ACWW History

The Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW) began as a writers' collective with the intention to develop and nurture Pacific Rim Asian writers that began in the late sixties – early seventies with a handful of community activists turned writers.   Holding meetings in the living rooms of its members, the ACWW fostered a community of writers and build literature that was distinctly Asian Canadian.   The earliest publications featured two anthologies: Inalienable Rice: A Chinese and Japanese Canadian Anthology (1979) and West Coast Line: The Asian Canadian and the Arts (1981).  

Incorporated formally into a non-profit organization in 1995, the early ACWW accomplished a number of successes: writing workshops, literary anthologies, book clubs, mentorship of new writers, one-on-one manuscript development sessions, an annual reading series, chapters in Edmonton and Toronto, and the creation of the ACWW Emerging Writer’s Award.

Founding members began to publish as well: Paul Yee’s Teach Me How to Fly Skyfighter (1983) (illustrated by SKY Lee); Jim Wong-Chu’s ChinatownGhosts (1986); Paul Yee’s Curses ofThird Uncle (1986), Tales of GoldMountain (1989); SKY Lee’s DisappearingMoon Café (1990).  These pioneers saw the need to form an organization to promote its history and literary culture.  The idea of ACWW was born.
The seminal Many-Mouthed Birds anthology (1991) also served to awaken the mainstream to the richness of Chinese Canadian literature. This was followed by:
  • Denise Chong’s Concubine’s Children (1994);
  • Sky Lee’s Bellydancer (1994);
  • Lydia Kwa's poetry  The Colours of Heroines (1994);
  • Wayson Choy’s Jade Peony (1995) ;
  • Larrisa Lai’s When Fox was a Thousand (1995)
  • Thuong Vuong-Riddick’s ground-breaking bilingual poetry, Two Shores / Deux Rives (1995).
Many of these pioneer writers began to win prizes.
  • Paul Yee’s Tales of Gold Mountain (1989) was awarded BC Book Prize, and Sheila A. Egoff Children's Book Prize, (1990).
  • SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café (1993) was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Award and won the Vancouver Book Prize.
  • Wayson Choy’s Jade Peony (1995) won Ontario’s Trillium Fiction Prize, The Vancouver Book Prize and is named one of the most important books in Canadian history and selected for Canada Reads. Wayson’s memoir, Paper Shadows (1999) was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Book Award, and his follow-up to Jade Peony, All That Matters (2004) won Ontario’s Trillium Prize and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize.
  • Denise Chong's Concubine’s Children (1994) won the Vancouver Book Prize, the Edna Stabler Award, and The Vancity Book Award, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Book Award, and was on the Globe’s best sellers list of 93 weeks.
  • Larrisa Lai’s When Fox was a Thousand (1995); was shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award.
By the turn of the new millennium, ACWW became a major influence on the Asian Canadian literary world and worked hard to uncover emerging writing talent and assist them in finding publishers. Those were heady days. ACWW fundraised to create an ACWW Emerging Writer’s Award. The $4,000 award was innovative because it was a strategy to attract manuscripts from emerging writers. The $4000 award was given to the publisher as an incentive to help cover editing and production costs.  Although there could only be one winner, ACWW worked on the other manuscripts in hopes that one day they too will find their way to a publisher.

  • One of these success stories is Terry Woo’s ground-breaking Banana Boys (2005). It was one of those shortlisted for the 1999 Asian-Canadian Writer's Workshop Award. 
The winner of our first EWA award, in 1999, was Rita Wong’s Monkeypuzzle, published by Press Gang. The second Emerging Writer Award went to Madeleine Thien in 2001 for her short fiction, Simple Recipes. Madeleine’s manuscript impressed M & S so much that they offered her a two-book deal. Simple Recipes went on to win the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the City of Vancouver Book Prize, and was a finalist in the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best first book. Her second book, Certainty (2006) won the in Canada Award, the Ovid Festival Prize, and was a finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize for Fiction. Her latest novel, Dogs at the Perimeter (2001) continues to be published by M & S.  Interestingly, Madeline was a former editor of Ricepaper Magazine.

  • ACWW tried in successive years to work with other genres including children’s fiction but had little success with persistence, finally, in 2010, ACWW in cooperation with Tradewind Books produced a new young adult anthology Henry Chow and other stories.
  • Following the Many-Mouthed Birds anthology, ACWW produced two additional anthologies Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese Canadian Writing by Arsenal Pulp Press (1999) and Strike the Wok: an anthology of Contemporary Chinese Canadian Writing (2003).
ACWW alumni graduated to bigger and better things.  The following is a list of the names of some of the writers who had their start with ACWW and are finding their way into the mainstream:

Marisa AnLin Alps, Louise Bak, Lien Chao, Ritz Chow, Glenn Deer, Sean Gunn, Jamila Ismail, Gaik Cheng Khoo, Laiwan, Jen Lam, Pei Hsien Lim, P.K. Leung, Kam Sein Yee, Sylvia Yu Friedman, Ben Soo, Grace Chin, Ritz Chow, Jessica Jin-Jade, Kagan Goh, David M Hsu, Harry Huang, Winston C Kam, Edward Y C Lee, Iris Li Loretta Seto, Sherwin Tjia, Gien Wong, Caroline Wong, Annie Zhu, Kentaro Ide,  Kwan-Yun Li, Kelle Ngan, Linda Mah, Tony Wong, Day's Lee, Kyo Iona Maclear, Taien Ng-Chan, Patria Rivera, Sook Kong, Sally Ito, Yan Li

  • Weyman Chan’s poetry first appeared in Many Mouthed Birds: Contemporary Writing by Chinese Canadians. His first book of poetry, Before a Blue Sky Moon (2003) won the National Magazine Awards Silver Medal for Poetry, in 2003. Noise from the Laundry (2008) was a finalist in the Governor General’s Award for poetry. Hypoderm: Notes to Myself (2010) is his latest book.
  • Andy Quon, co-editor of the anthology, Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry (Arsenal Pulp Press) came out with a book of short fiction, Calendar Boy (2001) and poetry, Slant (2001), Six Positions: Sex Writing (2005) and Bowling Pin Fire (2007).
  • Co-editor of Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Canadian Fiction in 2003, Lien Chao’s first book, Beyond Silence: Chinese Canadian Literature in English (1997) won the Gabrielle Roy Award for Canadian Criticism. Her second book, Maples and the Stream (1999) is a long narrative poem written in both English and Chinese. Her third book, is a creative memoir, Tiger Girl (2001)
  • Slam poet, Jen Lam’s self-published her poetry, Memoirs of a Dragon-Eater (2000)
  • Fiona Tinwei Lam’s first book of poetry, Intimate Distances (2002) was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award.  Her second book of poetry is Enter the Chrysanthemum (2009)
  • Former treasurer and board member of ACWW, Larry Wong’s Dim Sum Stories: A Chinatown Childhood (2011) recounts his early life in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
  • May Q, Wong’s A Cowherd in Paradise: From China to Canada (2012) is a moving tale about the lives of her family, forced apart for twenty–five years because of the hardship of the Head Tax but overcame discrimination to eventually run a successful Montreal restaurant.
  • Ann Shin’s poetry Last Thing Standing (2000). She is currently working on a novel and a book of poems called Belonging. A suite of poems from Belonging was produced for broadcast on the CBC Radio One program ‘Living Out Loud’.
  • Singapore-Canadian Goh Poh-Seng’s The Girl from Ermita & Selected Poems (1998) and As Though The Gods Loved Us (2000) were published by Night wood editions.
  • Toronto writer, Terry Watada began with a book of poetry A Thousand Homes (1995) and followed up with the short fiction Daruma Days (1997) followed by two books of poetry Ten Thousand Views of Rain (2001) and Obon: The Festival of the Dead (2006) and his first novel, Kuroshio: The Blood of Foxes, (2007)
  • Former Ricepaper editor, Alexis Kienlen’s She Dreams in Red (2007) and 13 (2011) was published by Frontenac House.
  • Toronto-based poet, Louise Bak is the author of Emighty (1995) Ginko Kitchen (1997) Tulpa (2002)
  • Lily Chow’s Sojourners in the North (1996), won the Jeanne Clark Local History Award. Her second book is Chasing Their Dreams: Chinese Settlement in the Northwest Region of British Columbia (2001). Both books and is used as a textbook in many colleges and universities.

Ricepaper Magazine

Ricepaper Magazine began as a newsletter for the organization well before ACWW was incorporated in 1995. In early 1996, Canada Council offered an initial project grant to turn it into a magazine format that would fit into their funding criteria.

ACWW welcomed the new money and saw it as an opportunity to provide additional service and a way for our writers to display their work.   Its mandate has continued to:

1. To encourage and assist members in creative endeavours.

2. To provide a supportive and culturally sensitive environment for members from a common Asian Canadian heritage.

3. To promote awareness of Asian Canadian literature, history, and culture.

4. To facilitate and assist in the production of print, new media, and artistic programs.

5. To access new performing and publishing venues and relevant information on behalf of our members.

6. To liaise between persons and organizations with similar interests and goals with respect to local, national, and international issues.