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AlliterAsian

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ALLITERASIAN

Copyright © 2015 by the Contributors except where noted

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any part by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may use brief excerpts in a review, or in the case of photocopying in Canada, a license from Access Copyright.

ARSENAL PULP PRESS

Suite 202 – 211 East Georgia St.

Vancouver, BC V6A 1Z6

Canada

arsenalpulp.com

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council for its publishing program, and the Government of Canada (through the Canada Book Fund) and the Government of British Columbia (through the Book Publishing Tax Credit Program) for its publishing activities

Cover illustration by Janice Wu

Cover design by Gerilee McBride and Oliver Mcpartlin

Text design by Oliver Mcpartlin

Edited by Robyn So and Susan Safyan

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication:

AlliterAsian: twenty years of Ricepaper magazine / Julia Lin, Allan Cho, Jim Wong-Chu, editors.

Issued also in electronic format.

ISBN 978-1-55152-621-8 (epub)

1. Canadian literature (English)—Asian-Canadian authors. 2. Canadian literature (English)—20th century. 3. Canadian literature (English)—21st century. 4. Asian Canadians--Literary collections. 5. Authors, Canadian (English) —Interviews. 6. Artists—Canada—Interviews. 7. Asian Canadians—Interviews. 8. Ricepaper (Magazine). I. Lin, Julia, 1962-, editor II. Wong-Chu, Jim, 1949-, editor III. Cho, Allan, 1980-, editor

PS8235.A8A46 2015
    
C810.8'0895071
    
C2015-903478-7
    
 
 
C2015-903479-5
    

Contents

Introduction

NONFICTION

Writing History |
Rita Wong

My Mother |
Janet Lumb

A Buck a Bag for the American Dream (Tobias Wong) |
Alan Woo

The First Lady of Film: Anna May Wong |
Anthony Chan

My Great-Grandfather, the Necromancer |
Ann Marie Fleming

Runaway Writer (Evelyn Lau) |
Alexis Kienlen

The Nature of David Suzuki |
Jenny Uechi

A Writer's Life: Speaking with Denise Chong |
Eury Chang

The Mysterious Life of Wah Kwan Gwan |
Jackie Wong

In Conversation with Madeleine Thien |
Hanako Masutani

Travelling between Worlds with Ruth Ozeki |
Erika Thorkelson

CREATIVE NONFICTION

Light at a Window |
Terry Watada

Notes Towards an Essay about Maria Callas |
C. E. Gatchalian

Gently to Nagasaki (novel excerpt) |
Joy Kogawa

Finding My Way Back Home |
Lou Villahermosa

FICTION

It Came to Eat Our Chicken Wings |
Derwin Mak

Mercury, Messenger of the Gods |
Kim Fu

Days of Being Wild |
Doretta Lau

Lao Yang |
Ying Kong

Lucky in Saigon (novel excerpt) |
Yasuko Thanh

Porcelain Legs |
Corinna Chong

No Sleeping on Bench (novel excerpt) |
SKY
Lee

Túshūguăn |
Eric Choi

POETRY

A Firefly |
Souvankham Thammavongsa

Sitkum |
Fred Wah

Jan 1/2013 |
Fred Wah

Lightning |
Fred Wah

Someday I Will |
Kathryn Gwun-Yeen Lennon

Any Other Photo I |
Michael Prior

Any Other Photo II |
Michael Prior

Family of Thieves |
Crecien Bencio

Journey to the West |
Rita Wong

Body Burden: A Moving Target |
Rita Wong

January |
Evelyn Lau

Visitation |
Evelyn Lau

Mid-Autumn Festival |
Evelyn Lau

Research Update |
Carolyn Nakagawa

The Good Ones |
Carolyn Nakagawa

Introduction

In the late 1960s, during the intoxicating days of the American civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, a group of UBC students formed the Asian-Canadian Coalition. Composed predominantly of Chinese- and Japanese-Canadians, the group engaged in writing and the performing arts as expressions of their unique identities. They experimented with new styles of prose in their writing groups, dabbled in radio programs and special edition magazines, and formed a new writers' organization—the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW)—in 1976. Membership increased yearly, and a need grew for its members to keep up with developments in the community.

Ricepaper
began life in 1995 as a newsletter for ACWW. The first issue, edited by Larry Wong and Kuan Foo, included a brief history of ACWW written by Jim Wong-Chu. These newsletters were pieced together on MiniCAD (a program used by architects), printed on sheet paper, and carefully stapled together. Primitive and simple, it nevertheless fulfilled the prosaic task of keeping its membership abreast of events. In addition to connecting its members in Vancouver, Toronto, and Edmonton, as well as other regional chapters,
Ricepaper
served to inform readers about new developments in the Asian-North American arts scene.

But
Ricepaper
was destined to grow into something more. With the help of a Canada Council grant, the newsletter became a literary magazine in 1996 and began taking paid subscriptions. The magazine acquired a new masthead and began a mission to provide a supportive and culturally sensitive environment for writers with Pacific Rim Asian heritage. It soon began publishing quarterly issues and continues to do so today. Since its founding, the focus of the
magazine has shifted from predominantly arts and culture reporting to the publication of original literature. And the editors have moved from searching for work among the few Asian-Canadian writers working in the 1990s to featuring a wealth of quality submissions in its pages today.

This anthology celebrates
Ricepaper
's twentieth anniversary. Looking through the back issues of
Ricepaper
is like looking at a veritable “Who's Who” of Asian-Canadian cultural history. Many of today's well-known Asian-Canadian writers have appeared in the magazine; in fact, some were first published in the periodical.
Ricepaper
's legacy as a groundbreaking publication for Asian-Canadians remains unparalleled, and this anthology pays tribute to the remarkable contribution that the magazine has made to Asian-Canadian culture.

AlliterAsian
features exclusive interviews first published in
Ricepaper
with David Suzuki, Tobias Wong, Ruth Ozeki, Evelyn Lau, Denise Chong, and Madeleine Thien, among others. In addition, exciting voices in Canadian literature are represented by Kim Fu, Doretta Lau, Corinna Chong, Terry Watada, Derwin Mak, Eric Choi, and C. E. Gatchalian. Established and emerging poets such as Fred Wah, Evelyn Lau, Rita Wong, Souvankham Thammavongsa, and Michael Prior also grace the anthology with their work. Finally, three award-winning authors have given permission for excerpts of their works-in-progress to be included: Joy Kogawa (
Gently to Nagasaki
, a new memoir about Japanese atrocities during World War II), Yasuko Thanh (
Lucky in Saigon
, a novel soon to be published as
Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains
), and
SKY
Lee (
Progress in Process
).

We have organized the anthology into nonfiction, creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, with the pieces arranged chronologically
by publication date within each category. The authors have provided short commentaries reflecting upon their work, many after a gap of years since initial publication. The most difficult task in assembling this book was choosing the works that would appear in the collection. There were many worthy articles and stories that were left out due to space limitations. In the end, we tried to include a representative sample from the enormous archive of Asian-Canadian creativity housed within the pages of
Ricepaper
magazine. We urge readers to discover those back issues for themselves at
ricepapermagazine.ca
.

As the title
AlliterAsian
suggests, the publication of
Ricepaper
is but one beat in the steady rhythm of Asian-Canadian writing, plays, films, and other forms of creative expression pouring forth from Asian-Canadian artists and performers. As more and more Asian-Canadians find their voices, we eagerly await future manifestations of Asian talent in the Canadian arts scene. We hope you enjoy this retrospective look at a landmark periodical in the evolving and increasingly diverse landscape of Canadian writing and publishing.

Respectfully,

Julia Lin, Allan Cho, Jim Wong-Chu

NonFiction

Writing History

Ricepaper
4, no. 1 (1998)

Rita Wong

Early on a Saturday morning, on November 8, 1988, Paul Yee and four panelists—Sadhu Binning, Phinder Dulai, Betty Li, and Susan Nishi—held a lively and thought-provoking discussion at the Chinese Cultural Centre. Facilitated by Colleen Leung and introduced by Lily Liu, the discussion touched on questions such as the following: Is all history fiction because it is someone's interpretation of the events? Is all fiction history because it has already been imagined in order to exist? What challenges face writers of colour trying to publish? What drives us to write about history, in whichever form we may choose?

Paul Yee read from his novel in progress and played devil's advocate by suggesting that we are doomed to repeat history and to never learn from it. His example was racism in Canada—early Chinese immigrants experienced it, and now, more than a hundred years later, today's Chinese immigrants still encounter it. Yee's statement was all the more biting because of his background (he has written a number of fictional and nonfictional works based on history, and he has a master's degree in history). Without summarizing his entire talk, I thought it interesting that Yee finds more freedom in writing fiction than historical nonfiction.

The question of form was raised by a number of panelists. While poetry was felt by some to be best suited for conveying emotional expression, Sadhu Binning pointed out that he started writing dramas so that he could reach more of his community. Many people
who don't read poetry will be more receptive to theatre.

In response to one question about what role these writers have in the educational system, Phinder Dulai mentioned that he had read at some Surrey high schools, which have large South Asian student bodies. It was empowering, both for him and for the students, to be able to connect in that setting (something that would have been unheard of not that long ago). There was some agreement among the audience members that more interactions like these are urgently needed. At present, it mostly depends on a few individual teachers' personal efforts.

Betty Li talked about her responsibility as an overseas Chinese person. For example, she has the freedom to protest injustices such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, which is the focus of the novel she is writing. It is more urgent than ever that she speak, since many people in China cannot do so or have been imprisoned for doing so. I agree wholeheartedly that more overseas Chinese should exert their ability to speak out on human rights issues in China, Tibet, and other Asian countries, as well as here in North America. Colleen posed a great question to Betty, asking how she felt about recent Hollywood depictions of human rights abuses in China and Tibet.

On the one hand, it is important to raise awareness about these injustices and murders. On the other hand, are commercial American representations of these issues deceptive? It is definitely important that people like Betty continue speaking out and providing alternate points of view.

That said, I think it is just as important to keep speaking about our experiences here in North America too, and to not allow ourselves to be posited by the mainstream as far away peoples in exotic lands. Interestingly enough, many of the Asian-Canadian novels which have sold well have been set in places like India rather than
here in Canada. While we, of course, have the right to write about ourselves in whatever setting, this trend does make me a little wary about what the mainstream is willing to accept.

Growing up isolated in Alberta, Susan Nishi expressed her opinions about the challenges and the rewards of working with the Japanese-Canadian community in Vancouver. How many of us write, I wonder, because of our need to read about people like ourselves? While our motives all vary, I think the one thing we may be able to agree on covered much more than this and could easily have gone on all day. I, for one, hope there will be more panels like this. Kudos to the organizers!

       
A
UTHOR
C
OMMENTARY

What leaps out at me from this brief article, seventeen years after it was written, is how much the needs identified in it remain today. For instance, it was empowering and important for Phinder Dulai to share his work at Surrey high schools which have large South Asian student bodies, yet such connections still mostly happen on an ad hoc basis, depending on individual teachers' valiant efforts. I don't think that contemporary writing and Canadian cultural production have been integrated into the schools the ways we'd hoped. Our communities still need fuller access to the powerful work that is being done by writers and artists of colour, as well as by First Nations authors and storytellers. —
Rita Wong, 2015

       
A
BOUT THE
A
UTHOR

Rita Wong is the author of four books of poetry:
undercurrent
(Nightwood, 2015),
sybil unrest
(co-written with Larissa Lai, Line Books, 2008),
forage
(Nightwood, 2007), and
monkeypuzzle
(Press Gang 1998).
forage
won Canada Reads Poetry 2011. Wong received the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writer Award
in 1997 and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2008. Building from her doctoral dissertation, which examined labour in Asian-North American literature, her work investigates the poetics of water and the relationships between social justice, ecology, and decolonization.

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