By Casey Stepaniuk
Enjoy this diverse list of books by Vancouver authors—including fiction, poetry, and memoir—that are all about gender politics and feminism.
Disappearing Moon Café by Sky Lee
This Canadian feminist classic by lesbian writer Sky Lee was the Port Alberni-born author’s first book. It’s a historical novel that tells the multi-generational stories of the Wong family women from their first arrival in Canada living at frontier railroad camps to Chinatown. Their strengths and past sins are passed on from mother to daughter, as they often encounter the same challenges of racism, isolation, and identity as time passes. Each woman struggles for independence, even the great-great-granddaughters living in contemporary Vancouver, and grapples with the burden of family secrets. Lee’s lyrical writing and strong plotting will almost make you forget how much you’re learning about women in Chinese-Canadian past and present society at the same time.
Anatomy of a Girl Gang by Ashley Little
A gritty novel set in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, Anatomy of a Girl Gang is an astonishing, powerful story about five teenage girls who make their own gang: Mac, the girl in charge; Mercy, “the Punjabi princess” who’s a great thief; Kayos, a high-school dropout; Sly Girl, who left her reserve for a “better life”; and Z, a sixteen-year-old Asian graffiti artist. They’re all lost girls in one way or another, broken down by misogyny, colonialization, and racism. They form their gang grasping at power, hope, and a voice for themselves as much as they can. Reading this book is like driving in a really fast car with the feeling that you’re about the crash the whole time.
When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
This novel is part folklore, part fairy tale, part historical fiction, and part contemporary urban story. It’s about three characters navigating what it’s like to be Chinese and female in three very different contexts. One character is Yu Hsuan-Chi, a real-life poet from ninth-century China; another is Artemis, a young Chinese-Canadian woman living in Vancouver. The third isn’t exactly human: she’s the mythological Fox, nearing her 1000th birthday. Each of them have romantic relationships with women and Lai shows us what is different, and, what is the same about dating women in the T’ang dynasty, in the surreal mythological world, and in contemporary Vancouver.
Ana Historic by Daphne Marlatt
Also about more than one woman in different time periods, Ana Historic is a classic Canadian feminist work originally published in 1988 by legendary writer Daphne Marlatt. It’s the story of Mrs. Richards, a mysterious British widow with no history, who appears briefly in 1873 in the civic archives of Vancouver. The contemporary woman who discovers her is Annie, who becomes obsessed with imagining what Mrs. Richards’s life might have been like. Annie’s mother Ina also becomes an important character. This is a gorgeously written, post-modern, experimental piece of writing that works to carve out space for women in Canadian history as well as in today’s society.
I Am a Red Dress by Anna Camilleri
Using the idea of a red dress as a symbol of female empowerment and defiance, queer Vancouver writer and performer Anna Camilleri tells the story of both her past and present in this unique book. I Am a Red Dress combines poetry, storytelling, and memoir to tells Anna’s story and also those of her mother and grandmother. Touching on family, womanhood, the powers of the imagination, and intergenerational trauma, this genre-defying book is intense, emotional, and a must-read who anyone who knows the imagination is a powerful tool for creating a better world.
Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian-in-training who runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find LGBTQ+ Canadian book reviews and a queer book advice column. She also writes for Book Riot. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian
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