Canada Reads·Why I Write

Canada Reads author Lindsay Wong on the value of exploring mental health through writing

In this special Canada Reads 2019 edition of the CBC Books' video series, the author of The Woo-Woo talks about how writing about mental illness proved to be cathartic.
In this special Canada Reads 2019 edition of the CBC Books' video series, the author of The Woo-Woo talks about how writing about mental illness proved to be cathartic. 3:16

Lindsay Wong is a Vancouver-based author. She holds a BFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and an MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University. 

Her first book, the memoir The Woo-Woo, is a darkly comic story of her dysfunctional family who blame their woes on ghosts and demons. The Woo-Woo was a finalist for the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

It is currently one of the five finalists on Canada Reads 2019, where it will be defended by fashion journalist Joe Zee during the debates.

CBC Books talked to Wong for the latest instalment of the Why I Write series.

Breaking taboos and stereotypes

"Mental illness is a huge taboo subject in Chinese culture. By discussing it in The Woo-Woo, I feel it will hopefully lead to more discussions about mental illness. 

"I think that the book itself, it's very different. People expect, especially immigrant writing, to be soft, quiet and muted. But this book takes on these serious themes with a more darkly comedic tone." 

The power of memoir 

"For me, writing has always been sort of a way for me to understand what I'm feeling or to make sense of what happened in my past. It's something I couldn't not do. 

"There's something cathartic about memoir. It allows you to look back at your most painful moments of childhood and analyze them and make sense of who these people are and what they meant to you and what they mean to you now.

"Memoir is something that one doesn't choose, it kind of chooses you. In order to make sense of my life and my childhood, I felt that I had to put it down on paper. Otherwise, I couldn't possibly go forth and make peace with myself and my past."

The new CanLit

"A large part of CanLit is that the gatekeepers are primarily white, so that leads to a lot of responses from editors and agents saying, 'This story isn't universal enough. It's too niche. We don't understand it.' I think by diversifying the gatekeepers, there's a [bigger] chance of us having more diverse stories.

"I think we're making great progress. The new CanLit is moving towards a more diverse body of work, more experimental body of work and it's more inclusive, which I think is really exciting.

​"As a very new writer, I'm really excited to be a part of today's CanLit." 

Lindsay Wong's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

CBC Books' Why I Write series features authors speaking on what literature means to them. 

The Canada Reads 2019 contenders

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