Pages UnBound and Talon Books are pleased to present Susan Crean's moving memoir of her friendship with Mr. Wong, the cook and housekeeper to her Irish Canadian family for two generations. The eminent writer and educator Carrianne Leung will interview Susan Crean about the book and her thoughts about race and class, which arise from reading Finding Mr. Wong. Starting the evening off will be music by the award-winning musician and composer Donald Quan, whose work encompasses blues, world, folk, rock and Indigenous music.
Susan Crean was born in Toronto, Ontario, and is of Scots-Irish descent. Her articles and essays have appeared in magazines and newspapers across Canada, and she is the author of seven books, the first, Who's Afraid of Canadian Culture, appearing in 1976. Her most recent book, The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr, was nominated for a Governor General's award and won the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (B.C. Book Prizes) in 2002. Crean currently lives in Toronto.
Carrianne Leung is a fiction writer and educator. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Equity Studies from OISE/University of Toronto. Her debut novel, The Wondrous Woo published by Inanna Publications and her collection of linked stories, That Time I Loved You, released in 2018 by Harper Collins Canada were both nominated for the Toronto Book Awards.
Donald Quan is a Canadian musician, composer and producer of world music and film scores. The veteran musician was a member of the legendary band Lighthouse early in his career. He has performed as a multi-instrumentalist with singer Loreena McKennitt, performance artist Meryn Cadell and blues musician Derek Miller. Quan has toured China and Japan with longtime collaborators Ron Korb and George Gao playing music dubbed New Chinese Jazz, a blend of jazz improvisation and traditional Chinese melodies. He has been a major collaborator in the Canadian world music scene by working with organizations such as the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, the percussion group Samba Squad, M-Do Kathak Dance Company and renowned First Nations choreographer Santee Smith (Kaha:wi Dance Theatre). For nearly a decade, his space Musideum hosted countless performances as well as offering rare instruments for sale.
Quan's film music company Q Music Inc. has provided music services to hundreds of television, film, radio and multi-media productions including the popular television shows Relic Hunter, Mutant X, Starhunter, the War Next Door, the Indigenous TV drama Moccasin Flats and the CBC documentary China Rises. Quan is also responsible for the world music-tinged theme for CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
Finding Mr. Wong
Susan Crean's memoir Finding Mr. Wong chronicles her effort to piece together the life of the man she knew as Mr. Wong, cook and housekeeper to her Irish Canadian family for two generations. Reminiscing, Crean writes, “I grew up in Mr. Wong's kitchen…”
A Chinese Head Tax payer hired by Crean's grandfather in 1928, Wong Dong Wong remained on the job following Gordon Crean's death in 1947. Mr. Wong eventually retired in 1965 and moved to Chinatown. Crean's homage weaves the various strands of her memories of and discoveries about Mr. Wong during the last 25 years of his life; she travels the streets and histories of Chinatowns in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, and twice she visits Guangdong, China, where she located his home village, found descendants of his father's brother, and learned the beginning of his story: orphaned as a newborn, then brought to Canada by his uncle, Wong YeeWoen.
At the core of the narrative are Crean's observations of the blurred lines between numerous socio-cultural dynamics (worker/employer, family/servant, child/adult). She particularly considers relationships that cross race as well as class. Beginning with the partnership formed by Crean's grandfather and Mr. Wong—a partnership whose long alliance and evident mutual regard guaranteed Wong's presence in Crean's own story—she relates her own experience grappling with racism as a small child in the Toronto of the 1950s and 1960s. Crean's exploration also considers memory and its role in the writing and researching of a book such as this. She meditates on the ways socio-cultural issues are represented (or not) in film and literature, ultimately combining fiction with historical recreations and memoir.
Finding Mr. Wong is an important contribution to a growing body of writings that illuminate the lives of people silenced or otherwise negated by myopic history.
“The memory portrait of a beloved servant is always a project fraught with dangers of sentimentality and mystification. Too often, the white author turns the tale of the racialized servants into hagiography or Hallmark sentiment, blurring entirely the brutal realities of race and class that undergird and hedge in such relationships. Crean is exquisitely aware of these narrative dangers, and she is remarkably successful both in delineating them and avoiding them in this exemplary memoir.”
— Vancouver Sun
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Talonbooks publishes authors of international stature, writing in the literary genres of poetry, fiction and drama, as well as non-fiction books in the fields of ethnography, environmental and social issues, literary criticism and selected in titles in architecture, regional geography and history and photography.
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