LiterASIAN festival to play on themes of history and memory

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      Celebrating the best of Asian-Canadian literature and storytelling, the fourth annual LiterASIAN festival will bring established authors and storytellers from different media to Vancouver this month.

      From September 21 to 25, attendees can shake hands with authors such as Paul Yee, Denise Chong, JJ Lee, and SKY Lee—many of them pioneers of Asian-Canadian literature—and take in book launches, signings, discussion panels, and workshops.

      The ethos of the festival goes beyond celebration, however, as festival director Jim Wong-Chu says in a telephone interview with the Straight. With the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation coming up next summer, he explains,  “we wanted to look at the idea of history and memory. We're bringing in some of the best writers from the past—Paul Yee, SKY Lee. These are the people that wrote the canon of early Chinese-Canadian literature."

      The idea of retracing one's steps is a common theme in Asian-Canadian writing, Wong-Chu says, himself a pioneer of the field, as well as being the founder of Ricepaper magazine and the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop. Both past and current work, he says, deals with the same issue.

      "I think this whole idea of history and memory is so central to our identity," he says. "We wanted to bring these people together and [discuss] why it's so important to their writing and activities.”

      Along with a series of panels, the festival will be promoting three authors with new books: the launch of Joy Kogawa’s memoir Gently to Nagasaki will be held at the Vancouver Public Library on September 22; the launch of C. Fong Hsiung’s Picture Bride will take place at the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum on September 24, along with the launch of The Strangers, an anthology edited by Anna Wang Yuan.

      The festival will also host a panel dedicated to multimedia storytelling. The likes of director Cheuk Kwan and cinematographer Kwoi Jim, creators of the Chinese Restaurants series, and YouTuber Dan Seto, who hosts a series of travelogue videos, will be participating.

      “Communication [and storytelling] comes in many different forms,” Wong-Chu says. “There are so many other means. . . .Some people want to make their piece through film and we want to [show] that it’s much more fluid.”

      Like Ricepaper magazine and the Asian-Canadian Writers’ Workshop, the festival was created from the desire to advocate Asian-Canadian writing.

      "We wanted to make it a festival for ourselves,” he says.

      Wong-Chu hopes that LiterASIAN will eventually evolve into a destination event with international appeal. And while LiterASIAN caters to Asian-Canadian writing, Wong-Chu stressed the festival is an inclusive event.

      “I think this whole idea and history and memory is so central to our history and our identity that anybody and everybody that comes to it, they come with questions in their mind,” he says. “With the programming, we hope to answer these questions, and, if not, we have these questions and stories illuminated so that they'll be part of the ongoing discussion. That's the whole idea of community, how were going to go and learn about each other. [These authors] are here to share their experience. They're here to hear the community and share with them. Here's your opportunity. Why not? You know?”

      Visit the LiterASIAN website for the full schedule of events.