Contemporary Canadian literature, despite its lofty ambitions and aims, is still a difficult world to navigate for women, writers of colour, and other marginalized communities. Our Speculative Fiction Editor, Yilin Wang, was witness to an incident that happened earlier this year that shows how entrenched prejudice and bias are in Canada’s literary community. Read Yilin’s statement below.
As a young Chinese Canadian woman, writer, editor, and occasional translator, I was one of the witnesses to a racist incident at a Vancouver book sale in January, which continues to affect me months later.
At a warehouse book sale co-hosted by two local bookstore owners, Massy Books and B, I witnessed B, an elderly white man, making racist comments about Chinese poets and the Chinese language in front of a staff member at Massy and a local literary series organizer who worked with B.
B complained that at a local multilingual reading series, World Poetry Canada and International, a Chinese poet read in Chinese for ten minutes. He did a very mocking and offensive imitation of the poetry reading, saying words like “Ching Chan Chong” loudly.
B did not stop until finally Patricia Massy intervened, upon seeing I was upset and leaving the book sale. I found out later B is a retired professor, a literary events organizer, and a current and past board member of several literary, publishing, or library organizations.
B is a gatekeeper in the literary and publishing community. His disrespectful words reflect the larger prejudice and barriers faced by Chinese Canadians, writers of color, and women in publishing.
His actions came across as mockery and disrespect for the writing and work of all Chinese Canadian and Chinese writers. My editorial team at Ricepaper had to pull out of a planned event with the local literary organizer who was speaking with B at the book sale.
I had to talk with friends at Room magazine after discovering that B had attended one event that I co-hosted prior to the incident and might attend future events. In the months since, multiple literary groups and writers have contacted B for a public apology.
I’m grateful for support and advice from allies at World Poetry, Room, Ricepaper, and the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop, as well as the help and advice of writers like Shazia Hafiz, Elaine, Jonina Kirton, Nancy Lee, Jen Sookfong Lee, Tom Cho, Jane Eaton Hamilton, and others who reached out. Thank you.
B offered an apology to World Poetry’s organizer and to me, but denies ever making fun of Chinese poets or the language. It’s clear after 3 months that he won’t take responsibility. I continue to struggle with feeling unsafe at literary events and spaces in Vancouver.
I want to call for everyone in the literary community to think about ways to make all spaces safer for Chinese Canadians and all marginalized groups. Please intervene when you witness racism. Stop these types of incidents from ever happening again.
Read Yilin’s expanded statement here.