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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 caf├ęs. 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.

Vancouver Island University will host Fred Wah for events in October, including a Reading and Q&A for students on Wednesday, October 25, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., in Building 355, Room 211; and his Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet’s Lecture on Thursday, October 26, at 7 p.m., in the Ralph Gustafson Theatre, Building 355, Room 203.

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