LITERARY LOCATION: 15 East Pender. Former headquarters of the Jin Wah Sing Musical Association.

Wayson Choy emerged foremost among Chinese Canadian fiction writers for his novel, The Jade Peony (1995), an inter-generational saga about an immigrant family, the Chens, during the Depression. Born in Vancouver in 1939, Choy was raised as the only son of two working parents. His mother was a meat-cutter and sausage stuffer and he was told his father was a cook aboard CPR ships. At age six he moved to an Edwardian house at 630 Keefer Street. At age 56 he accidentally discovered he had been adopted and that his biological father had been a member of the Cantonese Opera Company. Choy had often attended Chinese opera with his mother.

[At the corner of Pender and Gore, in a park situated across from where Wayson Choy attended Chinese school, there is also a pair of bilingual 'Bookmarks' displaying an excerpt from The Jade Peony.]

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY: Wayson Choy became the first Chinese Canadian to enroll in a creative writing course (taught by Earle Birney and Jacob Zilber) at UBC. There he began writing a short story set in Vancouver's Chinatown that turned into his best-known novel, The Jade Peony, some 30 years later. He moved to Toronto in 1962. "We are now sharing our stories," he has said. "I really think that when the stories are well told, they are human stories. They don't have any borders or racial barriers."

Cared for in a variety of Chinese Canadian households in the Strathcona neighbourhood, Wayson Choy dreamed of becoming a cowboy. It was during a publicity tour that Choy received an unexpected phone call from a woman who had been his babysitter, during which, at age 56, he learned he had been adopted. This led him to write Paper Shadows (1999), a memoir of the 1940s.

Choy returned to the Chen family for All That Matters (2004), a prequel told through the eyes of eldest son Kiam-Kim, who arrives by ship with his father and grandmother Poh-Poh, in 1926. For his writing, Choy has said it has been essential to trust the point of view of others. "My character, Kiam-Kim, is heterosexual which I am not. You have to risk everything to make a breakthrough. Be on the side of the monster. Until we can make someone understand that any of us could have been the guard at a Nazi concentration camp or the uncle that abused his niece or the soldiers that napalmed Vietnam, until we can make others see that, it is not literature. A writer has to reverse things to get at what they know.";

FULL ENTRY:

Wayson Choy was born on April 20, 1939 in Vancouver as the only son of two working parents. His mother was a meat-cutter and sausage stuffer; he was told his father was a cook aboard CPR ships. At age six he moved to an Edwardian house at 630 Keefer Street and thereafter was cared for in a variety of Chinese Canadian households, often dreaming of becoming a cowboy. He was the first Chinese Canadian to enrol in a Creative Writing class at UBC, taught by Earle Birney. At UBC he began writing a short story which would be turned into his best-known novel some 30 years later. The Jade Peony has been anthologized more than 25 times.

Wayson Choy moved to Toronto in 1962. He emerged foremost among Chinese Canadian fiction writers for his novel The Jade Peony (1995), an inter-generational saga about an immigrant family, the Chens, during the Depression. It was selected as the co-winner of the 1996 Trillium Prize (along with Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace). The Jade Peony also won the City of Vancouver Book Award and spent 26 weeks on the Globe & Mail's bestseller list. Begun as a short story, The Jade Peony has been anthologized more than 25 times.

The Jade Peony was followed by Paper Shadows: A Memoir of a Past Lost and Found (1999), mostly about his childhood. Paper Shadows won the Edna Staebler Creative Non-Fiction Award and was shortlisted for a Governor General's Award, the Charles Taylor Prize and the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize.

At age 56, Wayson Choy accidentally discovered he had been adopted and that his biological father had been a member of the Cantonese Opera Company. Choy had often attended Chinese opera with his mother. Choy subsequently returned to the Chen family for All That Matters (2004), a sequel and prequel told through the eyes of First Son, Kiam-Kim, who arrives by ship with his father and grandmother Poh-Poh, in 1926. We first meet Kiam-Kim at age eight, staring at a photograph of his mother, who died in China when he was a baby. Kiam-Kim struggles to embrace Chinese tradition in a foreign culture in the 1930s and early 1940s.

"My character, Kiam-Kim, is heterosexual which I am not,"; Choy has said. "You have to risk everything to make a breakthrough. Be on the side of the monster. Until we can make someone understand that any of us could have been the guard at a Nazi concentration camp or the uncle that abused his niece or the soldiers that napalmed Vietnam, until we can make others see that, it is not literature. A writer has to reverse things to get at what they know.";

Choy fell ill while completing All That Matters, leading him to examine his past more deeply, including his Chinese roots. Four years after a combined asthma-heart attack in 2001, when he was kept alive by machines and the loving kindness of friends, his heart nearly failed him again. His subsequent memoir of two near-death experiences is Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying (2009).

In 2002, The Jade Peony was selected by the Vancouver Public Library for its annual One Book, One Vancouver city-wide book club project. A symposium on Wayson Choy and his work was held in Toronto in May of 2003. It included a video biography of Choy produced by his Humber College colleague Michael Glassbourg, entitled Wayson Choy: Unfolding the Butterfly. An hour-long documentary about his trip to China, Searching for Confucius, premiered on VisionTV on March 29, 2005.

In collaboration with an event sponsored by Project Bookmark Canada, a Wayson Choy Special Tribute Evening was held on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at Floata Chinese Restaurant, 180 Keefer Street, in Vancouver historical Chinatown. At the corner of Pender and Gore, in a park situated across from where Wayson Choy attended Chinese school, there is now a pair of bilingual 'Bookmarks' displaying an excerpt from The Jade Peony.

Wayson Choy has taught English at Humber College in Toronto, where he lives, since 1967. He has been a volunteer for various community literacy projects and AIDS groups, and he served for three years as president of Cahoots Theatre Company.

"I think all stories should arise organically from characters' definitions of the world," Choy has said. "Otherwise you're just falling into a plot genre. I'm not big on plot... that's not where I think literature exists. I think it comes from the identification of the reader to the character. If you give details that ring true, as I hope I've given in both my books, readers go 'that's like me', and that's the meaning of writing.";

Wayson Choy was included in a Vancouver Public Library's initiative that generated twenty-five new literary landmarks for the city, co-sponsored by B.C. BookWorld, in March of 2015. He returned to Vancouver in June of 2015 to receive the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanindg B.C. literary career.

The flourishing of Chinese Canadian literature was kick-started by UVic historian David Chuenyan Lai and Vancouver cultural activist Jim Wong-Chu who co-edited a breakthrough anthology, Many-Mouthed Birds (1991), with Bennett Lee. Since then Paul Yee has gained considerable success as a children's book author and Denise Chong has earned widespread notice for her non-fiction family stories. For seven years, Louis Luping Han helped his mother, Dr. Li Qunying-a medical doctor who had worked in China through WWII, the Chinese Civil war, and the Korean War-to write her riveting memoir of her experiences under repressive communism, The Doctor Who Was Followed by Ghosts (2007).

BOOKS:

The Jade Peony (Douglas & McIntyre, 1996, 2005)
Paper Shadows: A Memoir of a Past Lost and Found (Penguin, 1999)
All That Matters (Doubleday, 2004)
Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying (Doubleday, 2009)

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood

[For some other books written by or about Chinese Canadians prior to 2010, see abcbookworld entries for Chan, Anthony Bernard; Chan, Gillian; Chang, Ginger; Chen, Ying; Cheng, Tien-fang; Chow, Lily; Chu, Garrick; Chung, Tsai Chih; Con, Harry; Hong, W.M.; Jew, Anne; Kwa, Lydia; Lai, Larissa; Lam, Fiona; Lau, Evelyn; Lee, Jen Sookfong; Lee, SKY; Li, Donghai; Li, Huai-Min; Li, Julia; Lim, Sing; Lu, Henry; Ma, Ching; Moosang, Faith; Ng, Wing Chung; Price, Lily Hoy; Quan, Andy; Quan, Betty; Tan, Jin-Yan; Wong, Kileasa; Wong, Marjorie; Wong, Rita; Woon, Yuen-Fong; Zhao, Yuezhi. For other authors who have also written about China or Chinese Canadians, see abcbookworld entries for Anderson, Kay; Dionne, JoAnn; Hayter-Menzies, Grant; Hemmingsen, John; Johnson, Graham; Maartman, Ben; Morton, James; Overmyer, Daniel L.; Owen, Patricia; Phillips, Molly; Roth, Terrence; Roy, Patricia; Stursberg, Richard; Ward, N. Lascelles; Wickberg, Edgar; Worrall, Brandy Lien; Wright, Richard.] @2010.

[BCBW 2015]