Books

Wayson Choy, author of The Jade Peony, dead at 80

His first novel, The Jade Peony, received the Trillium Book Award in 1995 and was a finalist in Canada Reads 2010, when it was defended by Samantha Nutt.
Wayson Choy is a Giller Prize-nominated novelist, memoirist and short story writer. (John Beebe/Douglas & McIntyre)

Wayson Choy, the author of the award-winning novel The Jade Peony, died on Sunday April 28, 2019. He was 80 years old.

CBC Books confirmed the death with Choy's long-time agent Denise Bukowski.

His first novel, The Jade Peony, received the Trillium Book Award in 1995 and was a finalist in Canada Reads 2010, when it was defended by Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child.

The Jade Peony is set in Vancouver's Chinatown in the late 1930s and early 1940s and looks at a family of Chinese immigrants living in that time through the eyes of their three children.

Choy was an important voice in portraying the lives and culture of Chinese Canadians for all audiences. 

Choy was born in Vancouver in 1939. He was an only child, and would only learn at the age of 56 that he had been adopted.

He graduated from the University of British Columbia and went on to teach English at Humber College and creative writing at the Humber School for Writers in Toronto, where he was based for most of his life.

It took Choy 18 years to write The Jade Peony, a fact he discussed with Eleanor Wachtel on CBC Radio in 1996. The book originally began as a short story before it evolved into a novel. 

"I wanted to write about the interlocking pain and anguish and confusion created by that kind of world, when your language was not understood by the majority and you didn't understand them and your children grew up understanding a little of both and struggling to be themselves," he said.

"I'm going to write a book about this period because it seems very important to remember it in a certain way."

The short story would go on to be anthologized over 20 times before Choy would turn it into the novel that would define his career.

"It's now a book that, partly, haunts me in different ways," he said.

The author of The Jade Peony explains why it took him 18 years to write his novel about Vancouver's Chinatown. 12:49

He has also written two autobiographical works, Paper Shadows, and Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying.

Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood, inspired by discovering his adoption, was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award in 1999.

Not Yet, which came out in 2009, is an account of his brush with death following an asthma attack in 2001, his experience of drifting in and out of a coma, and how his friends and family — in reality and in his unconscious state — drew him back to life.

"They came back to haunt me," Choy told Shelagh Rogers in an interview for The Next Chapter in 2009. "I didn't know what was going to happen. Suddenly, I heard voices, I saw faces, it was my extended family and friends."

"At one point, I heard a very firm voice say to me, 'Wayson, don't you dare die!' I just snapped back and said, 'That's right, I want to find out what happens next.'"

In the interview, Choy shares that he sees one major theme in his life: that he's lucky.

"In incredible, mysterious ways, my life connected back to my luck," he said. "All of us live a life where, more normally, it would be chaotic. But we connect the dots, those of us who have a theme in our life. My theme is I'm lucky. Then you suddenly start seeing how a story is unfolding, and it's your story."

Wayson Choy, the author of the award-winning novel The Jade Peony, has died. He was 80 years old. Wayson Choy talked to Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter about his health problems and his memoir Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying. (Originally aired October 03, 2009) 18:53

His novel All That Matters won the Trillium Book Award in 2005 and was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2004.

In 2005, Choy was made a member of the Order of Canada.

In 2013, he received the George Woodcock Award, which is an award given by the B.C. Book Awards that recognize lifetime achievement.

— with files from CBC News

 

Clarifications

  • The obituary was updated on Monday, April 29 to include the date Wayson Choy died and his interview with Shelagh Rogers from The Next Chapter.
    Apr 29, 2019 12:06 PM ET

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Wayson Choy died on Saturday, April 27, 2019. He died on Sunday, April 28, 2019.
    May 01, 2019 11:19 AM ET

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