History of Asian Canadian Writing in Vancouver

The Pioneering of a Literary Genre


Long before creative writing by Asian Canadian was studied by academic scholars and placed on the shelves of university bookstores, a large corpus of fiction had been composed of writers of Asian descent in Canada.

Never intended to be creative masterpieces for mass consumption, these early writers were more concerned with exploring their roots and their identities as Canadians of Asian descent in an era of racial intolerance. Interestingly, much of these writers resided in Vancouver, one of the cities of Canada which had the earliest Asian immigrants.

Asian Canadian Writers Workshop

ACWWSome of these early pioneers came together in the 1960s to form an informal network called the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop (ACWW). With library catalogues omitting “Chinese Canadian literature” or “Asian Canadian literature” as subject headings, the goal of these Vancouver writers was to create an awareness of Asian Canadian writing.

Jim Wong-Chu, now considered one of these pioneers of Asian Canadian literature, eventually helped founded the ACWW and had it registered as an official society. Huddled in the dusty stacks of University of British Columbia library, Wong-Chu searched for Asian Canadian stories in Canadian literature.

The First Asian Canadian Anthology

In 1989, Wong-Chu and co-editor Bennett Lee published an anthology called Many Mouthed Birds, a work which helped solidify Asian Canadian writing as a distinct form of literature that continues to flourish. These Asian Canadian creative writing enthusiasts eventually paved the way for future Asian Canadian writers such as SKY Lee, Madeleine Thien, and Terry Woo.

Thanks to Many Mouthed Birds, publishers ultimately gave these writers contracts for their own publications. One of Wayson Choy’s short stories evolved into now the now renowned novel Jade Peony.

Ricepaper Magazine

In 1996, the ACWW began a quarterly newsletter called Rice Paper and circulated among those interested mainly writers of Pacific Rim Asian descent. From the bowels of Wong-Chu’s basement, Ricepaper eventually became a full-blown magazine with a regular staff, funding from Canada Council, and an office on Main Street.

Although other publications have come and gone, Ricepaper is currently the only Asian Canadian literary arts magazine. Amazingly, Asian Canadian writers who have worked or published with Ricepaper magazine have gone on to be prominent writers and cultural activists.

Asian Canadian as Mainstream Literature

Thanks to these early pioneers and their paving the way for future writers, mainstream Canadian publishers are now quite receptive of new Asian writers, even seeking out new talent.

Writers such as Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café and Choy’s Jade Peony have received the Vancouver Book Prize while others such as Hiromi Goto and Kerry Sakamoto have won the Commonwealth prize.