LITERARY LOCATION: Quayside Marina, at the foot of Davie St. & Marinaside Crescent, Vancouver

Evelyn Lau walks this stretch of seawall several times a week, often composing poems, including "Quayside" (see below). Born Evelyn Yee-Fun Lau in 1971, she received the Pat Lowther Award from the League of Canadian Poets for best book of poetry by a woman in Canada, for Living Under Plastic, containing "Quayside," in 2011, the same year she was named City of Vancouver's Poet Laureate. As a fourteen-year-old honour student, Lau had run away from her restrictive upbringing to survive for two years as a teenage prostitute and drug user. Her teenage memoir Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, received much publicity and became a CBC movie.

The bed of crushed mussel shells, bruise-black,
the silent glide of the scarlet freighter,
the wind slapping my face awake
to the world somersaulting blue and brazen -
I am gulping the air flavoured with metal and shellfish,
stretching to take it in, salt sting, sea grass,
gold pollen detonating in the breeze, the profusion
of it, this life you returned to me, this one life.


Born on July 2, 1971, Evelyn Yee-Fun Lau was an honour student when she ran away from her restrictive Chinese Canadian parents at age 14 and became a teenage prostitute and drug user. Her teenage memoir of two years on the streets, Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, received much publicity and became a CBC movie. At 20 she won the Milton Acorn Memorial 1990 People's Poetry Award for You Are Not Who You Claim, her first book of poetry. She has also been nominated for a Governor General's Award for Poetry for Oedipal Dreams and she received a Canadian Authors Association Award for Most Promising Writer. Her prose books, mostly concerned with the rigours and sado-masochistic dramas of sex, have been translated into more than a dozen languages. "What is important, I think, about Evelyn Lau," wrote critic Patricia Pearson in 1993, "is that she blends startling prose talent with a fierce determination to be true." Unfortunately that combination led to a non-fiction expose of her ruined love affair with writer W.P. Kinsella, a relationship that began when he was 60 and she was 24. The article in Vancouver magazine called 'Me and W.P.' led to a lawsuit in 1988, diminishing respect for both literary talents. The writers had signed a pact giving one another permission to write about their relationship, but Kinsella alleged that Lau's portrait of him was malicious and erroneous.

Female protagonists in Evelyn Lau's Choose Me (1999) repeatedly blame the older men in their lives for their unsatisfying relationships. Consequently some readers will judge her heroines less charitably than the ex-prostitute they encountered in Lau's memoir of teenage despair, Runaway, ten years ago, when she was 18. "She was not only without desire," Lau writes in 'Faithful Husband,' "she was repulsed....He smelled off to her, a combination of sour musk and something vaguely fecal... With each jolt of his orgasm her spirit crumpled." In 'Suburbia' she writes, "She didn't feel much of anything, only blank and detached." In 'In the Desert', "Henry was twenty years her senior... Joan never told Henry how the desert bored her... When Joan tried to picture what he might be thinking about behind his pink, oily forehead while rubbing his flaccid penis against her vulva, as if her warm, alive body was a blow-up doll's, she wanted to vomit... She felt what by now was a familiar rush of pity and hatred." Only in the concluding novella 'Heaven' does a female narrator named Annabelle begin to accept responsibility for her own unhappiness. She seriously examines her immature, shallow and covetous attitude towards a privileged, blond and elegant woman whose husband has killed himself. This awakening of culpability comes as a relief to the reader.

The road beyond victimology is hard, especially when agents, editors and publishers lay in wait as potential substitutes for pimps. The saving grace is that Lau writes courageously and well--one of precious few Canadian authors who try to describe all aspects of sexuality frankly. In 2011, she received the Pat Lowther Award from the League of Canadian Poets for best book of poetry by a woman in Canada, for Living Under Plastic. In October of 2011, Evelyn Lau was named City of Vancouver's Poet Laureate. In 2013 Lau was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for A Grain of Rice (Oolichan 2012). A brave and undeniable talent.


Between 2004 and 2015, more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued for residential buildings in the city of Vancouver. As of 2015, an average of three houses a day were being torn down, many of them original homes built for the middle and working class in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Very few are deemed significant enough to merit heritage protection, but Caroline Adderson and other Vancouver writers believed the demolition of these dwellings amounted to an architectural loss. She therefore spearheaded Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored with John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, Eve Lazarus, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. The introduction is by heritage artist and activist Michael Kluckner--who has published a book called Vanishing Vancouver--and photographs are by Tracey Ayton and Adderson.


Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (HarperCollins, 1989)
You Are Not Who You Claim. (Porcépic Books, 1990) - poetry
Oedipal Dreams. (Coach House Press, 1992; Beach Holme, 1992) - poetry
Fresh Girls & Other Stories (HarperCollins, 1993)
In the House of Slaves (Coach House Press, 1994) - poetry
Other Women (Random House, 1995)
Choose Me (Doubleday, 1999)
Treble (Raincoast, 2005) - poetry
Living Under Plastic (Oolichan, 2010 - poetry 96 pp, $17.95 ISBN 978-0-88982-262-7
A Grain of Rice (Oolichan 2012) $17.95 978-0-88982-286-3
Tumour (Oolichan 2015) 978-0-88982-312-9 $17.95
Pineapple Express (Anvil 2020) $18 978-1-77214-147-4

[BCBW 2020] "Fiction" "Chinese" "Movie"