Wayson Choy fascinates audience with storytelling


 Above: Wayson Choy

On Thursday, March 18, author Wayson Choy presented the 11th reading in the 2003-2004 Canadian Writers in Person series. Series organizer John Unrau, Atkinson School of Arts 7 Letters professor of English, sent the following report of the evening event to YFile.

Wayson Choy, author of prize-winning novel The Jade Peony (1995), spoke for a fascinating hour about storytelling, and the important part it can play in creating understanding among people of different ages, backgrounds, levels of education, ethnicity, gender and sexual preference.

Each of the three main stories told in The Jade Peony, his first novel, portrays the breaking down of potential barriers to friendship or intimacy caused by a “them-and-us” mentality. Ranging beyond his book, the author shared some personal experiences of such breakthrough moments of enlightenment. Many in the audience were clearly moved by his observations.

Following Choy’s presentation, questions were taken from an enthusiastic audience. Among the questions asked about The Jade Peony was one based on the novel’s account of the fate of the Chinese workers who helped build our railways, but were denied the possibility of family life because of the racist policies of the Canadian government in banning immigration by Chinese women. Choy explained that after these “bachelor men” died and were buried here, their bones were disinterred, packaged, labelled and shipped back in large consignments to China to be given traditional burial in their places of origin.

Wayson Choy has just finished a novel, which will be published in September 2004, entitled All That Matters (New Doubleday). It continues the story of one of the characters mentioned only briefly in The Jade Peony. The audience was treated to a reading of the opening pages.

The book-signing session, with its opportunity for further discussions with the popular author, was a lengthy one.

The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. The final reading in the 2003-2004 series will take place on Thursday, April 1, with Anne Michaels as the featured author.

More about Wayson Choy

Choy, who was born in Vancouver, has spent much of his life engaged in teaching and writing in Toronto. He was a professor at Humber College from 1967 until his retirement in 2002, and a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. Choy volunteers for various community literacy projects and AIDS groups. For three years was president of the Cahoots Theatre Company in Toronto.

Choy’s first novel, The Jade Peony, shared the Trillium Book Award for best book in 1996 with Margaret Atwood and won the 1996 City of Vancouver Book Award. His latest book, Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood (1999) has been highly praised by reviewers.