Lydia Kwa, standing on a balcony (Ronnie Lee Hill Photography, Vancouver Photographer)

Episode 45: Ryan Stearne interviews Lydia Kwa

Dec 31, 2022

In this interview, Ryan Stern and Lydia Kwa talk about the origins of and the characters in Kwa’s duology: The Walking Boy and Oracle Bone. In particular, they focus on the fox spirits in her work and other contemporary works. The conversation touches on various subjects such as female characters, Chinese literary tradition, history and storytelling. At the end of the interview, Kwa also discusses her newest book A Dream Wants Waiting. We hope you enjoy this fantastic episode.
Lydia Kwa was born in Singapore but moved to Toronto to begin studies in Psychology at U of Toronto in 1980. After finishing her graduate studies in Clinical Psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, she moved to Calgary, Alberta; then to Vancouver, and has lived and worked here on the traditional and the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples since 1992. Kwa has published two books of poetry (The Colours of Heroines, 1992; sinuous, 2013) and four novels (This Place Called Absence, 2000; The Walking Boy, 2005 and 2019; Pulse, 2010 and 2014; Oracle Bone, 2017). Her next novel A Dream Wants Waking will be published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak & Wynn in Fall 2023. A third book of poetry from time to new will be published by Gordon Hill Press in Fall 2024. She won the Earle Birney Poetry Prize in 2018; and her novels have been nominated for several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Fiction.She has also exhibited her art work at Centre A (2014) and Massy Art Gallery (2018); and has self-published two poetry-visual art chapbooks. An essay “The Wheel of Life: From Paradigm to Presence” appears in the art catalogue In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art, and Social Practice by Haema Sivanesan (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2022).Kwa lives and works on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, in a city known by its colonial name Vancouver.

Ryan Stearne is a PhD student, creative writer, and a research assistant for the TIA House project at the University of Calgary.

Show notes

04:02 – Defining the term chaunqi (传奇) a genre of “strange tale” associated with the Tang dynasty

04:16  – Discussion of the book Love and Women in Early Chinese Fiction by Daniel Hseih and its impact on Dr. Kwa’s work

04:44 – Larissa Lai’s When Fox is a Thousand

05:20 – Historicizing Wǔ Zétiān, the Emperess Wu Zhao, ruler of China from 665 to 705

05:35 – The origins of Kwa’s duology, The Walking Boy and Oracle Bone

06:02 – Discussion of Kwa’s newest book A Dream Wants Waiting to be published in Fall 2023, through Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak and Wynn

07:03 – Discussion of fox spirits in more contemporary work and the Chinese literary tradition

08:35 –  Wuxia (martial arts) novel and its connections to the heroine characters

11:17 – Creation of poetics of the character Wǎn’ér, secretary of Wu Zhao

13:36 – Negotiation of history and storytelling — the history of the Empress Wu Zhao torturing concubines

20:13 – Discussion of the origins of first recorded character for transformation, huàxué (化学), and its connections to chemistry and alchemy

22:26 – The history of Chang’an 長安, a populated area during the Tang Dynasty, and how it appears in her novels. Discussion of how the space allowed Kwa to discuss diversity

26:12 – The importance of food writing in Kwa’s books

30:32 – Discussion of sexuality, intersex, and trans characters in the novels

33:22 – Process of revising The Walking Boy and Oracle Bone for redistribution for its republication with Arsenal Pulp Press

37:48 – Dogma of “metacommunication” and its co-option by armchair psychology- The connection between Dr. Kwa’s training as a psychologist and practice as a writer

44:48 – Problems that occur when characters and authors are conflated, particularly as in connection to her first novel This Place Called Absence

51:34 – Traditions of magical realism and speculative fiction, contrasting Latin American tradition with the Chinese frame

52:38 – In-depth discussion of and teasers to Dr. Kwa’s upcoming book, A Dream Wants Waking

TIA House recognizes the generous support of the Canada Research Chairs program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. We also appreciate the support of the Faculty of Arts and the Department of English at the University of Calgary, where our offices are housed, as well as the guidance of Marc Stoeckle at the Taylor Family Digital Library.

TIA House is run by Larissa Lai, Shuyin Yu, Ryan Stearne, Shazia Ramji, Rebecca Geleyn, Mikka Jacobsen, Benjamin Ghan, Amy LeBlanc, Marc Lynch, and Mahmoud Ababneh.
Our Intro/Outro music is Monarch of the Streets by Loyalty Freak Music, accessed from the Free Music Archive

Photo credit: ​​Ronnie Hill Photography 


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