Elaine Woo and the imaginary bike ride

Elaine Woo’s literary life has come full circle.

When I was growing up, my family went to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library every weekend to borrow new books,” says Woo, author.

Now Woo will be showcasing her work at the VPL’s Central branch for the Writers Showcase in December.

Woo says that this early interest in reading is what sparked her eventual interest in writing. Upon seeing the VPL’s call for writers in a newsletter, she sent an email asking for the opportunity to speak. They said yes.

“I’m glad more and more marginalized people are getting to be heard. As a marginalized person myself, I feel lucky to have had this opportunity,” says Woo.

Allowing creativity to flourish

As a child, Woo’s family encouraged her creativity and helped grow the artist within her through gifts like paint-by-numbers kits and knitting spindles.

“My mom was always very creative. Although she didn’t write, she played the piano and organ and knit beautiful garments for the family,” says Woo.

In her 20s Woo and her dad would draw together, so initially her creativity was focused in the visual arts. As a result, Woo says she thought about becoming a graphic designer or journalist after graduating, but didn’t think she was talented enough.

“That was me not believing in myself and my abilities,” she explains.

Getting into writing

Elaine Woo’s two books bring racism, political and environmental issues to the table. | Photo courtesy of Elaine Woo

All these things were confluent and they came together so I could become a writer,” says Woo.

Woo’s interest in writing started in junior high when one of her teachers asked the class to create their own poetry book.

“That put my creative efforts into high drive; I made the cover with suede, stapled all the pages together, hand printed poems and filled it with illustrations,” says Woo.

Although her grandfather was a journalist and editor of a newspaper in Singapore, Woo didn’t start writing longer works until much later in life when a couple of friends suggested she try it.

Taking a creative writing course in her 40s, she ended up finishing near the top of her class, which led her to apply to the creative writing program at UBC.

Woo says her inspiration for writing is internal.

“I had a lot of stored up stuff inside of me. My mother and mother-in-law, and other societal forces, asserted a lot of power in my life. I share the effect of those forces on self and society,” she adds.

Some of her influences, though, were less positive. Woo says she was also severely bullied while taking an architecture drafting class, which led her to a mental breakdown that forever changed her life.

“For a long time I blamed my classmates and instructor, but it doesn’t help a person to constantly live in a state of blame and there is a time to move on,” she says. “We don’t need to unite against a common enemy; we need to unite and love period. We’re all in this together.”

Writing, she says, is her way of processing the world and hoping people will consider think and behave differently.

Her books

Woo says her books, Put Your Hand In Mine and Cycling With The Dragon, humorously look at family, feminism, environmental democracy, our social and political scene, all of which have concerned her for a long time.

“Since the publication of these two books I’ve been thinking a lot about who gets to be heard and who doesn’t,” Woo muses.

Woo also encourages members of her audiences to be heard as well.

“When I read publicly, I want to know what’s on the audiences’ mind. I don’t want it to be a one-way thing – I want to know what the audience is thinking too,” says Woo. “I am glad there is often a Q&A segment of the different series.”

The imaginary bike ride

One of the poems Woo will be sharing at the showcase is called Ride Along East Hastings from the Patricia Hotel to Woodward’s. The poem follows an imaginary bike ride Woo embarks through the Downtown Eastside, based off a time when she drove through this neighbourhood on her way to UBC.

“I was really affected by what I saw,” says Woo.

She says had it not been for the prescription pills she was taking, she may have ended up there herself; and she’s sure others can relate.

“We need to think of the more vulnerable people in society and look after them,” says Woo.

For more information, please visit https://vpl.bibliocommons.com/events/5d66c15272ecd73a002e8970