by Kathryn Helmore
VANCOUVER – On the weekend of September 21, the streets of Chinatown will play host to a literary feast. On the menu is a collection of stories exploring the Canadian experience. Yet this isn’t the stereotypical western spread — attendees will be diving into an often-untold side of Canadian culture and history: the Asian Canadian experience.
LiterASIAN, an annual festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian writing, is the first Asian literature festival in North America. Founded by the late Jim Wong-Chu — his 1986 poetry book, Chinatown Ghosts, was one of the first published by an Asian Canadian — the four day-long festival is packed with panel discussions, workshops, and a variety of book launches from acclaimed writers like Jen Sookfong Lee.
“LiterASIAN is a grassroots festival that celebrates Canadian diversity,” says co-founder and Festival Director Allan Cho. “For a long time, literature has presented the Canadian experience as the British experience. This means that many of us have not seen the other side of Canada. Part of the festival is to showcase unique stories, stories that find their inspiration in Chinatown, Japantown, and Little India. It intends to give a full-bodied Canadian experience.”
Vancouver’s rich yet checkered history with regards to Asian migration makes it the perfect location for LiterASIAN. From the discriminatory head tax to the 1907 Chinatown Riots, Vancouver has wrestled ceaselessly with her identity amidst a growing Asian population. “Vancouver is a unique city in Canada,” Cho continues. “Considered by many historians to be part of the Pacific Rim, it has always been hit the hardest by Asian migration. Anxiety regarding immigration is therefore cyclical, it is not a onetime thing that happens in a vacuum. We are seeing that anxiety today due in part to unaffordable housing. We remain a charged city with burning tension.”
In addition to connecting aspiring Asian writers to the literary community, LiterASIAN hopes to dispel this anxiety and tension. “Art helps us to heal,” says Cho. “What better way than to have literature remind us of this?”
In the midst of the festival, as a building initiative of the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop (ACWW), a promising writer will also be awarded publication through the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award.
“LiterASIAN is beneficial to anyone with an interest in writing,” adds Cho. “Situated in the heart of Chinatown and Downtown, it allows us to walk the very streets where Asian Canadian culture and history began.”
LiterASIAN runs from September 21 – 24 at various locations.Jen Sookfong Lee, LiterASIAN