Tackling taboos at the North Shore Writers Festival

Sobriety, divorce, schizophrenia… no topic is off-limits for the vibrant lineup at this weekend’s celebration of the written word

North Shore Writers Festival, Lynn Valley branch of the North Vancouver District Public Library, Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6. Free admission. No registration required for speaking events.  Arrive early. Seating on a first-come, first-served basis. 2019 20th anniversary celebration of Canadian literature hosted by North Shore public libraries –  North Vancouver District , North Vancouver City, and West Vancouver Memorial Library (northshorewritersfestival.com).

A quiet, studious place, signs that demand, “Shhhhh!,” a stern woman sporting cat’s eye glasses and a tight bun… just a typical scene from the library.

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This and all manner of stereotypes are set to be smashed this weekend in Lynn Valley, as the annual North Shore Writers Festival rolls into town with a full roster of authors whose work offers up the wild, the crazy and the woo-woo.

Now in its 20th year, the festival is a celebration of Canadian literature revered for its value (admission is free) and its high-calibre participants.

The festival is filled with stories of courage and adventure, as well as characters – both real and imagined – who breach the borders of conventional boundaries and shatter the status quo.

From a car load of Indigenous elders going on a road trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico (Tilly and the Crazy Eights), to an aunt who shut down Vancouver’s Canada Day celebrations in an eight-hour standoff as she threatened to jump off the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge (The Woo-Woo), there is no shortage of entertainment — and enlightenment. Sobriety, divorce, schizophrenia … no topic is off-limits.

In The Woo-Woo, Lindsay Wong brashly tackles the surreal life of her Chinese-Canadian family, complete with references to Hongcouver, the push to academically succeed and make more money, and supernatural beliefs. Wong has been praised for her bold, funny, yet heartbreaking look at mental illness, which her family blames on ghosts – the “woo-woo.”

Wong believes the written word can shine a powerful light in families’ dark corners.

“Writing is so important, because [for example] we, as a Chinese-Canadian culture, we tend to be really secretive and careful about outsiders,” Wong tells the North Shore News, “and it also doesn’t help that we’re a conservative culture on many levels. So talking about these things is important.”

Wong believes more provocative writing is on the way as millennials continue to get published, because younger generations are generally more comfortable taking on issues that are still considered taboo in many ethnic cultures – such as addiction, domestic violence, mental illness and sexuality.

“Westerners are very open, they’re more open to talking about secrets, they’re more open to talking about illnesses, whereas Asian people, especially Chinese people, keep everything in the home,” Wong says. “And I think writing, especially CanLit, is just going to keep getting more diverse, more voices are going to get represented, and I think that is what we need.”

As for those aspiring scribes, Wong advises them to develop thick skins. The Woo-Woo was rejected 13 times before it was finally published by Arsenal Pulp Press last year.

“I spent more time being rejected than I did writing,” Wong quips.

Wong’s debut memoir – which she describes as “an obsessive calling” – became a finalist for the Writers Trust 2018 Hilary Weston Prize in Nonfiction and the 2019 Canada Reads competition. Her debut young adult novel, The Summer I Learned Chinese, is forthcoming from Simon Pulse in 2020.

Wong will speak on Writing the Personal with JJ Lee, author of The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit, on Saturday (April 6) from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. at the festival.

 Rounding out the lineup is a North Shore Writers’ Association workshop on Finding Your Audience with local authors Sonia Garrett, Mahtab Narsimhan, Rod Baker, and Wiley Ho; a Literary Trivia Quiz Night hosted by CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence; a free light lunch and Writers Café and a Local Author Book Fair; and a closing reception hosted by JJ Lee.

For full details, visit northshorewritersfestival.com. All sessions are free, but be sure to arrive early to secure seating.

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