This afternoon (November 16), the Georgia Straight was thrilled to collaborate with the City of Vancouver to host a Facebook Q&A with local poet, essayist, and educator Wayde Compton.
On November 12, Compton was named this year’s recipient of the City of Vancouver Book Award for his debut story collection, 2014’s acclaimed The Outer Harbour.
To celebrate his prize, Compton, who is director of the Writer’s Studio and the Southbank Writers Program at Simon Fraser University, graciously agreed to spend an hour at the Straight’s office answering readers’ questions on Facebook.
What follows is an unedited transcript of the conversation.
Wayde Compton: “Hello everyone. Wayde here. I’m happy to have you join me and am looking forward to spending the next hour with you answering your questions.”
Julie Burtinshaw: “Congratulations Wade! My question is do you think the literary landscape of Canada will benefit from a new and seemingly more arts-friendly government. Will grant money increase for writers in Canada? Are we of value again : )”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Julie! God, I hope so. As it was, we had the worst possible regime for the arts, so we can't fall off the floor.”
Vancouver Public Library: “About Hogan's alley again: Your 2010 book After Canaan includes a fantastic essay : “Seven Routes to Hogan’s Alley and Vancouvers Black Community. Any updates around Hogan’s Alley related organizing?”
Wayde Compton: “When the current city council voted on whether or not to take the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts down, recently, there were many people there from Vancouver's black community, and outside it, who spoke to the concern that within the planning that emerges from their decision a nod to the history should be included. I hope this comes in the form of a black cultural centre, with space for an archive of black Vancouver materials.”
Vancouver Public Library: “When could we expect to hear if this will happen?”
Wayde Compton: “The council is aware of the black history of the area, and I think they will be open to hearing voices from the black community throughout whatever process emerges. I don't think anything will happen quickly though -- I think they planning through the next five years, at least.”
Kevin Spenst: “Congrats on your well-deserved City of Vancouver Book Award! I read Outer Harbour in the summer in various locations around Vancouver. I loved the way it unfolded as a whole. Did you start with the overarching concept or did it emerge as you wrote the individual stories?”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Kevin. The stories all kind of emerged out of the first story in the book, which is itself a story in which there are multiple boxes: shipping containers; newspaper boxes; an apartment on the East Side; a briefcase full of drugs; etc. I was thinking about space that way, and then other stories came out that were also about space, in different ways, until it because as large at least as the city.”
Amanda Growe: “I was wondering if you saw the virtual-reality creation of Hogan's Alley, called Circa 1948, that was installed at Woodward's and what you thought of it.”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Amanda! Yes, I got a chance to preview Circa 1948 and was blown away by it. Stan did something really amazing there, essentially rebuilding digitally what the city tore down in the mid-20th century.
“It made me motion sick, though, after being in there for 20-25 minutes.”
Leo McKay: “Wayde! I love The Outer Harbour. I've got something I've been dying to ask you. As an east coaster, it strikes me how much The Outer Harbour is about the politics of real estate. Land and who gets to claim it is political everywhere. But it strikes me that the struggle over property in Vancouver is especially intense, considering crazy prices and all. Can you comment on what you think is particular about this issue in Vancouver and how it relates to the book?”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Leo! It sometimes feels like every conversation in Vancouver is about rent or mortgage sometimes. I never really thought I would write about this but I remember being struck by a Hanif Kureishi play in which real estate works as a backdrop too, and then that seemed possible. It's definitely a reflection of the buzz here inside the bubble that never quite bursts. The books bursts it, though, in a full blown riot.”
Vancouver Public Library: “Hi Wade - Can you comment a bit on the process that went into choosing the 51 poems in The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them?”
Wayde Compton: “The Lunch Poems series made it easy -- we chose from those who had read in the series, up to publication time. Third Wednesday of every month, it happens at SFU Harbour Centre, where I direct the Creative Writing programs in Continuing Studies. Poetry in the day time.”
Robyn Marsh: “You’ve been a poet and an essayist for a long time. What brought you to write fiction now? Did you find that other forms didn’t work for what you wanted to express?”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Robyn! I actually included short stories in both of my books of poetry, so I've been thinking, at least sometimes, through short fiction since before '99. But then also in my poems, in those books, characters often come forward, which is maybe not what poets always tend to feature. So I was interested in developing characters. However, the "characters" that took over in The Outer Harbour were non-human: spaces. Residential spaces, buildings, land, the city.”
Travis Lupick: “Hi Wayde. Congrats on the award. Question: In recent years, racism has re-emerged as a topic of intense debated in America. It has yet to attract the same level of attention in Canada, but I wonder if it should. Can Vancouver writers play a specific role in talking about racism and ways out of this country's colonial past?”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Travis! Definitely. In one of the stories in The Outer Harbour (spoiler alert) a character who is an unarmed activist gets shot and killed by the police. When I wrote that, it was before the Black Lives Matter movement, but as the book got rolling that was happening. But in my story, the character is an Indigenous man. So maybe that's the way this particular issue, of racialized police repression, flowed out through me, here in Vancouver, in a localized way: a black writer writes a story told from the POV of a black character who is involved with an Indigenous land rights movement in which an Indigenous character gets shot. I suppose that says something about the particular history of here.”
Amanda Growe: “I was wondering about your thoughts on the Syrian refugee crisis and recent events in Paris. They make me think about events in our city’s past and present and how Vancouverites and Canadians decide which groups are insiders and which are outsiders.”
Wayde Compton: “I'm having a hard time comprehending what happened in Paris. But the ongoing condition of migration is something I think about a lot. I'm the product of migration myself, because my father left the American South before I was born to come to Canada, and he was definitely escaping a repressive regime. Seems sensible to think of the refugees we take in as people who will come here and maybe like my dad have kids who will write poems, stories, books.”
Amanda Growe: “Agreed. That's my family's story too, and many, many others'. It's hard to fathom how people forget this.”
Jen Croll: “Hi Wayde! Very cool that you're doing this Q&A. My question: Cities like London, Paris, and New York are so iconic and so familiar as literary backdrops that writers from anywhere can and often do set short stories and novels there so that they’re more relatable to a large audience. What advantages and limitations do you see to stories that are set in Vancouver? Where’s Vancouver at in terms of its fictional identity?”
Wayde Compton: “Hi Jen. This is a really interesting question. What is the opposite of "iconic"? Because whatever that is, I guess that's what Vancouver is, I think. I don't think there is an image projected out there of Vancouver, and what's more, the projections we do have out there are of the various masks our city has worn for Hollywood. Maybe that's what the city is, then -- an actor. But the book that guided me best through my own writing about the city lately has been Legends of Vancouver by Pauline Johnson. That is really something else. But, again, her position in it is of someone straining to understand the place.”
Jen Croll: “I see a new tourism slogan for us! "Vancouver: The Opposite of Iconic"”
Wayde Compton: “Ha!”
Robyn Marsh: “Hi again Wayde... You’ve been instrumental in preserving the history of Hogan’s Alley. Are there other historic Vancouver neighbourhoods that are in danger of being forgotten?”
Wayde Compton: “All of them! Well, most definitely the Downtown Eastside.”
The Georgia Straight: “Hi everyone. This is a quick note from our Georgia Straight moderator. Our hour is up and so Wayde will be on his way out shortly. He's graciously sticking around to answer a couple of questions that have already come in but has to be leaving before too long. A HUGE thank you to everyone who participated in the Q&A by submitting a question. And of course a big thanks to 2015 City of Vancouver Award Winner Wayde Compton. Thanks!”
Peeps Mace-Wan: “Thanks for hosting this Q&A!”
Cathie Borrie: “Hi Wayde, just in on this now so hope you have not already addressed it - how does it work- the relationship between your wiring and your role with The Writer's Studio- tricky to move in and out of these worlds, or? You excel at both!”
Wayde Compton: “I feel so sustained by being part of the Writer's Studio community, and being able to foster emerging writers, and an extreme diversity of writers. It's the best. Every time I see a writer take something from beginning stages to publication, it's like magic.”
Juliane Okot Bitek: “Hey Wayde Compton. So so many congratulations! We're so proud of you. All of us. My question is around the journey from turntable to text and if or how you think about those things that are hard to articulate in words. Different way of communicating when in music one can connect without words...”
Wayde Compton: “Hi there, Juliane! Cool question. Funnily enough, I kept trying to work deejaying into The Outer Harbour, and the book kept refusing to let me. A story idea I had with a deejay didn't work; then another subplot with a deejay didn't work; then a character who was a deejay didn't want to be a deejay. For some reason is was time for me to move away from that. (The characters are bossy! And the less you listen to them, the more bossy they get! Best to surrender.) I was allowed to let music through in the story "The Instrument" -- floorboard creaking as jazz. Again, space wanted to speak. Maybe it's jazz just to walk here and be black.”
Juliane Okot Bitek: “that's jazz, alright. that's cool.”
Wayde Compton: “The comments have been wonderful! Thank you, everyone! I'm going to peel away, and I hope I didn't miss answering anyone. This was a great deal of fun. Peaceout, Wayde”