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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
July 25, 2014
 
 
Canadian Excellence

Concubine

1995: Denise Chong


The information below is adapted from the news release issued in 1995

The Concubine's Children: Portrait of a Family Divided by Denise Chong (Viking/Penguin) is the winner of the 1995 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. Chong's gripping memoir of her family's life in China and Vancouver was considered by the panel of judges to be an outstanding example of the genre.

The Concubine's Children had already won the City of Vancouver Book Award and the VanCity Book Prize and was short-listed for the Governor-General's Award and the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. The Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction was the first national award for the book.

Dorothy Livesay once observed that "the documentary is the Canadian art form" and creative nonfiction does indeed seem to hold a special appeal for Canadian writers. From the earliest days Canadian nonfiction writers have been recording their experiences in imaginative ways and the genre has firm roots in Canada in the work of such authors as Susanna Moodie, Farley Mowatt, Pierre Berton, Marian Fowler, and Edna Staebler herself. Writers of creative non-fiction use strong, sometimes idiosyncratic voices and their approach is literary rather than journalistic. Often they have worked and reworked their material, sometimes employing the devices of fiction, in an attempt not to convey information, but to share experience with their readers. It is these qualities which make The Concubine's Children such an engrossing book to read and a worthy recipient of the 1995 award.

Chong's book, published in 1994, traces the history of her family on both sides of the Pacific, beginning with her grandfather, who left behind a wife in China when he came to "Gold Mountain" the name Chinese immigrants gave to Canada at the turn of the century, and her grandmother, who was purchased by her grandfather as a concubine upon his arrival in Canada. Chong herself always knew she might have family still living in China and her story, meticulously woven from letters, photographs and memory, and written in clear and unflinching prose, tells the astonishing tale of how that family was rent apart for the sake of her grandfather's dream, of terrible hardships endured and finally overcome, of old and new worlds, and of a daughter's journey to reunite that family.

Denise Chong was an economist with the Finance Department in Ottawa and then with Prime Minister Trudeau from 1980 to 1984. She has been a freelance writer in Beijing, Toronto and London, England, with published articles appearing in Saturday Night and Canadian Business, She is also a contributor to Many-Mouthed Birds, an anthology of contemporary Chinese Canadian writers. Chong now lives in Ottawa with her husband and two children.

Other Publications by Denise Chong:

  • The Girl in the Picture (2006)

The shortlist for the 1995 Edna Staebler Award also included:

  • Picasso's Woman by Rosalind MacPhee (Douglas & McIntyre);
  • After the Smoke Cleared by Jack Kuper (Stoddart);
  • Survival Gear by Rita Moir (Polestar).