Arts

Chuqiao Yang won the bpNichol Chapbook Award. Photo: Courtesy of Baseline Press.

Chuqiao Yang’s chapbook deals with connection to Chinese identity

University of Ottawa alumna Chuqiao Yang won the prestigious bpNichol Chapbook Award for her work Reunions in the Year of the Sheep, which deals with questions of Chinese-Canadian identity.

The bpNichol Chapbook Award is named after the late Canadian poet bpNichol. Nichol was passionate about small presses and chapbooks, or small poetry books, and so was a logical choice to bear the name of the award.

Yang gave a reading of her award-winning chapbook at the popular Tree Reading Series on Feb. 26 to a standing-room-only audience. Her poems touched on growing up Chinese-Canadian and her sometimes-complicated relationship with her heritage.

Yang completed her undergraduate degree in international development and globalization at the U of O and obtained a juris doctor from the University of Windsor. She now works as a lawyer in Toronto.

Yang started publishing around 14 or 15 at home in Saskatchewan and has been doing readings for a decade. Her move to Ottawa to attend university got her publishing in Ottawa, and she received a lot of support from faculty at the university.

The impetus for Reunion in the Year of the Sheep came about from a poem Yang published in Canthius Press, which was co-founded by U of O PhD candidate Claire Farley and others. The poem was noticed by editors at Baseline Press, who approached her about writing a chapbook.

Reunions in the Year of the Sheep was really about my experiences going back to China having been kind of disconnected from China, which is actually where I was born,” said Yang. “So it’s kind of about the cultural divide I experienced going back there, and then growing up in Canada.”

“A lot of the poems I started when I was about 16 or 17 and gradually with time it evolved. Sometimes when I start writing poetry it’s about three or four poems and with time I narrow it down (into one poem),” Yang said.

Her time at the U of O was instrumental in getting Yang to start publishing in Ontario. In university Yang found a writing community and received encouragement from faculty, particularly creative writing professor and poet Seymour Mayne, who pushed her to publish her first piece in Ottawa’s Arc Poetry Magazine.   

“I read a lot and I hung out with a lot of people in the arts community, and I tried to keep publishing and I had a lot of good mentors,” said Yang. “I would really say the Ottawa arts community is low-profile and you don’t really realize it, but there’s a lot of people who are not only open-minded but constructive.”

“I’d try to get involved in as many workshops as possible, and if there’s any poets in Ottawa that you really draw inspiration from … I would try to reach out to them because they are actually interested in engaging with the younger community.”

Yang also recommended that aspiring poets get to know the school’s writer-in-residence and take creative writing classes that the Department of English offers. She said taking the opportunities on campus and combining them with the city’s vibrant poetry and small press scene is a great first step for any poet.