Fred Wah was born in 1939 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan to parents of Swedish and Chinese origin. He grew up in the West Kootenays in rural B.C. where his parents owned or ran several Chinese-Canadian cafés.
Wah studied Music and English at U.B.C. (BA 1962) and took an MA in Linguistics and Literature at SUNY Buffalo in 1967. From 1967-1989, he taught at Selkirk College and David Thompson University Centre inNelson while living in South Slocan, raising a family (with teacher and literary critic Pauline Butling) and writing more than a dozen books of poetry. They moved to Calgary in 1989, where he taught English and Creative Writing until his retirement in 2003. Currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Calgary, he divides his time between Vancouver and a seasonal home near Nelson. In June 2013, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, for his ground breaking work as a poet and for his contributions to the life of poetry in Canada.
Wah began publishing poetry in the 1960’s as part of an international avant-garde movement located in Vancouver. His early poetry is improvisational and experimental, based partly on his interest in jazz. Yet it is also deeply rooted in the geography of the Nelson area, as his first seven titles show: Lardeau, Mountain, Among, Tree, Earth, Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., and Loki is Buried at Smoky Creek. In the 1980’s Wah’s focus shifted to his mixed-race history in Breathin’ My Name with a Sigh and Waiting for Saskatchewan. With the publication of Diamond Grill (1996), a biofiction based on his experiences working in his father’s café, Wah emerged as a central figure in race writing in Canada and abroad. His collection of critical essays, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity further elaborates his long-standing interest in mixed-genre texts and racialized poetics.
Wah has received major literary awards in three genres: Waiting for Saskatchewan won the Governor General’s Award, So Far won Alberta’s Stephanson Award, and is a door won the Dorothy Livesay prize for poetry; Diamond Grill received Alberta’s Howard O’Hagan Award for short fiction; and his essay collection, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity won the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Literary Criticism in English Canada.
Wah has given thousands of hours of volunteer work as an editor or contributing editor of small, grass-roots magazines and presses that are the life-blood of Canada’s thriving literary culture. Starting with Tish: A Poetry Newsletter (1961–1963) he has been involved with numerous magazines, including Sum, Open Letter, Swift Current (Canada’s first electronic literary newsletter) with Frank Davey and West Coast Line. He was Poetry Editor for The Literary Review of Canada (2003–2005). Wah’s community work has also been extensive. He regularly organized readings and workshops at Selkirk College and David Thompson University Centre in the Kootenays. In Calgary he played a key role in starting and developing the Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Writers Program.
Since moving to Vancouver in 2003, he has been engaged with the Kootenay School of Writing. He has been writer-in-residence and has taught writing workshops across the country. He served as president of the Writers Union of Canada (2001–2002) and worked on its Racial Minorities and Social Justice committees for several years.
Wah is well known both in Canada and abroad. His work has been widely anthologized and he has been invited to many international literary festivals to give readings and talks. In 2002–2003, he was selected for a Canada–Mexico cultural exchange with residencies at Banff and Merida, Mexico. He is currently on faculty for the Banff Centre for the Arts “In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge” program.
His recent publications include two collections of poetry, Sentenced to Light (2008) and is a door (2009). A selected poetry edited by Louis Cabri, The False Laws of Narrative, was published in 2009 by Wilfrid Laurier University’s poetry monograph series.
5 July 2013, Invermere, B.C.
Wildsight Invermere – Led the High(ku) Mountain Walk:
Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate coming to the valley. When Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate came to walk and talk with Wildsight Invermere
30 April 2013, Vancouver, B.C.
Gladstone Secondary | Guest Speaker in the creative writing class
25 April 2013, Edmonton, Alta.
National Arts Summit – Reading
7 March 2013, Ottawa, Ont.
The Political Poem: An Invitation from the Parliamentary Poet Laureate
Invitation communiqué The Ottawa Citizen | Poet laureate waxes political – but not too political
pesbo: Poetry Journal | Seminar review by attendee
26 February 2013, Richmond, B.C.
UBC – Webcast hosted by Richmond Public Library
Standing in the Doorway – The Hyphen in Chinese-Canadian Poetry | Irving K. Barber Learning Centre
11 to 23 February 2013, Banff, Alta.
The Banff Centre | Program Mentor at In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge Made in Banff – The Banff Centre Blog - Interview
27 – 28 November 2012, Ottawa, Ont.
Attended the Governor General's Literary Awards 2012
Attended Parliament Event in Honour of the 2012 recipients of the Governor General's Literary Awards
22 November 2012, Vancouver, B.C. Gave a seminar at Simon Fraser University
Gave a reading at the University of British Columbia
30 October 2012, Toronto, Ont.
Participated in poetry panel “Contempo” through Ryerson University. Livestream with various universities in the U.K. Ryerson University, Brighton University, U.K., Aberystwyth University, U.K.
29 October 2012, Toronto, Ont. Participated in a school visit at Wilkinson Primary School (Toronto District School Board)
“One of my projects as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate is to produce a series of short videos to help make contemporary Canadian poetry more accessible. These recordings illustrate a range of poetry that reflects the identity, places and modes of poetic writing in Canada.” – Fred Wah
Visit Poetry Connection on YouTube to view the Poet Laureate’s video series, and download the PDFs below to learn more about the featured poets and their work. The PDF files also include the text of the poems, as well as discussion topics and writing ideas.