May 10, 2012

History of Asian Canadian Writing

Until the early ‘90s, there was not much of a critical mass of Asian Canadian writers -- perhaps about twenty or so identified themselves as "Asian Canadian" writers. The university English departments were producing a lot of young people who wanted to write, so within a couple of years, about twenty members of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop suddenly increased to seventy members. The group also began printing a newsletter and had some thoughts to formalize the collective. In 1995, the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop Society (ACWW) became a non-profit entity. And then “ACWW” produced its first official newsletter. Ricepaper magazine was born out of that newsletter.
With community activism at its heart, SKY Lee, Paul Yee, and Jim Wong-Chu were found in Chinatown having conversations, saying, “What if? Why don’t we have our own literature? Why don’t we do it?” only to realize that they were in fact pioneering a movement. "We thought history was the most important thing and that’s why Paul Yee wrote Saltwater City (1988). That’s why we decided to publish. There were other people who published before us, like Roy Kiyooka (transcanada letters, StoneDGloves)." - Jim Wong-Chu

These early writers were interested in the idea of creating a body of literature: to legitimize and create an Asian Canadian genre that could be put into a library. They started off simply, by offering workshops and then realized that there were really good writing programs out there. So the focus shifted to manuscript preparation in which they helped young writers to find a publisher. Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop became both an editor and agent for young emerging writers. 

Ricepaper was originally a newsletter. In the mid-‘60s and mid-‘70s, a lot of Asian Canadian writers were looking to get published. For example, Inalienable Rice: A Chinese and Japanese Anthology (1979) was the most important groundbreaker because it was an amalgam of Chinese Canadian poetry and so on. There was also the Vancouver edition of Asianadian (1978). In the 1970s, Canada Council was supplying a lot of money to independent publishers, and there was a lack of voice coming from the Asian Canadian communities. So they were very interested in finding new voices, and we all got published.