Douglas Coupland has given B.C. literature a good name globally, moreso than any other author. After his Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture gave rise to a moniker for a generation, he has produced a widely praised and startlingly original body of work primarily based on his observations of life in the Pacific Northwest where he has lived almost continuously since age four. In addition to his thirteen novels--exploring modern loneliness, new technology and the godlessness of disposable culture--his non-fiction works such as City of Glass and his biography of Terry Fox reflect his deep and abiding affinity for British Columbia. Only Malcolm Lowry, after his brief tenure in North Vancouver to write Under The Volcano, and Alice Munro, who spent her formative years as a writer in West Vancouver and Victoria, have come close to matching Douglas Coupland's ongoing contribution towards putting British Columbia on the literary map of the world. Also an accomplished visual artist and designer, Douglas Coupland continues to take risks as a literary artist rather than rely on his reputation as a pop culture analyst. - A.T.

LITERARY LOCATION: Former headquarters of Vancouver Magazine, 1205 Richards Street, Vancouver

Douglas Coupland's breakthrough novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, had its origins in Vancouver magazine, edited by Malcolm Parry. After Coupland had a solo sculpture show at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1987, called Floating World, he began describing his own 'twentysomething' generation at the behest of Parry. Having written a few Budget Gourmet reviews for the Vancouver Sun, Coupland later worked for Western Living magazine as a staff writer before a stint with soon-to-be-defunct Vista magazine. At Vista, Coupland revisited the realm of his Vancouver magazine articles on Gen-X as a comic strip. Coupland was subsequently contracted to write a non-fiction 'handbook' on Generation X. Eventually Coupland went to Palm Springs and completed Generation X, the novel. Generation X was rejected by 15 Canadian publishers and 14 American publishers before it appeared in March of 1991. In 2017, he became the 14th recipient of the annual Lieutenant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence in B.C.

Asked to name his own preferred literary landmark, Coupland says, "That's easy, but it no longer exists. It's the squats out on Dollarton Flats where Malcolm Lowry, among others, lived. I remember driving by them when in the 1960s and wishing I lived there... They seemed like the embodiment of solitude and retreat from the vexing part of the daily world. It's what it feels like in my head when I write."

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY

Douglas Coupland has proven himself to be unfailingly original, tirelessly inquisitive and an artist unafraid to take risks. According to People magazine, "His voice still resonates with the generation he named."

It's a slam dunk to include Douglas Coupland's famous "magazine-style"; first novel Generation X (1991) when citing the foremost titles by B.C. authors, so much so that one can easily overlook its important subtitle. Just as George Orwell's Animal Farm was first released as Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, Coupland's round-the-world-in-multiple-translations debut has a seldom-mentioned subtitle, Tales for an Accelerated Culture, which indicates Coupland operates as a social commentator as much as a novelist.

Coupland's increasingly poignant, barometer-like readings of popular culture bristle with a reluctant wit.

Born in 1961 on a Canadian Armed Forces Base for NATO in Germany, Coupland attended Sentinel High School in West Vancouver where he had a non-religious upbringing. His adjunct career as a sculptor led him to attend the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo and the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan. In 1987, he began describing his own "twentysomething"; generation for Vancouver magazine, edited by Malcolm Parry. During a stint with Vista magazine, he revised his Vancouver article on Gen-X as a comic strip. He was subsequently contracted to write a non-fiction handbook on Generation X. Coupland went to Palm Springs and completed his "edgy, funny and hip"; story of three young refugees from the world of yuppie wannabe-ism who are under-employed, over-educated and intensely private. The manuscript was rejected by 15 Canadian publishers and 14 American publishers before it appeared in 1991.

Since then Coupland has been increasingly concerned with characterization in his novels, while also working as a designer and visual artist. Recent novels have dealt with faith, or acknowledgement of God, or lack thereof, amid the diversions of a consumer culture and technology. Hey Nostradamus! (2003) explores the aftermath of a fictional shooting spree in North Vancouver's Delbrook High School cafeteria. Microserfs (1995) used the corporate backdrop of Microsoft headquarters in Seattle to depict the high-tech and somewhat geeky lives of employees "who realize they don't have lives."; Some plots can be far-fetched. In Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), a high school senior named Karen Ann McNeil descends into a coma after a skiing accident-and gives birth to a child nine months later. She remains comatose for 18 years. Set in the near future when honeybees are almost extinct, Generation A (2009) starts when five people around the world are stung simultaneously. Coupland has produced eight non-fiction titles, including appreciations of Terry Fox, the city of Vancouver and Marshall McLuhan.

In 2010, he began his own clothing label with Roots. In 2012, the developer proposing the large redevelopment at Oakridge complex in Vancouver submitted a plan that included Coupland as a design consultant to "re-think the library for the 21st century."; The proposal contains text from Coupland's website describing him as "as possibly the most gifted exegete of North American mass culture writing today"; and "one of the great satirists of consumerism."; For information on his first major one-show that surveys his career as a non-literary artist, at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2014, see VAG press release below. Douglas Coupland is the second, major literary artist to have a major, one-person show at VAG, following bill bissett.

FULL ENTRY:

The third of four sons, Douglas Coupland was born on December 30, 1961 on a Canadian Armed Forces Base for NATO at Baden-Solingen, Germany. His father was putting himself through medical school by flying jets. After his father suffered an Achilles tendon injury while skiing, the family relocated to Vancouver where Coupland attended Sentinel High School in West Vancouver. Raised without religion, he attended the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo and Milan's Istituto Europeo de Design. In 1987 he had a solo sculpture show at the Vancouver Art Gallery called Floating World. That year he also first began describing his own 'twentysomething' generation for Vancouver magazine, an urban lifestyles magazine edited by Malcolm Parry. During his twenties, Coupland also took a two-year course in Japanese business science at the Japan/America Institute of Management Science in Honolulu, Hawaii. Having written a few Budget Gourmet reviews for the Vancouver Sun, he worked for Western Living magazine as a staff writer before his stint with glossy and soon-to-be-defunct Vista magazine. At Vista he revisited the realm of his Vancouver magazine article on Gen-X as a comic strip. Coupland was subsequently contracted to write a non-fiction 'handbook' on Generation X. Coupland went to Palm Springs and completed a novel called Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. It was rejected by 15 Canadian publishers and 14 American publishers before it appeared in March of 1991.

It is often erroneously suggested the Coupland took the term Generation X from a Billy Idol song. Untrue. "The name comes from Paul Fussell's (RIP) book 'Class' from the 1980s," Coupland says, "where he postulates the existence of an 'X Class' at the book's end. I think I've said this hundreds of times since 1991 but I think it takes too long to say and people write the wrong thing." On 6/30/2014, Doug Coupland also wrote to Alan Twigg: "The old Vancouver magazine offices were at the corner of Richards and Davie. I started working there a few months after Vancouver's sex laws changed, and Vanmag's corner suddenly became the de facto tranny corner - sex workers are quite territorial. In the middle of the day I'd be working, and then someone out the window in a curb-length fox coat would open its flaps and would show me panties. My studio then was down the street on Hamilton, and at 5:00 tumbleweeds would blow through, and the neighbourhood became a ghost town. My studio space ended up, 25 years later, becoming the cigar smoking room at Cioppino's. I guess the point of all of this is remembering what Yaletown used to be like compared to now. Driving through it in 2014 feels like I'm on another planet. I'm not nostalgic for the way it once was -- it was interesting but dumpy -- but I am a bit nostalgic for an era when change in Vancouver wasn't so massive and so fast. We're one of the few cities left on Earth that has yet to become what it will ultimately be. This is liberating and adventurous, but I like remembering the ghosts, too.";

Coupland's magazine-styled novel Generation X is the 'edgy, funny and hip' story of three young refugees from the world of yuppie wannabeism who are under-employed, over-educated and intensely private. With ascerbic cartoons and textbook design giving rise to terms such as McJobs, this satirical novel of manners was critically acclaimed as groundbreaking. Media endorsed Coupland as a 'spokesperson' for a so-called slacker generation, whether he liked it or not. Since then Douglas Coupland has continued exploring, increasingly concerned with characterization in his novels, while also working as a designer and visual artist. Coupland is one of the few B.C. authors whose work is consistently reviewed internationally. Plots can be far-fetched. In his novel Girlfriend in a Coma, a high school senior named Karen Ann McNeil descends into a coma after a skiing accident--and gives birth to a child nine months later. She remains comatose for 18 years. Meanwhile Karen's closely-knit group of friends has been working on the sets of shows like "The X-Files" and "Millennium" in Vancouver. With Karen's amazing reaawakening, their lives begin to take on the same disturbing darkness that infuses the television shows on which they work. Visions of the world-at-an-end quickly become real as violent and apocalyptic events unfold. "Personally," wrote Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian Weekly, "I think Coupland's conclusions, his remedies for the world, are contradictory, possibly bogus, and not a little embarrassing; but at least he is trying to say something, to raise the stakes. He is becoming extraordinary."

While Vancouverites have also come to know Coupland as a sculptor and public commentator (whose oeuvre was partially formed at the rich kids' enclave of Sentinel High School in West Vancouver), the rest of the world continues to be curious about Coupland's literary cocktails of pull-quote philosophizing, consistent cleverness and peripatetic angst. Recent novels have increasingly dealt with faith or acknowledgement of God, or lack thereof, amid the diversions of a consumer culture and technology. His novel Microserfs, for instance, used the corporate backdrop of Microsoft headquarters in Seattle to depict the high-tech and somewhat geeky lives of young employees 'who realize they don't have lives'. In a similar vein, Coupland examined the working lives of six characters whose names start with J who are employed by a huge computer games design company in Vancouver for jPod. [See below]

Sometimes you just can't improve upon the hype. The jacket for Doug Coupland's follow-up novel The Gum Thief, about the angst-ridden lives of employees in a Staples outlet, offers an excerpt that neatly captures the interplay between pathos and humour in Coupland's ongoing critiques of modern North American society. Once again, Coupland and his characters have melded into one narrative voice: "I work in a Staples. I'm in charge of re-stocking aisles 2-North and 2-South: Sheet Protectors, Indexes & Dividers, Notebooks, Post-it Products, Paper Pads, Specialty Papers and 'Social Stationery.' Do I hate this job? Are you nuts? Of course I hate it. How could you not hate it? Everyone who works with me is either already damaged or else they're embryos waiting to be damaged, fresh out of school and slow as a 1999 modem. Just because you've been born and made it through high school doesn't mean society still can't abort you. Wake up. Let me try to say something positive here. For balance. Staples allows me to wear black lipstick to work. -- Bethany"

"We are all born lost, aren't we?" says a high school character named Jason in Coupland's chilling Hey Nostradamus!, a novel about the aftermath of a fictional shooting spree in North Vancouver's (now defunct) Delbrook High School cafeteria. "We're all born separated from God--over and over life makes sure to inform us of this--and yet we're all real; we have names, we have lives. We mean something. We must." The novel earned the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and won the Canadian Authors' Association Award for Fiction. Coupland returned to Vancouver to accept the Canadian Authors Association award for Hey Nostradamus! at their convention at UBC in June of 2004. He had been in Toronto preparing for the opening of his his art and sculpture installation 'Canada House' at the Toronto's Design Exchange. In his follow-up novel called Eleanor Rigby (Random House), Coupland has a plump and plain Vancouver heroine form an intimate relationship with a younger man in makeup and fishnet stockings. In October of 2004 Douglas Coupland's one-man play, September Ten, had its premiere at the Royal Shakespeare Society in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Coupland lives in West Vancouver from where he continues his parallel career as an installation artist and photographer who enjoys being Canadian. This work has led to several non-fiction titles. Brilliant at recognizing and deciphering manners and trends, Coupland has turned a nostalgic eye on Canada, one of the world's most enduring democracies, for Souvenir of Canada (2002) and Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004), two photographic troves of collective memories. Funny and serious, Coupland's own brand of Sociology Lite touches upon subjects that include the dearly-departed stubby beer bottle, Newfoundland, the Maple Leaf, poutine, water, piss ("There are few, if any, Canadian men who never spelled their name in a snowbank.";), hockey, England, Ookpiks, the CN Tower, a Banque Royal calendar, a Royal Conservatory of Music piano lesson book, treeplanting, Sudbury, the GST, the Bluenose, Canola and Nanaimo bars etc. Coupland presents Terry Fox's holey sock as if it's the Shroud of Turin and takes a rare stab at addressing politics with a quickie memoir and analysis of the FLQ crisis of 1970 in which he predicts Quebec is destined to repeat itself. To mark the 25th anniversary of the beginning of Terry Fox's failed--but hugely successful--Marathon of Hope run across Canada, Coupland edited Terry (2005) as a fundraising endeavour for the Terry Fox Foundation and he contributed the foreword to Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade That Changed the City (Greystone 2016) by Kate Bird.

In 2007, Douglas Coupland accepted a honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University where his sculptural installation, Fifty Books I Have Read More Than Once, was exhibited in September of that year as "an architectonic model of one artist/writer's mind and soul." Representations of book covers--arranged chronologically in terms of when Coupland was influence by them--were glued onto wooden blocks, varying in height, in relation to how important each book has been in Coupland's life.

Set in the near future when honey bees are almost extinct, Douglas Coupland's Generation A (Knopf $32.95) starts when five people around the world are stung simultaneously. As a deliberate reflection of Coupland's famous first book, this story takes it title from comments made by Kurt Vonnegut at a Syracuse commencement ceremony in 1994. In his address to graduating students, Vonnegut said, "Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favours when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

In 2010, Coupland delivered by CBC Massey Lectures series, and Player One, subtitled What Is to Become of Us, A Novel in Five Hours, was the published result. Player One is a real-time five-hour story set in an airport cocktail lounge during a global disaster. Five disparate people are trapped inside: Karen, a single mother waiting for her online date; Rich, the down-on-his-luck airport lounge bartender; Luke, a pastor on the run; Rachel, a beautiful young blonde incapable of true human contact; and finally a mysterious voice know only as "Player One." In the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut and J.G. Ballard, Coupland explores the modern crises of time, human identity, society, religion and the afterlife. Readers will leave the story with no doubt that we are in a new phase of existence as a species--and that there is no turning back.

With a foreword by Douglas Coupland, Shelley Fralic and research librarian Kate Bird combinbed their skills and knowledge to present 149 photos from the Vancouver Sun archives for Seventies: Photos from a Decade That Changed the City (Greystone 2016), featuring representative image from the era as well as pivotal moments in the city's history such as the Gastown Riot and the founding of Greenpeace. Personalities range from a five-year-old Justin Trudeau to the iconic Chief Dan George.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
City of Glass: Douglas Coupland's Vancouver
Fred Herzog: Photographs


FICTION:

Bit Rot (Penguin Random House 2016) Stories & Essays. 9780345812148 $32
Worst. Person. Ever. (Random House 2013)
Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People (Random House 2011). Illustrated by Graham Roumieu. $21. 978-0-307-36066-0
Player One (House of Anansi, 2010) 978-0-88784-972-5
Generation A (Random House 2009)
The Gum Thief (Random House 2007) $32 978-0-307-35628-4
jPod (Random House 2006)
Eleanor Rigby (Random House $32.95) 0-679-31337-0
Hey Nostradamus! (Random House $34.95, 2003) 0-679-31269-2
All Families are Psychotic (2001)
God Hates Japan (2001)
Miss Wyoming (Pantheon, 1999)
Girlfriend in a Coma (HarperCollins, 1998) 0-00-224396-2
Microserfs (HarperCollins, 1995)
Life After God (Simon & Schuster, 1993)
Shampoo Planet (Simon & Schuster, 1992)
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (St. Martin's Press, 1991)

NON-FICTION:

Kitten Clone: The History of the Future of Bell Labs (Vintage Canada 2014)
Extraordinary Canadians Marshall McLuhan (Viking, 2010) 978-0670069224
Terry (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005)
Souvenir of Canada (D&M 2004)
School Spirit (2002)
Souvenir of Canada (D&M 2002) 1-55054-917-0
City of Glass (D&M 2000)
Lara's Book (1998). With Kip Ward.
Polaroids from the Dead (1996)

[At right: Detail from B.C. BookWorld cover image, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2001. Photo by James LaBounty]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2017]