Arts & Culture

Writer-in-Residence shares personal journey

By Don Fennell

Published 12:20 PDT, Mon October 26, 2020

Last Updated: 2:56 PST, Thu November 12, 2020

Growing up in the age of Twitter and Facebook, Lindsay Wong is at home online. And so while the opportunity to become Richmond’s ninth annual Writer-in-Residence comes amidst a global pandemic, the award-winning author eagerly shares advice to emerging writers through free virtual public workshops and conversations.

“The pandemic affects everyone differently obviously,” says Wong. “Some people are caring for sick or elderly family, and some parents weren’t sure about sending their kids back to school. I hope our (conversations) will help bring people together to talk and write about our experiences and to put them into meaningful narrative.”

She is the best-selling author of The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug-Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, the memoir that won the 2019 Hubert-Evans Prize for non-fiction, was a finalist for the 2018 Hilary Weston Prize for non-fiction, and was featured on CBC Radio’s Canada Reads in 2019.

At 33, Wong has clearly found her niche as a writer. But she wasn’t always so self-assured.

“As a kid I wasn’t really into anything,” she says. “I would sit in a corner and probably draw a picture. I had a good imagination—often envisioning myself as a teacher—but wasn’t a reader until university. I don’t think I really enjoyed school to be honest, and math and sciences I didn’t enjoy one bit. But once I got to university, and spent time with a bunch of people with a love for creative writing, I really began enjoying it. Writers are always a bit of outside thinkers, and it was such a great experience to read what others were writing and discussing it as a craft.”

Wong initially found an outlet writing about her own experiences, approaching it with enormous honesty—including delving into the issue of mental illness. She says she grew up with a mother deeply afraid of the“woo-woo”—Chinese ghosts who come to visit in times of personal turmoil—and in an environment where mental illness isn’t acknowledged.

“It’s something we need to talk about, we need to be more open about, whether through the media or education,” she says. “But it’s definitely a big process and going to take a long time because it’s been stigmatized. The idea is that mental illness is something to be ashamed of, but we go to a doctor because of a broken leg, why not see a doctor for your mind?”

Wong’s voracious sense of humour has helped her deal with life’s challenges, and it’s apparent in her writing.

“You have to laugh, otherwise what are you going to do?” she says.

Playing hockey as a youth—which was an activity her dad signed her up for, not something she sought out—proved to be an interesting experience. Though she stopped playing after high school, she says it helped strengthen her resiliency.

“It’s competitive and you need discipline. It’s good training for real life because life is hard.”

Armed with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of BC and a Masters of Fine Arts in literary non-fiction from Columbia University, Wong is grateful for the accolades and exposure her first book have given her. And she’s looking forward to writing more books, currently focused on short fiction.

“I’ll do another memoir when I’m 70 probably,” she laughs. “And maybe one day I’ll make enough money to stay home and write from a beach on a tropical island.”

Richmond’s Writer-in-Residence program is presented by the Richmond Arts Centre, Richmond Public Library and the Seniors Centre at the Minoru Centre for Active Living. To learn more, visit richmond.ca/writerinresidence.

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