Historic Joy Kogawa House chooses first writer-in-residence 

Historic Joy Kogawa House is pleased to announce our first writer-in-residence, Montreal poet John Asfour. 

Upon arriving in Vancouver, Asfour said: “I am pleased to be chosen as the first writer-in-residence at Kogawa house. I’m here to learn how a community like the Japanese Canadian would turn a part of their historical suffering into something positive by establishing a place where writers can live and work. Japanese Canadians were very supportive of the community of Arab Canadians and what it had to endure after September 11.” 

Asfour is the author of four books of poetry in English and two in Arabic. He translated the poetry of Muhammad al-Maghut into English under the title Joy Is Not My Profession (Véhicule Press), and he selected, edited and introduced the landmark anthology When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, 1945–1987 (Cormorant Books). 

The majority of the writer’s time in residence will be devoted to work on a book of poems entitled Blindfold, which exposes the “rich and strange” possibilities of a life that has undergone some frightening transformation and is displaced from its element. The book is partly autobiographical—born in Lebanon, Asfour was blinded in 1958 at age 13 during the Civil War there.

The poems also explore feelings of loss, displacement and disorientation experienced by the disabled and relates them to immigrant themes that Asfour has previously addressed. Asfour suggests that the disabled often feel like foreigners in their own land, hampered by prejudice (sometimes well-meaning), communications barriers and the sense of “limited personality” that characterizes the second-language learner.   

While in Vancouver between now until the end of May, Asfour will present poetry workshops to a variety of audiences, in collaboration with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Simon Fraser University’s Writers Studio and the Vancouver Public Library. Opportunities for consultation on work in development are also available. 

Further information can be found on the website of the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society at www.kogawahouse.com and TLC, The Land Conservancy of BC, at www.conservancy.bc.ca or by calling (604) 263-6586.  

Contacts: Kogawa House Society: Ann-Marie Metten (604) 263-6586 

TLC, The Land Conservancy of BC: Tamsin Baker (604) 733-2313  

Information on Historic Joy Kogawa House Historic Joy Kogawa House is the former home of the Canadian author Joy Kogawa (born 1935). It stands as a cultural and historical reminder of the expropriation of property that all Canadians of Japanese descent experienced after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Between 2003 and 2006, a grassroots committee fundraised in a well-publicized national campaign, and with the help of The Land Conservancy of BC, a non-profit land trust, managed to purchase the house in 2006.  

Together with Joy Kogawa, the various groups decided that the wisest and best use of the property would be to establish it as a place where writers could live and work. Following the models of the writer-in-residence programs in place at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat in Dawson City, Yukon, and Roderick Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, BC, the Historic Joy Kogawa House writer-in-residence program brings well-regarded professional writers in touch with a local community of writers, readers, editors, publishers, booksellers and librarians.

While in residence, the writer works to enrich the literary community around him or her and to foster an appreciation for Canadian writing through programs that involve students, other established and emerging writers and members of the general public.

Beginning in March 2009, as a partner with TLC, the Historic Joy Kogawa Society will begin hosting writers to live and work in the house on a paid basis. Funding is provided through the Michael Audain Foundation for the Arts, the Canada Council and through donations from the general public.