Friday, May 31, 2024

LiterASIAN Festival: 30 Years in the Making

2024 LiterASIAN Festival group photo

LiterASIAN Festival just wrapped up.  More than fifteen years ago, LiterASIAN was a dream when a few of us at the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW) threw the idea around the table over dinner.   We were aware that the odds were against us and difficult to pull off, as none of us had ever organized a festival. We were used to running Ricepaper Magazine, and as the magazine was winding down its print run, we wondered whether a literary festival could exist in the competitive Canadian literary festival circuit. It’s incredibly hard work to recruit volunteers, invite authors, and write grants to fund a festival.   As a librarian, I had put on some events, but nothing on such a grand scale. So we began with a small two-day festival in Vancouver’s Chinatown with limited experience but a lot of aspirations.  I recall it as a dank, rainy November evening, not exactly the atmosphere you’d want to be for a festival’s beginnings, but it all worked out in the end.   That was more than a decade ago.  Things turned out for the best.

LiterASIAN is now well-known across literary circles as a celebration of the contributions of Asian Canadian and racialized writers.  But why did we do it?  LiterASIAN stems from a need to create a dedicated platform for Asian Canadian authors, whose works often explore themes of identity, migration, and cultural heritage. By providing this platform, LiterASIAN not only showcases the vast tapestry of Asian Canadian literature but also fosters a sense of community among writers, readers, and literary enthusiasts.  Writers often exist in silos and isolation.  The festival's inclusive and celebratory nature encourages established and emerging writers to participate, thereby nurturing new talent and ensuring the continuity of Asian Canadian literary traditions.

We’ve had writers such as SKY Lee, Evelyn Lau, Madeleine Thien, Fred Wah, Joy Kogawa, Simon Choa Johnston, Jack Wang, Jamie Liew, Wayne Ng, Larissa Lai, Rita Wong, C.E. Gatchalian, Philip Huynh, Jovanni Sy, Janie Chang, Jen Sookfong Lee, Terry Watada, Catherine Hernandez, Paul Yee, Kevin Chong, Doretta Lau, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Denise Chong, Terry Woo, and many, many more.

My predecessor and friend, Jim Wong-Chu, the Festival Director who started it all

The festival typically features an array of activities designed to engage and inspire. Book launches are a staple, allowing authors to introduce their latest works to an eager audience. These events are often accompanied by readings, where authors share excerpts from their books, providing a glimpse into their narratives and stylistic approaches. Panel discussions delve into various topics relevant to both the literary world and the Asian Canadian experience, such as representation, the publishing industry's challenges, and literature's role in social justice.

Workshops are another key component of LiterASIAN, catering to writers at different stages of their careers. These sessions, led by experienced authors and industry professionals, cover a wide range of topics from writing techniques to navigating the business aspects of publishing. They provide invaluable insights and practical advice, empowering participants to hone their craft and pursue their literary ambitions more confidently.

Beyond the scheduled events, LiterASIAN offers a unique networking and community-building opportunity. Writers and readers can connect, share experiences, and build relationships beyond the festival. This sense of camaraderie and mutual support is a hallmark of LiterASIAN, reflecting its mission to cultivate a supportive environment for audiences to talk about Asian Canadian literature.

The festival also serves an educational purpose, raising awareness about the contributions and experiences of Asian Canadians through literature. By bringing these stories to the forefront, LiterASIAN challenges stereotypes and broadens the understanding of Asian Canadian identities. It celebrates the multiplicity of voices within the community, highlighting stories that might otherwise remain unheard.

The success of LiterASIAN has really been 30 years in the making: years of building to what it is today since it was founded 30 years ago.  In my many years involved in making LiterASIAN, I’ve realized it’s more than just a literary festival; it is a celebration of culture, identity, and storytelling. Through its diverse programming and community-focused approach, it plays a crucial role in promoting Asian Canadian literature and fostering a vibrant, inclusive literary community.

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