Rita Wong | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Rita Wong

Rita Wong, poet, educator (born at Calgary, Alta 1968). Rita Wong grew up in Calgary. In 1990 she graduated from the UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY with a BA.

Rita Wong

Rita Wong, poet, educator (born at Calgary, Alta 1968). Rita Wong grew up in Calgary. In 1990 she graduated from the UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY with a BA. She went on to receive her Master's degree in English from the UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA in 1992 and a Master's in Archival Studies from the UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA in 1996. At SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation on Provisional Mobilities: Rethinking Labour Through Asian Racialization in Literature (2002). She teaches in the Critical + Cultural Studies program at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and has been a visiting instructor at the University of Miami. She resides in Vancouver.

From the very beginning of her career Wong displayed a strong, distinct poetic voice. Her techniques are drawn from classic modernism, but transformed from the deep subjectivity associated with modernism into a dynamic identification with the natural world around her. She has the capability to be acutely attuned to the ethical responsibility inherent in the daily living of people, and their interactions with the social concerns of gender, race and class. Wong's voice has a wide range, and can go from soft and reflective to exhibiting a raging anger at the forces of the political world that corrupt the delicate ecology of human relationships and the living environment that is the stage for our lives.

Wong quickly drew notice as the 1997 winner of the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writer Award. 1998 saw the publication of her first book of poems, monkey puzzle. While her opposition to oppression never slackens, Wong does exhibit a mature worldly wisdom that is tested by the passions of her life, as she wryly states in "a wandering daughter's grammar": "tongue: caught between the command performance of communication/& her tongue's own slippery dance."

Prolific appearances followed in anthologies and journals such as Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry (1999); Ribsauce: A CD/Anthology of Words by Women (2001); The Common Sky: Canadian Writers Against the War (2003); and Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literatures in English (2006). Prose and poetry was also printed in Shift And Switch: New Canadian Poetry (2006) and Parser (2007).

In 2007 Wong's second book of poems, forage, appeared. Here, to date, is Wong's fullest expression of confrontation with the forces of political and commercial power that make it their business to disturb the tenuous networks of relationships that form our daily world. It is an appreciation of those environments, from personal love to ethnic identification, that strengthens her vision and her powers of creative expression, as in the poem "after 'The Stars' by Ping Hsin": "we summon precautionary principles/in agriculture, manufacture/voluntary simplicity/coyotes bare their sharp teeth/have the last howl." forage won for Wong the 2008 Dorothy Livesay BC Book Prize, and made her a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards (2008). In the wake of forage Wong was awarded the Contemplative Practices Fellowship of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and a Basant Singh Fellowship, as well as a SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL Fellowship. In 2011 forage won the inaugural Canada Reads Poetry competition.

2008 also saw Wong extend her range of expression in a collaboration with Larissa LAI entitled sybil unrest. The long poem distills much of Wong's thought and artistic intent: that we strive to identify ourselves spiritually, amid cultural determinants, by a creative commitment to life.

It is this deep, consistent ethical awareness at the heart of her artistic vision that lets Rita Wong stand as one of the most unique and distinctive voices at work in Canadian literature.