Read All About It: UTM novelist named to CBC top fiction list

Author Carrianne Leung
Friday, January 19, 2018 - 4:55pm
Blake Eligh

As the interim Student Success Co-coordinator, Academic Initiatives with U of T Mississauga’s Office of Student Transition, Carrianne Leung’s work days are filled with the details of projects like coordinating Exam Jam, and overseeing utmONE and utmONE Scholars courses. Off the clock, however, Leung is a successful novelist whose work is gaining attention on the Canadian literary scene.

Cover of Carrianne Leung novel "That Time I Loved You"Leung’s second novel, That Time I Loved You, hits the shelves in March. Touted as a look at cultural division, the challenges of adult life and the irrepressibility of youth though the eyes a young Canadian of Chinese descent living in 1970s Toronto, the novel was recently named to CBC’s list of fiction to watch in 2018.

Leung’s first novel The Wondrous Woo, was a cross-over young adult/adult coming of age tale about a Chinese girl from Scarborough after her father’s death. It was shortlisted for the 2014 City of Toronto Book Awards—“It was the only one from an independent small press,” Leung says—and championed by celebrity reporter and fellow Scarberian Lainey Lui.

Leung says she had always written, but finally decided to start her writing career while on maternity leave. “I had finished my PhD in sociology and equity studies at OISE, and missed having a writing project to work on. I thought it was a good time to start a novel,” she says. “The writing came fast, but it’s a hard thing to break into publishing as an unknown novelist.” According to Leung, Wondrous Woo sat on slush piles for three years until it was picked up by independent publisher Inanna Publications.

“I just wanted to be read, so I was thrilled beyond belief to have a book published,” Leung says. “For it to do so well was something I didn’t anticipate.”

Cover for Carrianne Leung novel "The Wondrous Woo"Leung’s new novel springs from an earlier short story that she had wanted to expand. It eventually grew into ten stories linked together that chronicle life in a 1970s Scarborough suburb after a cluster of suicides of young parents.

“It’s not an autobiography,” Leung cautions. “It is fiction, but it’s a reflection of what it meant to grow up in Scarborough as a racialized person in the ‘70s and ‘80s.” Leung’s story is set against the backdrop of Trudeaumania and multiculturalism that she was introduced to when she immigrated from Hong Kong at five years old. “The Scarborough that I moved into was completely new. It was predominantly a white place, but there were all these new immigrants moving in as well. It was an extraordinary time of new relationships and new negotiations about space. There were tensions about what race meant, and about entering the middle class.”

“It’s a place that really shaped me, and writing the books showed me that I had a lot to say about that place and that time,” she says. ““What does it mean for everyday people living their lives? I explore these things through fiction.”

Although her work and writing schedules are busy, Leung is committed to supporting diverse and emerging writers. She founded a Facebook group for writers from marginalized communities, which now boasts over 500 members. She was also part of The Writers’ Union of Canada Equity Task Force that responded to the “Appropriation Prize” scandal in 2016. She recently put out a call to hold a writing workshop for marginalized writers, including Black, Indigenous, cis- and transgender women, and will speak at an upcoming UTM Scribes publishing workshop on January 24, 2018.

“It’s a super exciting time to be a writer,” she says. “There are so many ideas being contested, and the values of literature are shifting as well. It’s a real moment of reckoning as we consider other voices, and what it means to be a marginalized voice that has historically been silenced.”

“I see that as part of my work. I’m lucky to have been given this space, and I feel I should foster spaces for other writers to come.”

Leung is currently at work on new personal essays, and in the early stages of her third novel.