The book that changed your life: Nancy Lee

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      The annual Word Vancouver festival is back again with a massively varied menu of author readings, workshops, and events, set to run at venues around town from September 24 to 28. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which books gripped their imaginations early on? Which ones showed them what words can be made to do?

      Here’s what Steveston-based author and creative-writing professor Nancy Lee told us. She’s written the acclaimed 2003 story collection Dead Girls as well as her new debut novel, The Age, from which she’ll read at 11:45 a.m. on September 28, in the fest’s Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

      "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home." That sentence, which serves as both the opening and closing line of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, was like a rope thrown from a sailing ship, landing at the feet of a stranded, working-class half-Chinese, half–East Indian 12-year-old girl who loved to daydream and hated gym class. Here was a published novel authored by a girl of 16, written in the music of everyday language, about a character named Ponyboy Curtis, who, despite poverty, social inequity, and a series of violent and tragic events, chooses to make meaning of his life by writing about it.

      Although I had loved books, the world of literature seemed, until that particular book, closed to me, inhabited by good white people of a certain class who knew how to behave and conveyed that instruction, that authority, through quaint, moral stories. That a story could be about flawed, reckless characters, that it could be written without stiff, formal language, that it could speed ahead on the same angry, youthful energy I felt bubbling inside me—this is what first convinced me to pick up a pen and fill a page with my own words.