February 3, 2023

Happy Birthday to Jim Wong-Chu on January 28

By Perrin Grauer

Posted on January 28, 2021 | Updated January 28, 2021, 3:04pm

The 'Google Doodle' appeared in honour of the renowned artist's birthday.

The life and work of legendary poet, author, historian, photographer, community organizer and activist Jim Wong-Chu were honoured on Google’s homepage Thursday in recognition of what would have been his 72nd birthday.

Jim, who was born in Hong Kong and moved to Vancouver at age 4, was known for his lifelong commitment to “amplifying the narratives of the Asian Canadian community,” says Ricepaper Magazine, a publication he helped establish. After its founding in the 1990s, he also acted as Ricepaper’s very first editor. As part of that same organizational push, Jim also co-founded the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop.

Both Ricepaper and the ACWW are emblematic of Jim’s tireless efforts to spotlight Asian Canadian literature — a genre upon which he left an indelible mark.

Jim studied at Emily Carr (then known as the Vancouver School of Art) between 1975 and 1981. During that time, he co-founded the CFRO-FM radio program Pender Guy Radio, which explored culture and assimilation.

Many years later, in 2014, a series of photographs Jim took during those student years would be exhibited at Centre A. The show included “various community photos and protest images from the drive to save BBQ Pork, the democratization of Chinese Benevolent Associations, and the Quebec-Columbia Connector Freeway protests,” according to Galleries West.

“Witness to and participant in much of the Chinese Canadian activism in the 1970s and early ‘80s, Jim became one of its documenters.”

In 1986, while studying creative writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Jim’s groundbreaking book of poetry, Chinatown Ghosts, was published. It represented one of the first poetry collections by a Chinese Canadian writer to be published in the country.

But Jim “didn’t just want to tell his story; he wanted to tell the stories of all the undiscovered talent in his community,” notes Ricepaper.

“In 1989, he began to sift through every literary magazine in the UBC library to identify pieces written by Asian Canadian writers.”

“With the sheer girth of his activity, Jim has been instrumental in creating a cultural scene inclusive of Asian Canadian talent.”

This effort led to the publication of the first of several anthologies of Asian Canadian literature, Many-Mouthed Birds: Contemporary Writing by Chinese Canadians, in 1991. The work, produced with co-editor Bennett Lee, is a “touchstone” in the genre, Ricepaper says.

Jim co-founded the Asian Canadian Performing Arts Resource, literASIAN: A Festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian Writing and the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Festival.

“With the sheer girth of his activity Jim has been instrumental in creating a cultural scene inclusive of Asian Canadian talent,” Galleries West wrote in 2014.

Jim passed away in 2017.

Two years later, the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, in partnership with ECU’s Faculty of Community + Culture, celebrated his life with Jim Wong-Chu: Iconic | Asian | Canadian. The show was held at UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, which houses both the Jim Wong-Chu fonds and books from Jim’s personal library collection. Curated and programmed by curator, Critical and Cultural Practices alumna and ECU staff member Jennifer Dickieson, the archival exhibition included a reading and listening session with local poets, writers, and community leaders at Emily Carr, notes Cissie Fu, Dean of Community + Culture at ECU.

You can find out more about Jim Wong-Chu and his Google Doodle online, now.