Guest Post by Jack Wang

I was supposed to stay at Historic Joy Kogawa House in the summer of 2020. Then the pandemic struck, and suddenly it no longer seemed safe to fly or to visit my elderly parents, who live in Vancouver, so I opted to postpone my residency. The house was slated for renovations in 2021, so I had to wait two years before I could come.

In the end, the renovations didn’t happen, and I’m glad. I’ve enjoyed living in the house as it is. To be sure, things have changed since Joy Kogawa lived here. The cedar shingles have been stuccoed and the wood-trimmed walls inside have been painted over. But in the milk glass light shades and the paned windows of the sunroom and the French doors that lead to it, one gets a distinct sense of what the house must have been like. 

Joy Kogawa's room - photo by Jack Wang

Joy’s Desk. Photo by Jack Wang.

For the first two weeks of July, I got up early every morning, my body still on Eastern time, and sat at my computer from sunup to sundown. One of the benefits of waiting two years to come was that my novel—about a Chinese Canadian who serves in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during the Second World War—was much farther along by the time I arrived. In fact, it was nearly finished, which gave me a laser-sharp sense of what I needed to accomplish during my six-week residency. I began by rereading what I had, and the novel kept getting shorter as I cut every extraneous passage, sentence, word. This was all in preparation for the final assault on the summit, those last unwritten pages of the novel.

After two weeks, my wife, Angelina, and my daughters, Zadie and Zoe, came to join me, and we spent our days reading in the hammock and picking raspberries in the yard and going on excursions around the city, everything from the Greenheart TreeWalk to riding around the Seawall. Even so, I managed to write for at least a little while every morning. It was helpful, actually, to slow down and think more deliberately as I worked on those final pages. Two weeks into their visit, I went to Angelina and said, “I finished.”

Only the novel wasn’t really done. I had simply reached the last page for the first time. This was only the penultimate or maybe the antepenultimate or preantepenultimate draft of a novel I’ve been writing and revising for years. For me, writing is a slow process of accretion, a culling of my best thoughts over a long period of time. Now that my family has returned to Ithaca, New York, I’m back to whole days at the computer, trying to get every word right before I finally surrender the novel to my editors.

Joy Kogawa's room - photo by Jack Wang

Jack, Zadie, Angelina, Zoe. Photo by Jack Wang.

In Ithaca, I write at home in a windowless closet turned office. Here, I write in Joy Kogawa’s childhood bedroom at the desk where she wrote Obasan, looking out on the cherry tree—Naomi’s tree—that stands just beyond the fenced yard. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege—a joy—to sit at a desk bathed in light. To open the window and feel a soft summer breeze. To have a view of the world.

Jack Wang, Author

Jack Wang is the author of the story collection We Two Alone (House of Anansi Press, 2020; HarperVia, 2021), longlisted for Canada Reads 2022 and winner of the Danuta Gleed Literary Award from the Writers’ Union of Canada for best debut collection in English.

His fiction has appeared in Brick, PRISM international, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Humber Literary Review, and Joyland and has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and longlisted for the Journey Prize.

This Saturday, August 13, 1 to 2pm, Jack Wang will sign copies of his story collection We Two Alone at Foo Hung Curios, Chinatown Storytelling Centre, 168 East Pender Street, Vancouver.

Set on five continents and spanning nearly a century, We Two Alone traces the long arc and evolution of the Chinese immigrant experience. A young laundry boy risks his life to play organized hockey in Canada in the 1920s. A Canadian couple gets caught in the outbreak of violence in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The consul general of China attempts to save lives following Kristallnacht in Vienna. A family aspires to buy a home in South Africa, during the rise of apartheid. An actor in New York struggles to keep his career alive while yearning to reconcile with his estranged wife.

From the vulnerable and disenfranchised to the educated and elite, the characters in this story collection embody the diversity of the diaspora at key moments in history and in contemporary times.

Jack Wang has crafted deeply affecting stories that highlight Vancouver history and beyond.

Please join us! Presented in partnership with the Chinatown Storytelling Centre.