Dreams was nominated for the Governor General's Poetry Award, making her the youngest ever poet to be nominated.

MC Sandra Singh – Chief Library of VPL, Mayor Gregor Robertson, Brad Cran, Evelyn Lau, First Nations singers and dancers.


Laureate Brad Cran reads a poem and speaks of his time as the 2nd Poet Laureate.


Evelyn Lau speaks of what she sees for her time as Poet Laureate

During the reception we posed for a photo, Susan Crean (writer-in-residence at Historic Joy Kogawa House), Vancouver councilor Ellen Woodsworth, Evelyn Lau, Todd Wong.  3 weeks prior, Evelyn had give a reading and discussion at Kogawa House, hosted by Susan Crean.  Wong is president of Historic Joy Kogawa House Society.  Councillor Woodsworth has been a big supporter of Kogawa House, and helped guide us in our 2005 presentation to City of Vancouver, asking for assistance to halt the proposed demolition permit for Kogawa House.

Bamboo Lettering at Writers Festival with Jen Sookfong Lee, Kevin Chong and Ling Zhang

To Be Or Not To Be… a Chinese-Canadian Writer…

Bamboo Lettering
– event #55 at the Vancouver International Writers Festival
Saturday Oct 22nd, Arts Club Revue Theatre, Vancouver

photo photo T.Wong
This is my favorite photo of the three writers Jen Sookfong Lee, Ling Zhang and Kevin Chong. They each displayed wonderful humour.  Jen is of course the most expressive with subtlely outrageous statements about her mother, food, and her writing habits.  Ling Zhang is the most melodramatic, in a classic Chinese self-denying sort of way, while she claims she doesn't want her writing to be so melodramatic.  Kevin Chong is straight-ahead deadpan humour with insightful observations.

Festival organizer Hal Wake titled this event “Bamboo Letters” because author Kevin Chong is reported to have said he would never want to have “bamboo lettering” on the cover of one of his books.  And so this is the situation posed by moderator Catherine Gretzinger: “Three authors, who could be labelled “Chinese Canadian” if you were keen
to apply labels, talk about the tension between avoiding your heritage
and embracing your heritage.”

Chong admitted that he never really wanted to originally be a classic style “Asian-Canadian writer”, since he came to Canada in the late '60s from Hong Kong with his parents.  And to some extent he has avoided the familiar storylines of head-tax survivors toiling in Chinatown for meagre salaries, and triumphantly integrating into Canadian society (or not) in spite of racism.  Chong instead has opted to write a different kind of Asian Canadian character for his new novel “Beauty and Pity” that is about a post-1967 post-modern immigrant-slacker.  But it is still an update of the clash of generations and how the character must reconcile an Asian-Canadian identity for himself.  I bought “Beauty Plus Pity” at the Word On The Street Festival, because I arrived late (due to a previous engagement) at Chong's book launch held at The Penthouse Nightclub, because I was too busy chatting with others when they packed up the books for sale.

Jen Sookfong Lee is a familiar voice on CBC Radio with her “West Coast Words” segment for “On The Coast”.  She has revealed previously little known characters from Asian Vancouver for her latest novel “The Better Mother”.  Set during the 1980's, Danny is a gay Asian, who recalls meeting characters from Chinatown's burlesque era in the late 1950's.  It is a rich juicy setting that juxtaposes taboo subjects for conservative immigrant families, and Lee's attention to details makes for a colourful read.  I really like this book – but I keep borrowing it repeatedly from the library, because I have been too busy to sit down and read anything… so I keep renewing it and renewing it…and re-reading the beginning chapters because they are so re-readable!

Ling Zhang is an unknown quality.  She has written 5 books, but nobody in Canada has really read any of them, because they were all published in China and only available in Chinese…. until now.  Zhang's newest novel is Gold Mountain Blues, translated from the Chinese publication because Zhang writes in Chinese.  She has written an epic novel spanning 150 years of Chinese Canadian history, 5 generations of a family, detailing the struggles of early Chinese pioneers coming to Canada to work on the the Canadian Pacific Railroad and integrated into the Canadian cultural mosaic.  It is interesting that Zhang is in some sense a recent immigrant, arriving in Canada in 1986 – part of the most recent wave of Mandarin speaking Chinese immigrants whose growing numbers now outnumber the Cantonese speakers of earlier immigration periods.  It is yet a new kind of Chinese-Canadian identity, that has arrived prosperous and assured, without the burden of decades of negative self-identity imposed by decades of systemic racism in Canada caused by Colonial racist superiority, head tax policies (1885-1923), The Chinese Exclusion Act (1923-1947), and limited immigration policies (1947-1967).

Unfamiliar with Zhang's work, and unavailable at the Vancouver Public Library, I googled her name and was surprise to discover that there were numerous news articles concerning the possible plagiarism of her new book, from the works of Asian Canadian literary icons Paul Yee, SKY Lee and Wayson Choy.  In her defense, she stated in The National PostGold Mountain Blues is the result of years of research and
several field trips to China and Western Canada. The research data
obtained over the years is voluminous enough to allow me to write
another complete novel if I chose to. A hundred and fifty years of
Chinese Canadian history is a “common wealth” for all of us to share and
discover. I have not read The Jade Peony, Disappearing Moon Cafe, The Bone Collector’s Son or Tales from Gold Mountain.  Zhang has also said in the Calgary Herald that “I am quite ignorant about what’s going on in the Canadian literary circles,” she says. “This is why it’s so outrageous . . . ‘Excuse me, no
offence to you, but I haven’t read your book. Not because you’re not
great, but because I have been writing in Chinese all the last 13

Maybe these issues of different conceptualizations of Chinese Canadian identity is reflected in the author's own experiences of being Chinese Canadian. Over 150 years of immigration, under different circumstances has produced different experiences.  Lee's ancestors probably left China when it was still the Qing Empire of the Last Emperor Pu-Yi, Chong's family possibly left Mainland China for Hong Kong while it was a Republic under Chiang Kai Shek or soon after, and Zhang came to Canada long after Mao had led the Communist Party to power.

Is it therefore possible to consider that there is a common Chinese Canadian literary identity? Is Zhang appropriating the pioneer Chinese Canadian culture and history to tell a universal story, similar to how WP Kinsella told the stories of his First Nations characters from a Reserve in Central Alberta?  Are Lee and Chong broadening the pantheon of Chinese-Canadian characters with their stories?  Or are they still all writing the universal story of identity struggle and reconciliation – but with new settings and and characters.

Unfortunately these questions never really came up.  Discussion topics dwelled on the joys and pitfalls of dealing with editors, agents and publishers, as well as finding their characters. Jen emphasized that the burlesque dancers of Chinatown have never been written about before.  Zhang said that she found her inspiration for her novel by visiting a grave site for Chinese pioneer workers outside of Calgary.   

But the audience had great fun in hearing that the one major common element in each of the passages read by the authors was “food”.   Maybe the moral of this literary question is simply that EVERYBODY LIKES CHINESE FOOD!

See my pictures from the event:


Read more:

National Post: Ling Zhang addresses Gold Mountain Blues plagiarism allegations

Calgary Herarld: The hard road to Zhang's Gold Mountain

upcoming events for Historic Joy Kogawa House



Writer-in-Residence Susan Crean with Evelyn Lau + life size photo of author Joy Kogawa – photo Todd Wong

so far you have missed newly appointed Poet Laureate of City of Vancouver Evelyn Lau Oct 2nd, and incredible adventure writer Eric Enno Tam Oct 16th.


Kogawa House

1450 W. 64th Ave @ Granville

To reserve a seat email 

Blogging at


Don't miss the following writers!


Tara Beagan  — Writing for Social Change

Tara is a multi-talented and prolific young theatre
artist, best known for her plays which have won numerous awards and
nominations. A “proud halfbreed of Ntlakapamux (Thompson River Salish) and
Irish Canadian heritage”, she is part of the new generation of Native artists
creating ambitious work that is edgy, funny and very smart. Tara is currently
artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts, the oldest professional
Aboriginal performing arts company in Canada.  

This Sunday,
October 30th


Betsy Warland    Writing for Social Change

Poet, author and editor, Betsy Warland has been
writing on the cutting edge of feminist literature for thirty years. She has
been active in the feminist literary community, a mentor to many, and is currently
the director of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. Her poetry, and
latterly her non-fiction, has pushed the boundaries of genre, even while she
engages in 

Sunday, November


Fauzia Rafiq     Writing for Social Change

Fuazia Rafi’s long-awaited novel, Skeena, was published in Punjabi in Pakistan in 2007, and in Canada
last Spring. It is the story of a Muslim Canadian woman, written in Skeena’s
own voice, which follows her journey from village, to Lahore, to Toronto and,
finally, Surrey.  Novelist Tariq Malik, a
member of the Kogawa House Board , will host the event with me.

Sunday, November


Joy Kogawa –
Book Luanch

Sheena Wilson launches her collection of essays on the
life and work of Joy Kogawa, Joy Kogawa,
Essays on Her Works
(Guernica). Wilson has contributed three articles and
an extensive Kogawa bibliography to the book. Several of the writers will be
present, as will Joy Kogawa.

Sunday, November


Wade Compton  — Writing for Social Change

Wade Compton is a well-known writer and activist who
is currently the writer-in-residence at the Vancouver Public Library. He is an
experimental poet (49th
Parallel Psalm, Performance Bond
), a DJ, who branched into non-fiction in
his most recent book After Canaan: Essays
on Race, Writing and Region.
His work is deeply imbued with history and

Sunday, November


Shirley Bear — Writing
for Social Change

Maliseet visual artist and writer Shirley Bear is from
the Tobique reserve in New Brunswick. Her work is in many collections and in
2009 the Beaverbrook Art Gallery mounted a retrospective of her work. She is who
also a writer who blurs the genres, and her book Virgin Bones  – Belayak Kcikug’nas’ikn’ug,
combines story, poetry, and prose. Shirley lived in Vancouver through the
1990s and was the Aboriginal Advisor at Emily Carr College.

Sunday, December

We celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Douglas McIntyre publishing

Susan Crean, Scott McIntyre and Toddish McWong

The 40th Anniversary of Douglas & McIntyre Publishing took place at Dockside Restaurant on Granville Island on Friday night, Oct 21st.

The event was personally significant because

There were special cocktails named after books published by D&M.  I really wanted to try “The Jade Peony” – as I was part of the “One Book One Vancouver” committee that created the programming for the Vancouver Public Library to make Wayson Choy's first novel the inaugural choice for this award winning program.

D&M also published Many Mouthed Birds – the first anthology of Asian-Canadian fiction – co-edited by Jim Wong Chu
ACWW gave the 2005 Community Builder Award to publisher Scott McIntyre, along with Joy Kogawa

Here are more pictures on my flickr site.

Douglas & McIntyre 40th Anniversary party

Douglas & McIntyre 40th…

Writers Festival + Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference

Here is what I am attending at the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival + Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference

I try to attend lots of literary events through the year.  My roles as president of Historic Joy Kogawa House and vice-president of Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop introduce me to a lot of events and writers.

Bamboo Lettering

British Columbia
British Columbia

Revue Stage

I am going to Friday Night's Literary Cabaret
– Evelyn Lau is one of the poets

+ Douglas McIntyre 40th Birthday

is significant because they will have a drink called “The Jade Peony”
also published Many Mouthed Birds – the first anthology of
Asian-Canadian fiction – co-edited by Jim Wong Chu
ACWW gave the 2005
Community Builder Award to publisher Scott McIntyre, along with Joy

125 Conference Reception, Closing Remarks and Vancouver Poet Laureate

5:00 pm
Simon Fraser University at Harbour
Centre, 515 West Hastings Street
Brad Cran outgoing Poet Laureate
Representatives from City Hall – Mayor Gregor Robertson
and introducing Vancouver’s third Poet Laureate – EVELYN LAU

Dame Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust (UK) speaks at Van Dusen Gardens in Vancouver

TLC Vancouver area manager Tamsin Baker, Dame Fiona Reynolds, TLC Development Officer  John Keller and TLC Board members Todd Wong and Nicole Mackay.

Dame Fiona Reynolds speaking – she gave a history about the National Trust, (Wales England and Northern Ireland).  It was especially captivating when she gave examples how then National Trust engages with the public.


TLC volunteer Fran welcomed visitors to the TLC event

The new visitor's centre at VanDusen Garden
The architecture of the New Visitor Centre of the Van Dusen Gardens is looking stunning!

VanDusen Garden
Construction is still going on to finish the ceiling.

Here is the talk that Fiona gave in Victoria at the INTO conference.

BC's The Land Conservancy hosts International National Trusts Organisations conference in Victoria

Tuesday evening reception hosted by TLC for the INTO conference Wed Oct 12-15, 2011
Bill Turner (TLC executive director) and I am are in the back row 2nd & 3rd from left. INTO Chair Simon Mole is back row 4th from right. – photo Deb Martin 

It was a very warm and welcoming reception on Tuesday evening Oct 8th.  Leaders from National Trust and conservancy organizations around the world came to Victoria BC, to attend the INTO conference organized by The Land Conservancy of BC.  I talked with people from Uganda, Seoul, Malaysia, England, India as well as representatives from Canadian Heritage.

Here is the news release from the conference:

NEWS RELEASE             

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  October 14, 2011

INTO Conference Says Protection of Culture Must Be Central to Durban Climate Change Summit

Protecting our culture – the people, places and stories that give us a
“sense of place” – should be a core commitment arising from the United
Nations Conference on Climate Change that will take place in Durban,
South Africa, November 2011.

than 260 delegates from 34 countries representing over 6 million
members sharing a common vision to safeguard the world’s natural and
cultural heritage are signing the Victoria Declaration on Climate Change as part of the 14th International Conference of National Trusts, October 12-15, 2011.

the INTO Conference ceremony, Simon Molesworth, Chairman of the
International National Trusts Organisation (INTO), shares: “All of the
debates of climate change miss that not only are we talking about the
survival of the planet and our species, but we are talking about the
essence of our being, the essence of our culture. Culture is not talked
about enough by our world leaders. They do not understand that the
maintenance of the concept of community of people is at risk. The
Victoria Declaration is a clear message to decision makers that if you
don’t focus on the impact of climate change on culture you have
destroyed the essence of the world

is connected in the world around us and there is a cause and effect for
every action we take as global citizens. The issue of climate change is
no exception. There is scientific evidence supporting global warming
and the physical results are all around us, but the less recognized
effect is the loss of social sustainability – our culture that makes us
unique. People’s “sense of place” is directly connected to the historic
places in their communities and the stories of their past.

an example the nation of Tuvalu off the coast of Polynesia recently had
safe drinking water flown into the island from Australia because the
rising sea levels have contaminated the fresh water supply with salt.
There is a real threat that the over 10,000 Tuvaluans on the island will
have to be re-located to the mainland and this unique culture and
civilization will be lost forever. A culture moved, is a culture lost.

As part of the Victoria Declaration on Climate Change,
INTO members are asking global leaders to include in their strategies
on climate change not only changes in our physical environment, human
health and welfare, but to recognize the core strength and connectivity
of human beings requires maintenance of our cultural sustainability. It
is our responsibility to protect special places and stories so future
generations will have the same sense of pride and spirit many of us
enjoy today. It is culture that binds us together around the world.

Follow the conference in real time on twitter @2011can, hashtag #INTO2011. Photos will also appear at and video footage at Click here for the full Conference Program.

Here are highlight stories from the INTO conference in Victoria – from the TLC website:

Dame Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust (UK) speaks at Van Dusen Gardens in Vancouver

– Dame Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust (England, Wales, Northern
Ireland) speaks at Vancouver's Van Dusen Gardens – I met her in Victoria
BC on Tuesday, on the eve of the INTO conference. She is very engaging
and interesting…

Van Dusen Gardens
NEW visitor Centre
5121 Oak St.

Come learn about the National Trust movement, the beauty of its
Special Places and the importance of the Trust’s role in public
engagement through this exclusive visual presentation.

Doors open at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, October 17, and the presentation
will begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information please call TLC’s Lower
Mainland office at 604-733-2313. Admission is by donation.

for more information see: