An Interview with Fred Wah (September 2000)

by Margery Fee and Sneja Gunew



Fred Wah is a poet, novelist and scholar born in 1938 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and raised in the West Kootney region of British Columbia. He has a Bachelors of Arts in English literature and Music from the University of British Columbia and a Masters of Arts in Linguistics and Literature from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the State University of New York at Buffalo. Wah is the author of over 20 books of poetry and prose-poetry including Waiting for Saskatchewan which won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1985, Diamond Grill, which won the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Fiction in 1996, and Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity, which won the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Writing in Canadian Literature.

In the following interview conducted in September 2000, Wah delves into the past and explores issues of culture, ethnicity, and identity, both in national and individual contexts. Wah describes his formative years as a student and writer: his roots in the dynamic of the Vancouver poetry scene in the 1950s and in his involvement as one of the founding members of Tish magazine. Wah goes on to speak about his subsequent career as a writer and how his identification as a Chinese Canadian has changed over the last half a decade.

As a student in the 1950s, a time when racism was undeniable, the subject of race was, as Wah puts it, pushed aside. Not until the mid-1970s, Wah explains, was there a shift in “race consciousness” marked in part by Trudeau’s Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism and the beginnings of the Japanese Redress. The implications of the shift for Wah were a need for him to find his place in the literary world by working through racialization in his own writings. The implications for Canada are a significant Asian presence in big cities, multiculturalism as official governmental policy, and the acknowledgement of the roles geography, culture, and race play in Canadian literature. Canada, Wah states, is a “very fluid cultural river that we find ourselves in from time to time.”

To read more about Fred Wah’s publications, visit

—Evgenia Todorova


Please note that the audio version of this interview is not identical to the transcription due to editing.
Part 1

Part 2


This interview was conducted by Margery Fee and Sneja Gunew in September 2000 as part of a research project on public intellectuals in Canada and Australia. Steven Ney and Evgenia Todorova worked on annotations and final editing.

Margery Fee (MF): How do you explain your development into a poet, your intellectual trajectory?

Fred Wah (FW): I had a music teacher who was one of these American music people from Hollywood who was rushed out of the country during the McCarthy era and ended up in Nelson and had written for movies for years, and was a good musician. So that was kind of exciting and he got me going on the music trail and into jazz and things like that. But it was really Warren Tallman at UBC who was the big find.[1] I only took his course because Pauline was taking English.[2] I was a music student, but I needed a couple of other arts courses. So, in order to spend some time with her I thought that I would just take this poetry course that she was taking with this Warren Tallman and just kind of hang out, do a little poetry, that’s okay, I could do poetry. I just got enthralled by how he handled poetry. I guess that was the biggest shift for me, and by the end of his course, by the end of English 406 I had dropped-not dropped music-but I had sold my marimba vibes and my trumpet. Traded it in on a Wollensak tape recorder, and was buying books of poetry.

MF: That’s pretty conclusive. Were there other people in that course that turned out to be poets in the end, or –

FW: Yes, there were quite a group of people. I remember bill bissett was in the class and Mike Matthews who teaches over at Malaspina.[3] I can’t remember if George [Bowering] was in that course or not. Don’t think there were any other Tish people.[4] Jamie Read was in that class. There was a group of people who weren’t. I think Frank [Davey] and George may have already taken the class. Frank might have been in the class-I can’t remember.

MF: Did you know them before, or did you continue to hang out with them afterwards?

FW: I’m just trying to place how this happened. During that year-and I forget which year it was-

Sneja Gunew (SG): Roughly, do you remember what the year was?

FW: Would have been about 1960 to 1961. I had been doing some writing, writing some poetry, and I had shared it with my friend from Nelson-Lionel Kearns[5]-who had also been in our jazz group in Nelson, so I knew Lionel. Lionel had already started publishing poetry. Lionel had been working with Earle Birney[6] in the late 50’s, and Lionel kept saying, “Oh Fred, you should show it to Earle.” I eventually did and was very disappointed in the response. He actually never read the poetry.

MF: That was the response?

FW: That was basically the response. He took it and he said, “Oh I just don’t have time for this.” Anyway, that was a little disappointing, and I thought, “Okay, well, I’ll move elsewhere with it.” It was during Tallman’s course that I really got into reading and writing poetry, and was quite excited about the New American Poetry, Donald Allen’s anthology that came out [that year].[7] That was a very major kind of text and cultural event for us out here in the West Coast. Not because it was American but because it was formally so innovative and we hadn’t seen anything like it, even people from down east like Souster[8] and Dudek.[9] There hadn’t been that kind of interest in formally innovative writing, so we were pretty blown away by that and then having Tallman as a teacher here, and Tallman is someone who knew a lot of these American poets, the West Coast ones anyway, you know, [Kenneth] Rexroth, [Robert] Duncan, [10] [Jack] Spicer and all that. It was just even more exciting because he was able to talk about them. I think by the end of that year, that 406 course, we had a pretty solid group of people who were interested in starting a magazine, you know, we were going to move ahead. Tishstarted out of that group, it really got going.

SG: And then?

FW: Well, then we brought in, through Tallman, Robert Duncan-we were interested in Duncan-and Duncan had actually been up to UBC in the late 50s. Slightly before my time, he had done a basement workshop with some of the Prism people[11]- Elliott [Gose] and [Kay] Stockholder,[12] people like that. They were all Americans and in the late 50s, UBC hired a huge bundle of Americans and became very… I don’t know what the situation was like at UBC in those days where they had to hire a bunch of Americans. I guess there were no…

MF: There were no PhDs from Canada.[13]

FW: There were no Brits left and no PhDs from Canada.

MF: The Brits were not much of an option because they wouldn’t have had a PhD at all. We were trying to upgrade and Canadians weren’t available.

FW: At Calgary, where I am now, you’ll see they had a different thing. They hired a whole bunch of Brits, so they had a very British department in the 60s. Anyway, because Warren knew Duncan, and Duncan had already done a little bit of a workshop a couple of years before, Warren suggested that we bring Duncan in to do some talks: “We’ll hire him to do three talks. We’ll pay him a hundred dollars and Ellen and I will feed him, and he can stay here, and he can take the bus up from San Francisco.”

MF: Yes, I can imagine the indignation with which that would be met by a well-known poet now!

FW: And we’ll get the people who want to take it to pay ten dollars each, right?

SG: Even that would be impossible.

FW: So, of course Duncan came and he did it. He was here for just over a week, and he did a series of three evening sessions with us in the Tallmans’ living room. It was packed. There were probably twenty, twenty-five people including some older poets like Phyllis Webb and Roy Kiyooka.[14] So they were that kind of slightly earlier generation who… I mean, I knew Phyllis as a sessional at UBC, as a teacher at UBC, and I knew that she wrote poetry, but I didn’t know that much about her. I hadn’t read much of her poetry except in a few magazines. And then there were all of us young people. I think that was in the spring of around ’61. Pauline would know this; she’s already written it up for her book.[15]

By the end of the Duncan thing we had decided to go ahead with this magazine. Because it had all started with this notion of doing  a magazine, and several of us who wanted to start it went to Warren and said, “Hey Warren, we want to start a magazine-how do you do that? Can you help us out?” He said-this was in the winter-“Just hold on. Don’t be in such a rush. Maybe we should talk to some of these poets you’re interested in.” That’s when he suggested bringing Duncan up. So, we waited for Duncan. He came up in the spring-I think in May-and by the end of that we decided we’d do Tish magazine. [We were] sitting around, [thinking], “What are we going to call it? We can’t call it Shit – we were rebels, right.”

MF: That would shock everyone, way too much. When I teach it, I always say, “this was considered extremely shocking,” and they look at me like, what?

FW: So, Duncan said, why don’t you just call it Tish? Then we had a year of doing Tish and George and Frank and Lionel at least were first year graduate students in the department and they had the grad student offices. Bill New[16] was in our office – in the Tish office. We had this big office over in the barrack, these old army barrack buildings, right across from the music building, which was good for me because I was still in music. But I’d hop across the street. We used this office; we were in there twelve, fifteen, twenty hours a day.

MF: Nothing like space, eh? Give some people some space and they can do things. There’s no space anywhere in the university now for anything, it’s nuts.

FW: Oh yeah. This was great. We weren’t bothered; no one kicked us out at night because no one really cared, so we could party there.

MF: Well, they were barracks. Who cared if they burned down, you know?

FW: That was a great time. We put an issue of Tish out every month for 18 or 19 issues, steadily, monthly. But then during that winter, Warren somehow got involved with Creeley[17] and got Creeley a job at UBC. I remember he got him a job for $3200-that was his annual salary. I know it was thirty-two hundred dollars because I remember at the end of the year he decided to go back to Albuquerque because Albuquerque offered him thirty-eight hundred dollars.

MF: Yeah, well, that’s a lot of money in Albuquerque. That would be pretty nice.

FW: Creeley was there in 1962-63 and I was enthralled by Creeley. He had a creative writing class and I had never taken a creative writing course…I think Earl and Jake Zieber-there had been a few creative writing classes which I had never taken, but I took Creeley’s and it had a lot of young people in it like Daphne Marlatt, Gladys [Hindmarch], Jamie Reid, Dave Dawson, myself, Peter [Auxier][18] and just a whole bunch of young Vancouver people. I worked pretty well with Creeley and I was going to go into graduate school the next year, and he offered me the opportunity to go down to Albuquerque. He got me a graduate assistantship at the University of New Mexico, so we did that. We went down to New Mexico for a year. I was interested in studying linguistics; prosody was sort of hot then.[19] I was pretty disappointed in the linguistics offerings at Albuquerque, and didn’t really like the desert, missed the north-

MF: Missed the north and the rain.

FW: Missed trees and so forth, and during that year Poetry (Chicago) was a magazine that we would read all the time – it was contemporary to Chicago and pretty good in the sense that you could get the news, you know, it was one of those places you could get the poetry news – The Evergreen Review, Poetry (Chicago), [and in] Canada, Delta, Evidence Magazine.[20] There weren’t that many magazines around, but there was an ad inPoetry (Chicago) from the State University of Buffalo from the English Department looking for graduate students to apply for these poetry fellowships. Pauline showed it to me and I thought there’s no way I could get into that. Henry [Lee] Smith and George Trager were two linguists that I was interested in and I knew they taught at Buffalo. Pauline said, “Why don’t I just apply for you.” And I said, “yeah, go ahead, sure. If we get in there I wouldn’t mind studying with Trager and Smith” – because I’d read their book and I was interested in that. I knew Olsen was teaching there, so Buffalo was a possibility. I got the scholarship and went off to Buffalo which was just this incredible gathering of poets from all over Canada, England, United States-all young poets in our early twenties. And the chair of the English Department, Al Cook, had done this very intentionally, to create a community of poetry around Charles Olsen.[21] This was his prize of the department that he would have this imposing American poet teaching in the department. And it was true: the scene that was created in Buffalo was one of those very unique scenes from 1963 into the late sixties, early seventies-well, still it goes on. They’ve got a good poetics program still because of all that. So-

MF: There you were. How did you get back to Canada from that?

FW: Well, I was doing a degree in poetry and linguistics – this was the 1960’s interdisciplinary thing. You could do a degree between two departments and I was working between the Linguistics Department and the English Department and I was doing a Master’s thesis on prosody and then they came up with this new program for a doctoral program where you could skip the Master’s and I  jumped into that because there was actually a little more money-if you had a doctoral teaching assistantship you’d get I think $1800 a year and the Master’s people only got $1600-[it] was the money that was really important in those days. My father died in 1966 and I was cruising along having fun with my courses and teaching, writing poetry, publishing magazines and [being] just totally involved in this scene, and I just for some reason all of a sudden said, “Well, it’s time to get a job.” I wanted out, “I’ve had enough of this, better get to work.”  I guess it was that…

MF: That moment-you have to take over now.

FW: I guess it was. Pauline laughs when I talk about it, but I hadn’t realized that then, but because of my father dying I did this switch and Simon Fraser was just starting and I talked to Ron Baker who was my old linguistics prof at UBC and he had been very interested in all of us young poets who were doing poetry and linguistics, and he was head of the English Department at Simon Fraser. I talked to Ron because he’d always said, well, you want a job, just give me a call.

MF: People said that in those days – just give me a call, I’ll have the job for you, don’t worry.

FW: So, I called him and I said, “Well, Okay, I’m ready now, I’m  ready for my job now, when can I start” and he says, “Well, we’re just getting going here at Simon Fraser, we’re just setting things up. I’ll get you another job-they’ve started this college system in the province-I’ll get you another job for a year or two before we’re ready for you at Simon Fraser.” So, he gave me the name of this college that was near where actually I’d grown up-Selkirk College in Castlegar. The head of the English Department [there] called me and asked me if I’d like an interview for a job. They were just starting and they were hiring fourteen people for the English Department. In those days, if you’re starting a college you hire all the people right? So I went up to Toronto for the interview, and I think the interview lasted about five minutes.

MF: You could talk, you could walk.

FW: You’re hired. Show up, be there August 15th. So, we moved back to BC and it turned out to be this very happy occasion where both Pauline and I moved back to where we’d grown up in Nelson and we had a young daughter and her grandparents were there: we had built in baby-sitters. We were with this other group of young academics from all over the place. It was an exciting time, and on and on. So, Vancouver became again a kind of centre for us because the sense in BC is, of course, Vancouver’s the centre, and you’re going down to Vancouver all the time for culture and things like that. We got involved in that late sixties / early seventies Vancouver thing around The Georgia Straight[22] and the Vancouver Community Press[23] {Stan Persky[24]}. Actually Tish was still going on in a kind of latter evolvement. [I] spent years working at Selkirk College-from 1967.

And then in the late seventies [I] got the opportunity to be very involved in the Arts One Program,[25] both at UBC and Selkirk. [The] UBC Arts One Program had been very influential pedagogically. It was a very new way [of teaching]: it made sense particularly in the late sixties-early seventies hippie sense of community. I was involved in starting  the Arts One Program at Selkirk and got very involved with that for a number of years. That dwindled out at Selkirk as the money started to tighten up. By the late seventies they started David Thompson University Centre[26] and I started a writing program there. That was another happy occasion-David Thompson-because it was a small arts college university associated with UVic [University of Victoria]. You could get your degree going through at DTUC and get a UVic degree. We had seven or eight hundred students all doing dance, music, writing, visual art. It was just another great time. Then in 1984 the government pulled the rug out from under us on that one and that was pretty disappointing. BC was getting to be an impossible place to be for anyone academically. Money was so tight, it was ridiculous. I got very disenchanted with teaching and with BC and I said “I want out.” This was about twelve, thirteen, fifteen years ago. Then this job came up at the University of Calgary and they asked me to apply for the Creative Writing position there. I thought, “Okay, change is as good as the rest, I’ll jump into that.” Been there having a pretty happy time, but I’m pulling out next year.

SG: Another change, or… ?

FW: I’m retiring.

MF: What?

SG: Oh yeah.

FW: It happened. Well, they got this plan there. They’ve got this reduced load-so for two years I’m going to do half time, but because of the course exchanges and that, I really just have to do a couple more courses over a couple of years. I’m really considering next spring as when I’m really getting out.

SG: Do you have plans about what you’re going to use all of that time for, other things you want to do?

FW: Well, I want to write, you know, there’s lots of writing I want to do and lots of reading. You know, all of those hundreds and thousands of books that you kind of poke away in these book shelves and every year you never really get a chance-

MF: Sneja’s going to have to live to be a hundred and fifty-five I think at the moment to read all her books-it’s going up every year. What I want to ask you about is: [when I lived in Ontario] your name was always known to me, you know out there on the West Coast. I mean, Frank Davey was one of my professors and George Bowering turned up somewhere, I met him somehow. The whole issue of your ethnicity never occurred to me, just as it never occurred to me with Michael Ondaatje. It just did not enter my mind… There was a whole period in Canada where that issue was not an issue. If you were Québécois it was an issue, but apart from that… How did that resonate with you? I mean, do you feel that was true of yourself or is this just Margery being on the other end of the country or something?

FW: No, and the way I’ve thought about it is that we just didn’t have the discourse for it. There was no language available to direct our attention to that possibility. As you may or may not remember how during the seventies during Trudeau it started up with the B and B: [27] the whole language thing, and kind of working out the French/English thing. But the biggest thing for the so-called race consciousness came with, well, two things: Japanese Redress[28] and Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. In a sense, it wasn’t an explosive thing; it wasn’t kind of all of a sudden, but over a period of about… I don’t know, in the mid-seventies, I think sometime. And Redress, the J[apanese] C[anadian] community was working hard on Redress and that was starting to get into the media and so people were starting to talk about that and recall that. In fact, I remember doing Arts One; we had Sharon Pollock in, doing Komagata Maru, and then Sharon also did her play Walsh. [29] There was a definite shift in consciousness about so called ethnicity or race and Native awareness in the mid-seventies to a much more political and politicized space than it had been. For me, that all dovetailed-in hindsight- into my own identity, getting into a kind of identity awareness, not an identity politics definitely then, but identity awareness. I started to just be able to ask, “Well, who am I in this?” For me it’s related to my father; it’s related to finding myself caught in an anxious and sad imagination about my father who had died in 1966. He was quite young-he was 54 when he died. I had been in graduate school, cruising along doing my stuff; I didn’t really think too much about it. I thought, “Oh well, too bad dad died.” I kind of pushed it aside and got into my life, you know, get a wife and a family, kids, car, house, you know, life goes on. But then he just sort of appeared out of the poems, out of the writing, him and death and the name, Wah. I mean I knew about my Chinese background, but there had never been any way to locate it as something that I wanted to articulate.

MF: Did you not want to articulate, I mean was there a sense that it was something not to be articulated?

FW: Oh, absolutely.

MF: How did that feel?

FW: Racism in the 50’s in Canada was pretty clear.

MF: So better to keep that quiet. But I’m talking about for yourself, not necessarily in your poetry.

FW: Well, as I try to work out in Diamond Grill[30] that I was able to pass as they say. I mean, I don’t look Chinese, although Bowering keeps saying that as I grow older I’m looking more and more Chinese, but I think that’s because the discourse allows him to say that. But I was blonde and I didn’t look Chinese, it was okay, I could pass, I didn’t have to deal with it except through the name, and it wasn’t a big deal. Particularly Asianicity was something that you wanted to push aside, even in Vancouver in the 50’s. Don’t forget for the Chinese they weren’t even allowed to bring their families into the country until 1947. Although my father had been born here, he wasn’t allowed to vote until 1949. These were a people who were very outside of everything and the country had no… I remember seeing my first Chinese woman in the 50’s. I had never seen a Chinese woman, and now I go into a class and…

MF: They’re there-

FW: I went into Roy’s first year poetry class the other day, and whoa, there it is again.[31]

SG: Is that different from Calgary, I mean is that the kind of students…?

FW: When I started teaching at U of C in 1989, I remember the first class I went in to teach, because I was fairly conscious of race. There was one Asian in the class, and she was from China; she wasn’t a Chinese Canadian. My first year English class this year is about 40 students, probably about 15 or 16 – 17 of them are Asian Canadians. That’s South Asian and Chinese Canadians. Of course Calgary, a lot like Vancouver, like all the large cities, in the universities there’s a significant Asian presence, both visually… and you go into the food courts and that, and they’re speaking Chinese, they’re speaking Punjabi, Hindi, etc.

SG: What’s happened belatedly is that your work, figures like you are now being seized upon by these young writers and artists who are looking, in a sense retroactively for people that they can attach themselves to in the literary or cultural history of the country. How do you feel about that?

FW: What young people?

SG: They do, believe me. You are a significant figure for young Asian Canadian students, specifically more East Asian Canadian, but they’re looking for figures that they can kind of say, “Okay, Fred was doing this, and it’s OK for me now to be developing other aspects.” But they look on you as…

FW: Well, I agree that that’s true, but I think I would caution that that might be essentializing the matter a little. That’s true-for example, I did a class for Glenn and Roy[32] at Harbour Centre the other night, and this is a class-they both have classes on the race problem, or… I forget what they call them. Glenn’s is a grad seminar and Roy’s is an undergraduate course. The three of us are surprised at the paucity of Asians in these courses. In fact, we almost tried to talk about this in the class, you know, the whole sense of what’s all this whiteness doing examining, gazing on this race problem, and we tried to turn it around a little but didn’t get very far with it. But there are only three [Asians] out of thirty students-of course these are upper-level. Then when the public came in, there were a lot more young Asians, but there were also a lot of young white writers who came too, and they’re interested in recuperating a kind of literary history that isn’t only racial, it is also formal. This happened last night too. I read for Kootenay School of Writing,[33] where [there’s] the same kind of mix, mostly white but a significant number of young Asian… I don’t know if they’re writers. A few of them are… Most of them were women. I don’t know quite who they are.

SG: So, if we ask you a more general question: do you feel that you are in any sense attached to particular communities, you know, given all the complexity of communities? And [do you] try to put boundaries around it, which doesn’t work, but is there a sense that you feel you are somehow linked to a range of communities?

FW: Yeah, I mean, I find myself in a rather curious position sometimes, having crossed a number of communities, probably because of my age. Because I started writing in the late 50’s and moving through a variety of communities-Canadian, American, British, and local. I find that I have to negotiate these communities a lot, since let’s say up until the late 80’s when a racialized discourse really became possible, [still] it was there.  There was not just what Obasan had brought in critically, but there were a lot of young Asian writers. Of course, there was this Orientalization of North American literature going on in the late 80’s. I felt I was caught in a way. Remember when Bowering just hammered away at this in the 80’s: “You’re just getting on that…”

MF: “Getting on the bandwagon.” Trust George!

FW: “Come on Wah, you’ve never been Chinese,” although George talks about me like that in his introduction.[34] Actually, when I look back George was actually very conscious of both race and class in his reading of Canadian literature. It wasn’t pronounced, but it was there. So, I felt awkward in that kind of shift from a community of writing that had been very much a white, European avant-garde, that we inherited in North America in the 60’s and 70’s. And then this new thing, this racialized thing where it was really difficult to negotiate that position amongst a lot of white writers, and it still is, and it has split some communities, shifted them, changed them somewhat. I think that negotiation, and particularly people like Roy Miki, who has intellectually and critically confronted that discourse for poetry and for culture, situated the writing of colour in a critical way that makes it a little more understandable. I find it easy now to put myself in that, or see myself, or see my writing in that.

This project with my father, which started in the late 70’s for me with a book called Breathin’ My Name With A Sigh (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1981) and then moved through Waiting for Saskatchewan (Winnipeg: Turnstone, 1985) and then Diamond Grill, was really just a long project of trying to work through all that racialization in my own writing and my own consciousness. Now, in fact, the reading I gave last night at the Kootenay School of Writing was part of a series they’ve just started there on race because they had an incident, I gather, here in the spring or in the early summer where there was a reading where somebody was reading something and someone else accused this reader of being racist, so there was this big to-do, I don’t know quite what it was all about. The Kootenay School of Writing people got very involved with this and it has to do with the Vancouver young white writing community who are now using a racial consensus to read one another.[35] So, I was part of the series and then I realized as I was being introduced that I hadn’t thought a lot about it. I kind of for some reason got it in my mind that I was sort of faking it[36] because I hadn’t read that in Vancouver yet, so I was reading that new book and I was being introduced in the context of this racist event and I thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do, I didn’t bring my race poems, right? I just brought that book.” So, I got up and scurried around looking through the book for what can I read from here [that] foregrounds race. And then I realized that just about anything that I’m reading in there, literally anything I’m reading in there, can be situated or placed within that context since it’s so critical – mostly papers that I had to present at conferences. I used those as ways to articulate and negotiate between my sense of formalism, formal innovation, and, if you like, identity innovation or cultural innovation, that I feel I’ve had to shift through. So I was able to get through the reading actually fairly comfortably in responding to that context.

So I find it very easy to situate myself in that discourse now and I know where my writing is in that, and I find it quite exciting. I don’t think it’s just in writing by writers of colour, but there have been so many cultural shifts both in Canada and the United States that it’s fun to re-look at all that. And not just race either – certainly gender and class and things like that. I’ve been writing for longer than Gary Geddes[37] has, but I would never [have been] included in a Gary Geddes anthology of Canadian poetry until now.

MF: Because you were too way out formal?

FW: You’ll have to ask Gary.

MF: Maybe I will. I was just thinking, and I think it’s at that point that in a way the West Coast poets were never seen as Canadian because they resisted the nationalist inclusionary move. George certainly tried to resist it, at least in his rhetoric in being from British Columbia, not from Ontario, even though he’d been living in the east for so long. So, I wonder if that is why you wouldn’t be included, or…

FW: No, no. Well, perhaps, although Gary has always been very engaged with [the] west somehow. I think it’s primarily an aesthetic difference. I mean, Frank Davey has been our spokesperson for our sense of Canadian literature and he sort of tried to maneuver through the nationalist…

MF: Network, mafia.

FW: Yes, and tried to take that on as best he can. But there’s just a different sense. I mean, Canadian poetry or Canadian literature has grown in the last forty years that I’ve been involved with it. So, naturally there are different communities, different sensibilities, different aesthetics, and I find it really interesting. I’ve got nothing against Gary Geddes’ sensibility of poetry, you know. I understand where that’s coming from. I just don’t agree with it-that’s not my sense of what poetic language can actually be doing. He certainly works hard at what he does and I appreciate that. I don’t feel antagonistic.

SG: Maybe a way to come at this from a different direction is outside the country. Obviously you do a lot of reading. I was really interested for example in your account of your travel to China. How does that interpellate you, I mean, how do those experiences…  Do you simply say you’re a Canadian poet? Are you able to talk about these differences within Canadian poetry?

FW: Well here’s an interesting dichotomy, perhaps, in the context of the China stuff that might help. I don’t mean to land on Gary Geddes, but Gary arranged a trip a number of years ago for some Canadian writers to go to China through the Department of External Affairs: Alice Munro, and Bob Kroetsch, and Gary, Pat Lane…

MF: The gang of five. Was it Eli Mandel – was he the fifth maybe?

FW: I don’t think Eli went, no, but yeah, it was something like that. He arranged this trip.[38] This was in the late seventies or something, and amongst all that generation of Canadian poets, I am the only Chinese, the only person in there with any kind of Chinese reference. But I wasn’t asked, wouldn’t be asked-I’ve never talked to Gary about this-but it’s interesting to kind of wonder why I might be excluded from participating in that kind of a Canadian literary junket other than that maybe Canadian literature is trying to make some kind of statement about itself that is non-coloured. So, when I went to China, I went as a Chinese-Canadian artist. I went with a musician and with several artists, and I was the writer – we were all Chinese-Canadian. We went primarily as Chinese-Canadians.

SG: Where did the pull for that come from-did that come from External Affairs or did that come from within China?

FW: It came from within the Chinese-Canadian Arts Community. It was developed by an art historian at the University of Regina within the new Canadian Heritage, [39] and they worked that out with External, which is quite different and it’s a whole political social thing there. It was much later-almost twenty years later-after Geddes’ trip. I’m interested in terms of myself and in terms of reading Canadian literature how those differences can exist, and they do exist. I think there still is very much a kind of Canadian poetry and then there are other poetries. Canadian poetry, that kind of hegemonic outside or hegemonic exterior of Canadian poetry, negotiates to include Native writing, writers of colour, in certain ways, and this is what interests me. What are those ways? And certain writers-Marlene Nourbese Philip and Dionne Brand-have been very vociferous in saying…

MF: “Include us.”

FW: Yeah, like pushing their way in and demanding the presence which has never happened for the Asian Canadians. Asian Canadians are much more passive I guess… I don’t know. So, their example has been an interesting one.

MF: Don’t you think it’s partly location. I mean, in Toronto, where those people are, it’s much more obvious that you’re not being included in a sense. Whereas, I mean, I’m not sure I’m right here, but with you it would be both being part of the Tish group and therefore engaging in a different kind of aesthetic, and the racial difference, both combining to exclude you from a nationalist view that wanted a certain kind of writing, wanted a certain kind of picture of the whole country, not just Saskatchewan, say, northern British Columbia, or whatever. I’m not trying to make excuses, but…

FW: No, I think you’re right and I think there is some geographical dynamic that’s operable there too, but I don’t think that any one of those, like the geographical, the cultural, the social, the racial-any one of them is going to be only it. I mean, I think it’s a combination of a bunch of things and it crosses even cultural production, so that you find [the same thing for] visual artists. It’s quite a different relationship to that whole cultural matrix than the literary one. It is an interesting, very fluid cultural river that we find ourselves in from time to time. In my case, of course, being western, being Tish… And that’s why I’m saying I feel like I have to really negotiate between all those parts and I don’t know if I have to negotiate more than someone from the east.

MF: I think you do.

SG: Let’s ask it differently again. In the wake of Pierre Trudeau’s passing away in the last week or so, the history of that legacy has been very much commented on. I was actually interested, because for me it was very much associated with the coming into being, for better or worse, of multiculturalism, and I wondered what your feelings were about whether multiculturalism as an official rhetoric made these things possible, [or] closed down certain possibilities? What role did that play in all these negotiations?

FW: It did two things. Multiculturalism drew attention to the presence of multiculturalism, it drew attention to the constituent parts of multiculturalism. But the reason for it, the political machinery that’s being set up for it, is in order to contain difference. We find ourselves in this ironic situation in Canada of having a pluralism for unity.

MF: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

SG: You’re not unique, I mean, this is multiplied across the world.

FW: Is it?

SG: Yes.

FW: Oh, okay. Well, I don’t know that. I know it is in Australia because I’ve paid close attention to how Australian nationalization has operated almost parallel in many ways to Canadian. In Canada the multiculturalism era that we’ve just come through and are still in to a certain extent, I think, shows us that this almost paradoxical cultural situation where the whole construction of difference is around unity. It’s for unity. Canada is going to be Canada because it’s full of people who aren’t Canadians, or who are different. That’s problematic in negotiating any sense of national identity.  And of course being from the west this feeds even more back to the early sixties where we felt we were being excluded, we were outside; the centre wasn’t interested in us-it never is-so we’re just going to fight our own battles, start our own magazine. “You’re not going to publish this? We have to start our own magazine? You’re not interested in us, so we’ll read Americans.”

MF: So there.

FW: Yeah, it’s as simple as that.

SG: So, did you feel in some ways therefore [multiculturalism] ran counter to the kinds of differences… For example, you were talking earlier about the coming into being in the late 1980s of a kind of discourse that enables certain kinds of discussions around racialization, other kinds of differences. Do you think it enabled that, or do you think it ran counter to that?

FW: Do I think multiculturalism enabled redress, for example? I don’t think it enabled it so much as it was happening. There was a larger paradigm. I know it’s global, but certainly in particular it was happening in the United States, it was happening in Australia, it was happening in Britain-there was a shift. I think the Multiculturalism Act [1988] was simply part of that shift. It created a lot of problems.

SG: Do you want to say more about the problems?

FW: Well, the problem of defining, of making it official. If it’s going to be official then it has to be defined, and certain government constructs have to be set up to account for it and locate it and, frankly, contain it. Is multiculturalism going to be heritage days? Are all people of difference the same? Is everyone similarly different? Are we just going to dilute this into that Atwoodian “after all, they’re all immigrants”?[40] So, this is really a project to erase difference, and multiculturalism in fact in its enactment in government has really had to carry out the erasure of difference by seeming to treat people equally. You get right down into different things, like in the Canada Council a literary program, and the juries, and how to pay attention to difference. So, you have an officer of colour who comes in to tell the juries, “Now don’t forget we have to treat Natives with a little different sense than we might treat more established and privileged white writers because they haven’t had those opportunities.” So you’re clicking all this through, and what’s it for? It’s really in order that McClelland and Stewart can publish Rohinton Mistry or Michael Ondaatje and make it all seem “this is our great Canada.” It’s a way of containing it. It’s a way of making sure that it’s not going to change that nationalist base. In the States it’s been a lot more volatile, because it hasn’t been official, and I think [it’s] more interesting.

SG: So, have we passed through that moment, that multicultural moment?

FW: No, I don’t think we have.

SG: What’s taken its place, because you don’t hear about it much even here, even in Canada? I mean, in Australia it’s been abolished.[41]

FW: Oh, I didn’t know that. We just seem to be in some kind of limbo with Sheila Copps.[42]

MF: Yeah, well.

FW: Well, isn’t it true that the Department of Heritage, Sheila’s thing, is battling with the Department of External Affairs, so here’s the Department of National Heritage battling globalization if you like, to be extreme.[43] I think in Canada we’re just kind of caught; we don’t know quite where to go and, in terms of cultural production, a lot of that [has] just been washed over. You’ve got Tom King, you’ve Lee Maracle, you’ve got Dionne Brand, you’ve got Michael Ondaatje, it’s all there, it’s all evident, it’s being done, what’s the problem? Well, I guess the problem is that it’s a problem of engagement.

Just going back to what we were talking about earlier about how our classes are constituted by race. I’m sure at UBC you are going through the same thing: not only are we getting fewer of those persons of difference in our upper level English classes, we’re getting fewer persons in our upper level English classes. Our enrolment right across the country in English departments is going down in upper level-not really significantly, but it is starting to head down. So, you start examining why that might be, and you see this big shift even within a lot of English departments to hiring cultural studies people, to shift it all to a kind of cultural studies thing, but then look down south and see how cultural studies has really become the way to handle cultural production. I guess that’s where we are now too, just sort of examining the possibility of commingling, intermingling, negotiating presence-not just nationally, but globally. I’m very involved with the Writers Union of Canada and our issues are by and large all now have to do with this so-called global economy.

SG: Copyright issues.

FW: Issues of intellectual property, copyright, electronic property rights, ownership, publishing-I mean since publishing is becoming electronic. So, it’s really thrown a whole wrench into how we see our work being in the world. I think there’s a lot of flux going on right now, and to get back to that notion of how multiculturalism is present is that I don’t think it’s that present, I don’t think it’s that… multicultural, when you’re talking about the world, talking about how huge areas of people interact.[44]

SG: But it’s not an issue in terms of national differences- if you translate it into ethnicity, for example, of course it’s a huge issue in globalized terms, because you have got those usually negative ways of interacting…

FW: Oh, absolutely.

SG: Which have implications for cultural difference.

FW: But national agendas are usually set for that and are almost having to…. Like in Canada we’re going to have to decide if we’re going to go with the national thing, the national dream, or are we going to go with an international dream, and I guess every country is faced with that. But in Canada, where we have an official multiculturalism, where we have supposedly said that we’re going to act officially to keep moving in that direction, in order to stay together, then I think the onus is on this country to define a nationalism that one is going to be able to see as present, not as just off to one side, a marginalized nationalism. Whereas in the States, their nationalism is pretty much, you know… you can toss it out, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t really have any specific content. Unless it’s forced to defend itself, that’s not necessary.

SG: When you were in China, what was the understanding of those kinds of issues, of multiculturalism? I mean you came as a group of Chinese Canadians, how was that…

FW: They don’t understand that in China very well, and their own constructs of ethnicity are pretty clear. They are very contained. They’ve defined something like fifty-six ethnic groups in China, and they are very contained geographically; they’re kept living in certain geographic areas; they get funding. I had an interesting talk with the national writers’ organization of China, the major Chinese writers’ organization,[45] and I asked them questions about how do you treat these ethnic minorities, how do they get funding for their writing program. They said, “We had an ethnic writer last year that we funded.” They’re very contained, very defined, and they’re not really interested in notions of multiculturalism.

SG: There’s an interesting moment, I can’t remember his name, of an ethnic minority writer there who was very grateful to be allowed to be part… because he translated himself into Chinese and was really grateful to be part of the larger whole. As well as your kind of running quest for the woman poets – they just weren’t there – I think you had [only] one.

MF: As in “Oh, we have one of those.”

FW: Yes, I know. But I think it’s also in the underground, and there has to be an underground of poetry in China. They recognize some of this; particularly that ethnic writer in Kunming [46] was being supported by some of the younger poets there quite strongly.

SG: Yeah, and there’s a whole diaspora, because one of the writers that I interviewed in Australia, Ouyang Yu, is very much involved in that. There’s a whole diasporic movement which is connected with the underground movement in China, which is a whole other story in terms of what’s going on.

FW: Yeah, it’s quite different, and it’s quite large too, and certainly not as defined as ours is.

SG:  Well you can’t imagine a kind of Chinese diaspora that kind of feeds into an underground here in Canada, the concept is just very difficult.

FW: In terms of your headings here-diaspora, indigeneity, ethnicity-the multiculturalisms and postcolonialisms in Australia and Canada-it’s so hard to hold it all together.[47] It’s not like postcolonialism/postcolonial studies seems to come out of that old social mix.

MF: Not since [Sneja] arrived: she came and said, “Well why is it called Commonwealth here?” Bounce, bounce, yell, yell, scream, scream-so we changed it to please her-she’s so demanding.

FW: Yeah, and postcolonial is now where commonwealth was ten years ago. It’s kind of been, well we’ve had that, it’s a phase, the kind of filters were all there for that, and ethnicity – that’s pretty much been worked out. In fact we were going through an exercise in the Writers’ Union [of Canada] where we started a committee in the late 80’s early 90’s called the Racial Minority Writer’s Committee and we formed that committee with some Asian Canadian writers and some First Nations writers in the Union-to try to get the union to become more aware of the fact that there aren’t many people of colour in their ranks and they’re not paying any attention to this as an issue in Canadian culture. We had a couple of conferences that were pretty major shifts of awareness, the Writing Through Race conference being the most noticeable of them.[48] So at the last AGM we had last spring in Kingston 2000, there was a sense that writing through race is almost disappearing, and the Racial Minority Writer’s Committee…

SG: So, what happened at the AGM?

FW: It’s now become assimilated. It’s no longer the Racial Minority Writer’s Committee, it’s the Justice and Equality Committee. It’s shifted; it’s having to re-articulate itself in the context of justice. It’s kind of a different take but it has a lot of the same concerns. We do have a lot more members in the Writer’s Union who are of colour and so forth, but actually not a lot of Native writers. So what happened there? Is it good enough that Lee [Maracle] and Jeannette [Armstrong], Tom King and people like that are included because they’ve gained some ground, they’ve gained some recognition – is that good enough? We don’t have to deal with that one anymore, we’ve got that one solved, they’ve proved that they can publish just as well as anyone else, right? Is that what’s going on? Do we want to start to erase that element of… Maybe we’re going to be shifting into a place where we really want to kind of smooth down multiculturalism so it’s hardly visible. It would be interesting to see what happens with another [federal] government, what they’re going to do with the Department of Canadian Heritage.

SG: Well that’s why I brought up the Australian example because under the current government which has wrought havoc in all sorts of areas including indigenous rights, multiculturalism been abolished. And that has consequences, in funding if nothing else-the kind of pathetic funding that ever went into those areas.

FW: Australia, I find, is really quite interesting in certain other ways. I was reading that Roy Miki was in Australia this summer – did a trip through Australia and did some lecturing, he brought back a bunch of books and I was looking at some of his books here. Brian Castro[49] – I had never read Brian Castro, and Roy showed me his book. I’m going to try to get some of his stuff. But quite a different sense of being racialized.

SG: Yeah, but he’s a lone voice, unfortunately. That’s sort of the way it’s been-that there’s one token figure, and Brian is such a brilliant writer that he was almost like a [David] Malouf[50] for a while. It was very difficult to talk about Malouf as having any other ethnicity but British, and then gradually the Lebanese background came up. But now he’s almost like an Ondaajte figure that you kind of, “Oh yes, but, he’s just a great Australian writer who transcended those ethnic differences” or something. I hope to hear [from Roy Miki] – we can never corner Roy; we keep trying to set up an interview with him. We really want to hear about his experiences.

SG: Have you been to Australia?

FW: I did one trip to Australia in the early 90’s to a Canadian Studies Conference. I met a number of people. I did a reading in and a talk in Wollongong, and a few readings around Sydney, but not a lot. I am hoping to go back. I kind of wanted to go to this conference that Gerry set up in Wollongong but didn’t even know about it until too late.

MF: This is Gerry Turcotte?[51]

SG: But as you probably know from Roy, Ashok [Mathur] and Hiromi [Goto] and I think even Larissa [Lai] were asked last year. There’s now an interesting core group of young Asian Australian scholars. Ien Ang is a kind of a focal figure there in Western Sydney, and they’ve started now running conferences around those issues. But this is just in the last couple of years, and the theses are just beginning to emerge out of those groups, so let’s hope that they survive. But that’s a very new development, very fragile still.

FW: Yeah, well talk to Roy because he’s still buzzing about, met a lot of people, picked up a lot of material. I’m a little bit bothered how those three terms diaspora, indigenity, and ethnicity, at least in eastern Canada feel a little more complicated than just race. We’ve moved away from that kind of debate around Linda Hutcheon’s[52]multiculturalisms and the whole notion of ethnicity is pretty problematic still. Those terms, I think, are still provocative terms, continue to raise a lot of questions. In a sense, though, I find it hard to talk about it with any feeling of clarity.

SG: But I think for me at least, coming into this from the outside, what I’ve really liked about your work is that you’ve actually focused on that muddle constructively. So for you, you’ve moved away from those dichotomies and those racial categories as being somehow non-porous. And what’s interesting is that you’re always talking about the mixing, the contaminations, [and] that you can’t talk about these sort of pure categories. I think-to me at least, in so far as one can predict-that’s very much where it’s going, this muddle, it’s going towards defined muddles, and overlaps.

FW: There was an interesting question that came up the other night at Glenn and Roy’s class. After I had gone through some of what I’d gone through in this interview a student said, “Well why, if you are feeling so different, do you want to be here?”

MF: That’s an old question…

FW: … in the institution, and I said, “Why do you want to be here looking at me?” And, so we kind of turned it around. I wasn’t trying to be facetious or even flippant. I was serious. I wanted him to try to turn that around and-because as I said, it was a predominantly white group of students-and I really think that they should, in that class, start to ask questions about whiteness.

SG: Absolutely.

FW: And what they’re doing with this material. For so long-at least for the last ten or fifteen years-so much of the thinking through this work has had to be done by people of colour if they are going to get any kind of generative discourse going on around it. I don’t mean that there has to be a Linda Hutcheon for that collection or that position.[53] There doesn’t have to be that coalescence of ideas, but there has to be this movement, this constant movement for this discourse. I really get worried that it gets contained.

SG: It won’t be. When you see the other interviews, you’ll see that it’s anything but.

FW: Oh yeah, I’m not so much thinking of your project and of writers and thinkers about this ethnicity/multiculturalism/transculturalism. I’m worried about erasure, I’m worried about just kind of getting pushed to the side, getting swept into a much speedier discourse around globalization and communism, where we still find so many of the practical problems in multiculturalism in Canada.

SG: But how can you push this to the side?  I mean, at least globalization has given us Yugoslavia over the last few days.[54] How can you, when these events are happening all the time? Especially in Eastern Europe, constantly they’re erupting, so I doubt it.

FW: I was thinking as we were talking this morning that it might be interesting for you – you might talk to someone like Myrna Kostash.[55]

SG: We have- done that.

FW: She has a quite a different take on this but at the same time she’s pretty informed from quite a different angle about a lot of these issues. It’s interesting that Myrna and Roy talk a lot about these issues.

SG: Okay – thank you.

[1] Warren Tallman (1921-1994) was responsible for introducing a generation of students to second-generation modernist poetry. He started teaching at UBC in 1956. The home of Warren and Ellen Tallman became, starting in the late 50s, a centre of modern poetry. [See interview with him at search author’s name]

[2] Pauline Butling, who is now Wah’s wife.

[3] In the 60s, bill bissett, a poet and painter, was especially well-known for his publishing company, blew ointment press. Matthews taught Canadian literature at Malaspina University College.

[4] Tish: A Poetry Newsletter (1961-1969; 45 issues) was a Vancouver poetry magazine first published by the poets Frank Davey, Fred Wah, George Bowering, David Dawson and James Read. These poets were deeply influenced by their professor Warren Tallman at UBC and by several American poets associated with the Black Mountain, all of whom were brought by Tallman to lecture at UBC: Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, and Charles Olson. The Tish poets were concerned that in Canada published poetry was nearly all humanistic and Toronto-centred, so in their magazine they drew attention to marginality and to western Canadian locality. Nevertheless, Tish was lambasted by some as too influenced by American writers. See Douglas Barbour, ed., “Beyond Tish,” West Coast Review 25:1 (Spring 1991); David McKnight, “TISH: A Poetry Newsletter,” An Annotated Bibliography of English-Canadian Little Magazines: 1940-1980, (Diss. Concordia U, 1992); C. H. Gervais, ed., The Writing Life: Historical & Critical Views of the Tish Movement (Coatsworth, ON: Black Moss, 1976); Frank Davey, “Introducing Tish,” The Writing Life, C. H. Gervais, ed. (Coatsworth, ON: Black Moss, 1976).

[5] Lionel Kearns (1937- ) is a Canadian poet who was also involved in some of the discussion leading up to the formation of Tish.

[6] Earl Birney (1904- 1995) is one of Canada’s best known poets from the mid-twentieth century. As a UBC student in the 20s, he was dismayed that no course on Canadian literature was offered. In 1946 he took a position at UBC, where he established Canada’s first university creative writing program. Important influences in his poetry are the destruction he experienced in Europe during the Second World War, his Trotskyist commitment, and the geography of BC’s Lower Mainland. See Cameron, Elspeth, Earle Birney: a life, (Toronto: Viking, 1994).

[7] Donald Allen’s extremely influential 1960 anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, first brought to public attention the counter-cultural poets such as Olson, Duncan, Creeley, Guest, Ashbery, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Levertov, O’Hara, Snyder, and Schuyler that are now part of the postmodern canon. This anthology was read eagerly in the spring of 1961 by Warren Tallman’s students at the Sunday discussion groups he held at his house, and its form and content laid the foundations for the future magazine Tish.

[8] Raymond Souster, (1921- ) a Canadian poet, helped to start the League of Canadian Poets and won the 1964 Governor General’s Award in poetry for his book The Colour of the Times.

[9] Louis Dudek, (1918-2001) poet and McGill University professor and publisher of poetry, played a significant role in launching the careers of key Canadian poets, such as Leonard Cohen, in the 50s and 60s.

[10] Robert Duncan (1919-1988), an American poet and is often associated with the Black Mountain Poets-a group of American avant-garde or postmodern poets centrered around Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

[11] Prism, founded in Vancouver in 1959, is a literary magazine in western Canada published out of the UBC Creative Writing Department.

[12] Kay Stockholder taught in the UBC English department from the mid 1960s to 1995. Elliott B. Gose, Jr. writes about children’s literature and fantasy

Kay Stockholder, UBC English professor, who was president of BC Civil Liberties Association in mid-nineties

[13] Few Canadians universities had a PhD program until the late 1960s. The majority of Canadian doctorate holders in English before then graduated from the University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, the University of Montreal, and McGill.

[14] The poet Phyllis Webb has been both a student and an instructor at UBC. She is most well-known forNaked Poems, a collection published in 1965. The poet Roy Kiyooka was born in Moose Jaw, SK, and raised in Calgary, but spent the latter part of his teaching career at UBC. He published Pear Tree Poems in 1987.

[15] Pauline Butling & Susan Rudy, Writing in our time: Canada’s radical poetries in English (1957-2003), (Waterloo, ON.: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2005).

[16] W. H. New is a native of Vancouver and taught from 1963 to 2003 at UBC. He is well-known as a poet, literary critic, writer of children’s books and editor of the Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada (2002).

[17] Robert Creeley (1926-2005) published more than sixty books of poetry and was especially influenced by Pound and W. C. Williams. Along with Robert Duncan and many of America’s leading artists and poets, he worked in the 1950s at North Carolina’s extremely influential and progressive Black Mountain College.

[18] Gladys Hindmarch was involved along with Bowering, Davey, Dawson, Kearns, Read, and Wah in foundingTish, though as a writer of prose rather than poetry her involvement was mostly behind-the-scenes.  She, as well as Daphne Marlatt and Peter Auxier were involved in the second phase of Tish, when Dan McLeod served as editor. See search author.

[19] The study of intonation and vocal stress in speech.

[20] Delta: A Magazine of Poetry and Criticism was published in Montreal from 1957 to 1966 by Louis Dudek.Evidence was a literary magazine published in Toronto from 1960 to 1967, first by Kenneth Craig, and later by Kenneth Wells and Alan Bevan.  Evergreen Review is a literary magazine launched in in 1957 by Barney Rosset, owner of the publishing house Grove Press. It pushed the limits of censorship and exemplified the American Counter Culture.

[21] In the 60s, Al Cook was given a blank cheque to build the English department at SUNY Buffalo. In addition to Charles Olson, he later succeeded in hiring Robert Creeley, John Barth, and C. L. Barber, and in producing the most interesting English department in the country. See

[22] Founded in 1967, The Georgia Straight is Vancouver’s news and entertainment weekly that sets out to provide an alternative perspective to the mainstream media.

[23] [Can’t find any info about this small press.]

[24] Persky is a Vancouver based philosopher and writer, whose books include Then We Take Berlin (1995), and Autobiography of a Tattoo (1997).

[25] Arts One (1967- ) is a program for first-year undergraduates at UBC that is distinguished from a typical first-year program by its emphasis on the instructors’ interaction with small groups of students and by its bringing together of the various humanities disciplines. See

[26] The David Thompson University Centre, in Nelson, operated from 1977 [but maybe 1979] to 1984.

[27] The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was launched by Prime Minister Pearson in 1963, and culminated in the Trudeau government’s Official Languages Act of 1969, which officially made French and English Canada’s two, equal official languages. The original mandate of the Commission was to find ways of reshaping Canada to better reflect the fact of its “two founding races,” the English and the French, while taking into account the contributions of other ethnic groups.

[28] Japanese Redress refers to the push for the Canadian government to acknowledge and provide compensation for the approximately 20,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were relocated, interned, and/or had their property confiscated in 1942. In 1988 the Canadian government, following the American example, agreed with the National Association of Japanese Canadians on a settlement package. See Roy Miki’s Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (Vancouver: Raincoast, 2004).

[29] Pollock’s play The Komagata Maru Incident (Toronto: Playwrights Co-op, 1978) was first produced by the Vancouver Playhouse in 1976. It is based on the 1914 refusal of the Canadian government to allow Sikh immigrants to land on Canadian soil. The play Walsh (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1973) was first produced by Theatre Calgary in 1973. It deals with the failed attempt of Major James Walsh to help Chief Sitting Bull and his people to find refuge in Canada after defeating General Custer.

[30] Diamond Grill (1996) is an autobiographical and poetic work that deals with Wah’s upbringing in the BC interior.

[31] Roy Miki, English poet and professor at Simon Fraser University.

[32] Glenn Deer, English professor at UBC, and Roy Miki.

[33] This centre of avant-garde literary activity in the Vancouver area began as the Writing Department of the David Thompson University Centre in Nelson.

[34] George Bowering wrote the introduction to the collection of Wah’s poetry, Selected Poems: Loki is Buried at Smoky Creek, (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1980).

[35] The Kootenay School of Writing is an independent non-profit society which offers a range of courses in creative writing and literary theory. The program originally was part of the Writing Department of David Thomspon University Centre in Nelson, but broke off when the University lost funding in 1984.

[36] Fred Wah has a book by the title Faking It: Poetics and Hybdridity, Critical Writing 1984-1999 (Edmonton: NeWest, 2000), which is a collection of his essays, reviews, interviews, and notes.

[37] Gary Geddes is a British Columbian writer of poetry and non-fiction who has compiled several poetry anthologies including 20th Century Poetry & Poetics (Toronto: Oxford UP, 1969, 1996) and 15 Canadians Poets x 3 (Toronto: Oxford UP, 2001).

[38] See Chinada: Memoirs of the Gang of Seven. With Gary Geddes, Adele Wiseman, Patrick Lane, Alice Munro, Suzanne Paradis, Geoffrey Hancock. Dunvegan, ON: Quadrant, 1982.

[39] Canadian Heritage is a department of Canada responsible for national policies and programs concerning areas such as arts, culture, media and multiculturalism. For more information see

[40] “We are all immigrants to this place even if we were born here: the country is too big for anyone to inhabit completely, and in the parts unknown to us we move in fear, exiles and invaders. This country is something that must be chosen-it is so easy to leave-and if we do choose it we are still choosing a violent duality.” (Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie: Poems [Toronto: Oxford UP, 1970]: 62).

[41] The term “multicultural” was abolished from Australian Government documents towards the latter part of the Howard government.

[42] Sheila Copps was Minister of Canadian Heritage from 1996 to 2003.

[43] [I haven’t been able to find any specifics about this.]

[44] [Original was: “I don’t think it’s that-multiculturalism? When you’re talking about the world? Talking about how huge areas of people interact.”]

[45] [This might be the China Writers Association. See]

[46] Guo Bu

[47] The title of the SSHRC-funded project that produced these interviews was “Diaspora, Indigeneity, Ethnicity: The Multiculturalism of Postcolonialisms in Australia and Canada.”

[48] The Writing Through Race conference was held from June 30-July 3, 1994 in Vancouver. Its organizers’ decision to limit enrolment in the writers’ workshop to “writers of colour and First Nations writers,” with the intent that they would have temporary freedom from reporting to the dominant culture, inspired a controversy that culminated in the federal government’s decision to remove its funding. See Wah’s comments at

[49] Castro’s works include the essay collection Looking for Estrellita (St. Lucia: U of Queensland P, 1999) and the fictional autobiography Shanghai Dancing (Newcastle, Au: Giramondo, 2003).

[50] David Malouf, an Australian novelist with a Lebanese-Christian father and an English-Jewish mother, is well-known for the novels The Great World (1990) and Remembering Babylon (1993).

[51] Gerry Turcotte was director of the Centre for Canadian-Australian Studies at the University of Wollongong.

[52] Hutcheon enthusiastically affirms multiculturalism in Canada to be central to the national self-definition, though she is worried that official multiculturalism tends to reify “ethnic” identities that are actually shifting, and always already hybrid. See, for instance, Linda Hutcheon and Marion Richmond, ed. Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1990. For a critique of Hutcheon’s position, see Smaro Kamboreli,Scandalous Bodies: Diasporic Literature in English Canada (Toronto: Oxford UP, 2000).

[53] Linda Hutcheon’s writes about ethnic identity and multiculturalism, and the complexity of both. To read more about her views on ethnicity see her essay “A Crypto-ethnic Confession” at

[54] The Kosovo War lasted between 1996-1999. NATO bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between March 24 and June 10, 1999. The number of civilian casualties is disputed. Yugoslavia claims 1200-5700 civilian deaths, while NATO acknowledges a maximum of 1500.

[55] Kostash, born of Ukrainian descent in Edmonton, is a lecturer, columnist, essayist and writer of documentaries. She was president of the Writers’ Union of Canada in 1993-94. See: Sneja Gunew, Lisa Grekul, and Margery Fee, “Myrna Kostash: Ukrainian Canadian Non-Fiction Prairie New Leftist Feminist Canadian Nationalist.” Canadian Literature 172 (2002): 114-43.