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Athabasca University

Evelyn Lau

Evelyn Yee-Fun Lau was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 2, 1971. Her parents were Chinese immigrants, and they tried to raise her in a traditional middle-class way. But to her family’s displeasure, in her early adolescence she starting writing and publishing her work. When she was 13, for example, she was one of 12 children who won an essay contest sponsored by the Vancouver Sun. The prize was a meeting with Pope John Paul II, who was nearing the end of his September 1984 papal tour of Canada. During that meeting, the Vancouver Sun records that Lau "gave the Pope an essay she wrote on the perils of nuclear war and asked him to bless the media" (the young Lau also admitted she wanted to be a reporter) ("Kids Elated as Big Moment Arrives" A2).

As a teenager Lau resisted her sheltered upbringing. In particular she resented her mother’s obsessive control and her father’s emotional withdrawal. Finally in 1986 she ran away from home. Lau lived in group homes, friends' houses, and cheap apartments, and supported herself through prostitution. She subsequently became a drug addict and was frequently suicidal. Eventually she left the sex trade and devoted herself to writing professionally full-time.

Her first book was her diary, specifically, diary entries between March 22, 1986, and January 20, 1988. Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (1989), published when Lau was still a teenager and still involved in the sex trade, made her famous and infamous, both because of the explicit sexual and highly emotional nature of the writing and because of the precociousness of her observations. The book was a bestseller, and eventually was adapted as a television movie, The Diary of Evelyn Lau, for CBC in 1993. Since Runaway, Lau has published poetry, fiction and non-fiction. She was writer in residence at the University of British Columbia’s department of creative writing in October to November 1997. Currently Lau lives in Vancouver.

She won the Air Canada Award in 1990 for Most Promising Writer Under 30 and the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award in 1992 for You Are Not Who You Claim (1990). Oedipal Dreams (1992) was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1992. She also won the Vantage Woman of Originality Award in 1999.

In her book of autobiographical essays, Inside Out (2001), Lau states that the tumult of her early adulthood has coloured all aspects of her later life. Indeed, much of her writing concerns itself with the themes of sexualized power relations and the emotional vulnerability of women in relationships with men, themes that echo her own past. Her insistence on using events in her life as subjects for writing has consistently attracted media attention. Lau entered the spotlight again because of the public dissolution of her relationship with American-Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe and a lawsuit arising from her article "Me and W.P." This attraction likely devolves partially from her earlier sensational contact with the media through her first book; yet because Lau unabashedly writes her life in public forums—she frequently has bylines in Canadian newspapers and magazines as well as literary journals—the boundaries between her private life, her public life, and her public writing life blur. As Lau writes in Inside Out, "There has always been this strange urgent need in me to make the private public, to turn things inside out so that what typically lives hidden in darkness is exposed to the light" (111). In many ways, the autobiographical underpinnings of Lau’s writing operates in the mode of American confessional poetry, such as that of Sylvia Plath. It has also been compared to Canadian writer Barbara Gowdy; in this regard Lau works within a specific and well-established literary tradition, rather than simply within the more generic and faddish sensational autobiographies of pop stars. (Vivian Zenari)

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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