Project Bookmark Canada to unveil plaques commemorating Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony
Author Wayson Choy will soon be honoured with a permanent tribute to his magical 1995 novel The Jade Peony. Winner of the City of Vancouver Book Award, it offers a vivid and sometimes amusing view of life in Chinatown in the late 1930s and 1940s as seen through the eyes of schoolchildren.
At 11 a.m. on Monday (October 15), Project Bookmark Canada will unveil two plaques at the corner of East Pender Street and Gore Avenue with English and Chinese text from the novel. Choy, 73, will be on hand to deliver a reading from The Jade Peony, which is the first work of fiction to be commemorated in this way in B.C.
“It is gratifying to think that thousands and thousands of people from Vancouver and around the world will be introduced to the fine writing of Wayson Choy through the words on the plaques,” Vancouver Writers Fest artistic director Hal Wake said in a news release announcing the tribute.
Choy, who lives in Toronto, will also be feted at a fundraising dinner at Floata Seafood Restaurant on Sunday (October 14) hosted by CBC broadcaster Sheryl MacKay and supported by the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop, Gung Haggis Fat Choy, the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society, and the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. Proceeds will go to Project Bookmark Canada, which funds similar plaques across the country.
“I think Wayson is tickled pink,” Jim Wong-Chu, founder of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop, told the Georgia Straight by phone.
Wong-Chu explained that the dinner will be attended by Choy’s closest childhood friend, Garson Lee, as well as Lee’s sister Shirley Wong, who used to babysit Choy.
Another childhood friend, Larry Wong, will play a taped interview he conducted many years ago with Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields. The story upon which the novel was based was devised in a UBC creative writing class taught by Shields. “She passed out these coloured papers,” Wong-Chu said. “Wayson chose green. He equated that with jade, and that’s where the whole jade peony came about.”
Wong-Chu added that Choy’s aunt Mary, who is mentioned in the book’s dedication, will be at the dinner. In addition, Choy’s friend Glenda Leznoff will be there to describe how he used to toss pieces of paper around Shields’s class as he read his story aloud.
Publisher Scott McIntyre took a chance on Choy after his work appeared in an anthology that Wong-Chu helped prepare. As well, Douglas & McIntyre published SKY Lee’s Disappearing Moon Cafe in 1990, which also highlighted Canada’s Chinese heritage. “If it wasn’t for a publisher like Scott, I don’t think we would have even gotten on the map,” Wong-Chu said.
The Jade Peony has influenced a generation of writers, including Vancouver’s Jen Sookfong Lee and Allan Cho. “It was really Wayson Choy who opened my eyes to the idea that, in fact, we were quite interesting if you wrote about it in the right way,” Lee told the Straight in 2009.
For tickets to the dinner, contact Kristin Cheung at 778-928-5408.