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The Parliamentary
Poet Laureate


Fred Wah


Fred Wah was born in 1939 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan to parents of Swedish and Chinese origin. He grew up in the West Kootenays in rural B.C. where his parents owned or ran several Chinese-Canadian cafés.

Wah studied Music and English at U.B.C. (BA 1962) and took an MA in Linguistics and Literature at SUNY Buffalo in 1967. From 1967-1989, he taught at Selkirk College and David Thompson University Centre inNelson while living in South Slocan, raising a family (with teacher and literary critic Pauline Butling) and writing more than a dozen books of poetry. They moved to Calgary in 1989, where he taught English and Creative Writing until his retirement in 2003. Currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Calgary, he divides his time between Vancouver and a seasonal home near Nelson. In June 2013, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, for his ground breaking work as a poet and for his contributions to the life of poetry in Canada.

Wah began publishing poetry in the 1960’s as part of an international avant-garde movement located in Vancouver. His early poetry is improvisational and experimental, based partly on his interest in jazz. Yet it is also deeply rooted in the geography of the Nelson area, as his first seven titles show: Lardeau, Mountain, Among, Tree, Earth, Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., and Loki is Buried at Smoky Creek. In the 1980’s Wah’s focus shifted to his mixed-race history in Breathin’ My Name with a Sigh and Waiting for Saskatchewan. With the publication of Diamond Grill (1996), a biofiction based on his experiences working in his father’s café, Wah emerged as a central figure in race writing in Canada and abroad. His collection of critical essays, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity further elaborates his long-standing interest in mixed-genre texts and racialized poetics.

Wah has received major literary awards in three genres: Waiting for Saskatchewan won the Governor General’s Award, So Far won Alberta’s Stephanson Award, and is a door won the Dorothy Livesay prize for poetry; Diamond Grill received Alberta’s Howard O’Hagan Award for short fiction; and his essay collection, Faking It: Poetics and Hybridity won the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Literary Criticism in English Canada.

Wah has given thousands of hours of volunteer work as an editor or contributing editor of small, grass-roots magazines and presses that are the life-blood of Canada’s thriving literary culture. Starting with Tish: A Poetry Newsletter (1961–1963) he has been involved with numerous magazines, including Sum, Open Letter, Swift Current (Canada’s first electronic literary newsletter) with Frank Davey and West Coast Line. He was Poetry Editor for The Literary Review of Canada (2003–2005). Wah’s community work has also been extensive. He regularly organized readings and workshops at Selkirk College and David Thompson University Centre in the Kootenays. In Calgary he played a key role in starting and developing the Markin-Flanagan Distinguished Writers Program.

Since moving to Vancouver in 2003, he has been engaged with the Kootenay School of Writing. He has been writer-in-residence and has taught writing workshops across the country. He served as president of the Writers Union of Canada (2001–2002) and worked on its Racial Minorities and Social Justice committees for several years.

Wah is well known both in Canada and abroad. His work has been widely anthologized and he has been invited to many international literary festivals to give readings and talks. In 2002–2003, he was selected for a Canada–Mexico cultural exchange with residencies at Banff and Merida, Mexico. He is currently on faculty for the Banff Centre for the Arts “In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge” program.

His recent publications include two collections of poetry, Sentenced to Light (2008) and is a door (2009). A selected poetry edited by Louis Cabri, The False Laws of Narrative, was published in 2009 by Wilfrid Laurier University’s poetry monograph series.


  • 28 June 2013
    Fred Wah appointed Officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor General of Canada | News release: Appointments to the Order of Canada

  • 16 April 2013 | CBC Manitoba | Scene: Poet laureate of Canada picks book that changed his life

  • 7 March 2013
    Ottawa Citizen | Poet laureate waxes political – but not too political

  • 25 February 2013
    The Political Poem: An Invitation from the Parliamentary Poet Laureate

  • 23 January 2013
    The Vancouver Sun | Pete McMartin: Why is it we never see any public poetry?

  • 21 December 2012
    The Globe and Mail – Poetry | Fred Wah: A portrait in his own words (and a few others’)

  • 19 December 2012
    Interview with Vancouver Co-Op Radio

  • 2 November 2012
    Ryerson University | “Poetry’s Public”: An International Seminar for the Centre for Contemporary Poetry

  • Fall 2012 Edition
    The Word: Newsletter UBC English department

  • 25 April 2012 | CBC Books | Canada Writes: Poetry Month Q&A: Fred Wah

  • 11 March 2012 | Capital Diary: Canada’s new Poet Laureate Fred Wah

  • 29 February 2012
    The Speaker of the Senate of Canada: New Parliamentary Poet Laureate

  • 30 January 2012 | CBC Books: Canada’s new Poet Laureate Fred Wah on The Sunday Edition

  • 29 January 2012 | North by Northwest: Fred Wah: Parliamentary Poet Laureate

  • 26 January 2012
    Arts WIRE | University of British Columbia: Fred Wah: ‘All Creativity Is Political’

  • 10 January 2012
    The Ubyssey | In conversation with Fred Wah, the new Poet Laureate of Canada

  • 29 December 2011
    Le Devoir | En Bref : Fred Wah, poète du Parlement *
    Nelson Star | ‘Kootenay boy’ honoured as Parliament’s Poet

  • 24 December 2011
    Poetry Quebec | Poetry Quebec Salutes Fred Wah: Poet Laureate of Canada 2012–2014

  • 21 December 2011
    The Globe and Mail | Ottawa Notebook: Multicultural 'obsession' drives new Parliamentary Poet Laureate

  • 20 December 2011 | Fred Wah named Canada’s fifth Parliamentary Poet Laureate
    Global News | Saskatchewan Writer Fred Wah named Parliamentary Poet Laureate

  • 20 December 2011
    Appointment of new Parliamentary Poet Laureate

  • Events

  • 5 July 2013, Invermere, B.C.
    Wildsight Invermere – Led the High(ku) Mountain Walk:
    Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate coming to the valley. When Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate came to walk and talk with Wildsight Invermere

  • 30 April 2013, Vancouver, B.C.
    Gladstone Secondary | Guest Speaker in the creative writing class

  • 25 April 2013, Edmonton, Alta.
    National Arts Summit – Reading

  • 23 to 28 April 2013, Edmonton, Alta.
    Guest Author at the Edmonton Poetry Festival

  • 16 April 2013, Winnipeg, Man.
    Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival

  • 10 April 2013, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.
    2013 Garnett G. Sedgewick Memorial Lecture: "Permissions: TISH poetics 1963 Thereafter-"

  • 8 April 2013, Vancouver, B.C.
    Hogan's Alley Open Readings – Reading

  • 21 March 2013, Vancouver, B.C.
    Introduction to a literary film event

  • 16 March 2013, Campbell River, B.C.
    Words on the Water Festival Maritime Heritage Centre

  • 6 March 2013, Ottawa, Ont.
    Guest author at the Politics and the Pen Gala

  • 7 March 2013, Ottawa, Ont.
    The Political Poem: An Invitation from the Parliamentary Poet Laureate
    Invitation communiqué
    The Ottawa Citizen | Poet laureate waxes political – but not too political
    pesbo: Poetry Journal | Seminar review by attendee

  • 26 February 2013, Richmond, B.C.
    UBC – Webcast hosted by Richmond Public Library
    Standing in the Doorway – The Hyphen in Chinese-Canadian Poetry | Irving K. Barber Learning Centre

  • 11 to 23 February 2013, Banff, Alta.
    The Banff Centre | Program Mentor at In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge
    Made in Banff – The Banff Centre Blog - Interview

  • 27 – 28 November 2012, Ottawa, Ont.
    Attended the Governor General's Literary Awards 2012
    Attended Parliament Event in Honour of the 2012 recipients of the Governor General's Literary Awards

  • 22 November 2012, Vancouver, B.C.
    Gave a seminar at Simon Fraser University
    Gave a reading at the University of British Columbia

  • 30 October 2012, Toronto, Ont.
    Participated in poetry panel “Contempo” through Ryerson University. Livestream with various universities in the U.K. Ryerson University, Brighton University, U.K., Aberystwyth University, U.K.

  • 29 October 2012, Toronto, Ont.
    Participated in a school visit at Wilkinson Primary School (Toronto District School Board)

  • 24 to 26 October 2012, Ontario
    Readings and school visits in Huron and Perth counties

  • 22 October 2012, Calgary, Alta.
    University of Calgary: Poem of the season
    Event Announcement | Event Article

  • 23 June 2012, Riondel, B.C.
    Federation of B.C. Writers: Poetry workshop in Riondel

  • 24 to 27 May 2012, Vancouver, B.C.
    Participated in the Writers Union of Canada AGM

  • May 2012, New Denver, B.C.
    Grade school workshop and reading with Stuart Ross and Terry Taylor

  • 26 April 2012, Toronto, Ont.
    Ryerson University | Department of English: Graduate Program Distinguished Speaker

  • 31 March 2012, Vancouver, B.C.
    Benefit reading for New Star Press

  • 23 March 2012, Vancouver, B.C.
    Classroom presentation at Simon Fraser University
  • 16 March 2012, Edmonton, Alta.
    Robert Kroetsch Memorial Reading

  • 15 March 2012, Guelph, Ont.
    University of Guelph | College of Arts | TransCanada Institute presents Fred Wah

  • 8 March 2012, Toronto, Ont
    Participated in a reading with Hoa Nguyen organized by the Toronto New School of Writing

  • 5 and 6 March 2012, Windsor, Ont.
    Reading and discussion organized by the University of Windsor

  • 5 March 2012, Toronto, Ont.
    Writer-in-residence at Ryerson University
  • 1 March 2012, Ottawa, Ont.
    Guest poet at VERSeFest 2012

    • Fred Wah appointed Officer of the Order of Canada, 28 June 2013

    • Fred Wah, Parliamentary Poet Laureate accompagnied by fellow Poets and Novelists Dionne Brand and Nicole Brossard


  • "The Snowflake Age"
    Poem commemorating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, written by Fred Wah, Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

  • "Hamill’s Last Stand"
    The False Laws of Narrative: The Poetry of Fred Wah, selected with an introduction by Louis Cabri, Laurier Poetry Series, 2009.

  • "In the Diamond"
    Diamond Grill. Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1996.

  • "Waiting for Saskatchewan"
    Waiting For Saskatchewan. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1985.

  • "Race, to Go"
    is a door. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2009.

  • "To the Dogs"
    is a door. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2009.

  • Links

    “One of my projects as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate is to produce a series of short videos to help make contemporary Canadian poetry more accessible. These recordings illustrate a range of poetry that reflects the identity, places and modes of poetic writing in Canada.” – Fred Wah

    Visit Poetry Connection on YouTube to view the Poet Laureate’s video series, and download the PDFs below to learn more about the featured poets and their work. The PDF files also include the text of the poems, as well as discussion topics and writing ideas.