Wayson Choy (1939-2019)

The staff at Canadian Literature pay tribute to the memory of Wayson Choy who died on Saturday, April 27th, 2019. He was featured in an early interview in a special issue of Canadian Literature on Asian Canadian Writing (issue 163, Winter 1999), but his history at UBC dates back to his time as a student in the early 1960s. Known as “Sonny Choy” by the other aspiring writers in the English classes at UBC in these formative years, (his class peers included Fred Wah, George Bowering, and Frank Davey), he was mentored by Earle Birney, Jan de Bruyn, and Jacob Zilber. His short story, “The Sound of Waves,” was published in Prism (a journal edited by de Bruyn and Zilber), and in The Best American Short Stories (1962). After several years of teaching at Humber College, Toronto, Choy took a sabbatical leave after the death of his mother in 1977: he returned to UBC and completed a creative writing seminar with Carol Shields. She prompted him to write a story with a randomly selected slip of pink paper. The resulting work, symbolically focused on a pink jade amulet shaped like a peony, provided the core motif that would eventually evolve into the popular novel The Jade Peony (1995). The Jade Peony was a co-winner of the 1995 Trillium Award in Ontario and the 1996 Vancouver Book Award. Other books that explore the intricate patterns of family history followed in the wake of this success: his Vancouver memoir Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood (1999) won the Edna Staebler Award for non-fiction; the sequel to The Jade Peony, All That Matters (2004), was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and won a Trillium Award; in 2009, he published another memoir that directly grappled with his own mortality and the special network of family support that was vital to his survival of a coma and heart attack, Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying. In 2015, Wayson Choy received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award. A man of deep compassion and generous in sharing his advice, support, and wit with fellow writers and loyal readers, he will be deeply missed.

—Glenn Deer, Associate Editor


Left to right: Glenn Deer | Margery Fee, former Editor | Wayson Choy | Donna Chin, Managing Editor. (2012)


Links to articles and reviews of Wayson Choy’s works in Canadian Literature
Not Yet
By Wayson Choy
Reviewed in Writing to Defy Death by Maria Noëlle Ng
Published in Canadian Literature 206 (Autumn 2010): 136-138
Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood
By Wayson Choy
Reviewed in In-Between Souls by Eva-Marie Kröller
Published in Asian Canadian Writing. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 163 (Winter 1999): 179-180
The Jade Peony
By Wayson Choy
Reviewed in Myths of History by Guy Beauregard
Published in Canadian Literature 154 (Autumn 1997): 162-164
See also the CanLit Guides chapter on The Jade Peony