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Fred Wah reads at Vancouver Island University on October 26

VIU’s Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet for 2017 will be the renowned Fred Wah.

Fred WahBorn in Saskatchewan, Wah grew up in BC’s Kootenay region, working in his family’s Chinese-Canadian cafés. He moved to Vancouver in the late 1950s, to study Music and English at UBC. While there, he connected with other emerging Canadian poets (Frank Davey, George Bowering, and Daphne Marlatt, among others) with whom he cofounded the influential literary magazine, Tish (1961 through 1969).

Wah spent much of his career in the Slocan Valley, teaching at Selkirk College and David Thompson University Centre, publishing more than a dozen books of poetry, and raising his family. He spent the last 15 years of his career teaching Creative Writing and English at the University of Calgary, retiring in 2003, when he returned to Vancouver and Nelson.

Wah’s early poetry is rooted in interests in jazz and in the landscape of the Kootenays. In the 1980s, his work began grappling with his own Swedish and Chinese ancestry in the context of multiculturalism and racial identity in Canada. His “biofiction” memoir, Diamond Grill (1996), remains a seminal work in Canadian literature for its rich exploration of themes of ethnic hybridity. He identifies as an Asian-Canadian writer who continues to be engaged by themes of racial hybridity, the landscape of Southeastern BC, and language itself.

Wah’s many collections of poetry, fiction, and literary essays have won numerous awards over the decades, including the Governor-General’s Award (1985), the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (2010), and the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Literary Criticism (2000). He served as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet from 2011 through 2013 and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2013.

Samples of Mr. Wah's work

Vancouver Island University will host Fred Wah on October 25 and 26 for a series of free events.

Wednesday, October 25:
2:30 to 4 p.m., Building 355, Room 211, Vancouver Island University
Reading and Q&A for Students

Wednesday, October 25:
7:30 to 8:30 p.m., White Sails Brewing, 125 Comox Road, Nanaimo
Public Reading: Fred Wah with Delani Valin

Thursday, October 26:
7 p.m., Building 355, Room 203, Vancouver Island University
Distinguished Poet’s Lecture: “On My Way to Get a Pail of Water”
This talk explores the ways in which water has operated as a basic unit of composition in Wah’s writing and as a primary element in poetic processing.  One of the texts he will reference is “a poem as long as the Columbia River”, a current project that engages a range of poetic attentions to notions such as the confounding dynamics of border, nation, and treaty, the socio-political dimensions of place and names, colonization, dams, and salmon.  The presentation could be read as a statement of geopoetics and the creative undercurrent that surfaces in our liminal encounters with the landscape of creeks, ponds, lakes, and oceans.

The lecture will be followed by a catered reception with cash bar.  Courtesy parking will be available in the N lots, below Building 355.

For more information contact Toni Smith, Chair of the Gustafson Committee, by email:

Copies of chapbooks of past lectures can be purchased through the VIU Campus Store.

Photo provided by Fred Wah