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Fred Wah (born January 23, 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, and scholar involved in the post-modern literary scene in Canada, both as teacher and writer. He was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, but raised in the interior of British Columbia. His father was a Canadian-born but raised in China, who was born to a Chinese father and an English mother, while his mother a Swedish-born Canadian who came to Canada at age 6. His diverse ethnic makeup figures significantly in his writings. In 1962, Wah married Pauline Butling, a teacher, writer, and literary critic. Wah studied Music and English at the University of British Columbia (BA 1963), did some graduate work in English Literature at the University of New Mexico from 1963-1964, and completed an MA in English at the State University of New York Buffalo in 1967.
Wah is primarily known as a poet and has published numerous books of poetry, including “Lardeau” (1965), “Breathin' My Name with a Sigh” (1981); “Waiting for Saskatchewan” (1985), winner of the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, “Music at the Heart of Thinking” (1987); “Alley Alley Homefree” (1992); and “is a door” (2009), winner of the Dorothy Livesay Prize for Poetry. He is the author of the bio-fiction “Diamond Grill” (1996), winner of the Howard O'Hagan prize for short fiction. He has also written many works of nonfiction. His collection of critical essays “Faking it: Poetics and Hybridity” (2000), winner of the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Criticism, represents fifteen years of his writings in various forms.
Wah has worked as an instructor of English composition and literature at various academic institutions. From 1967-1989, he taught writing at Selkirk College in Castlegar, British Columbia, while living in South Slocan. He also taught at David Thompson University Centre in Nelson, British Columbia, until the school’s closing in 1984. When the David Thompson University Centre closed in 1984, Wah was involved in establishing the Kootenay School of Writing in its place, and from 1995-1999, Wah served as an electronic writing advisor for the Kootenay School of Art. In 1989, he was appointed professor of English at the University of Calgary, a position he held until 2003, when he retired and became professor emeritus. He taught courses in English composition and literature. In 1995, Wah taught a graduate seminar on bpNichol’s “The Martyrology” at the University of Calgary in conjunction with Roy Miki, who taught a section of the same seminar at Simon Fraser University.
Wah has also worked extensively as an editor, both for literary periodicals, and as editor for the poetry manuscripts of friends, colleagues, and peers. While at the University of British Columbia, he was a founding editor and contributor to the poetry newsletter “TISH,” and served as Associate Editor from 1961 to 1963. Well known for his work on literary journals and small-press, Wah has been a contributing editor to the journal “Open Letter” since its beginning in 1970, involved in the editing of “West Coast Line,” and, along with Frank Davey, he co-edited the world's first online literary magazine, SwiftCurrent in 1986. From 1992-1993, he was part of the editorial collective of “Appropriate Voice,” the newsletter for the Racial Minorities Committee of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and also worked to organize a conference of the same name held in May 1992 in Orilla, Ontario. From 2003 to 2008 Wah served as poetry editor for “The Literary Review of Canada.”
Wah has been a member of various committees, both academic and non-academic. At the University of Calgary, he served on the Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Authors Programme Steering Committee 1993-1994, 1996-1997, and 2000-2001. A long-time member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, Wah served on the National Council Executive from 1996-1997, on the National Executive from 2000-2001, and was Chair of the Union from 2001-2002. From 1990-1994, he served on the Racial Minorities Committee of the union.
Wah served as the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada from 2012-2013, and in 2013 was appointed to the Order of Canada.
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