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On Lee Maracle’s 'Yin Chin'

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This article is part of the Babble Book Club's ongoing conversation about Canadian short stories. Join the conversation in the Babble Book Lounge by contributing your favourite Canadian short stories and short story collections and discussing the implications of the current Canadian short story canon. The final discussion will take place Tuesday November 6,  7:30 p.m. EST in the Babble Book Lounge.

Lee Maracle's "Yin Chin" was one of my favourites when I first began to teach First Nations literature at University of British Columbia in 1995. Maracle's voice is unmistakably hers -- clear, uncompromising, no bullshit. Her diction varies from the intellectual to the street-wise in seconds. This story is about the connections between the Chinese and First Nations communities in Vancouver's Chinatown, as well as about the ways in which racism divided them. It is dedicated to SKY Lee and Jim Wong-Chu, evidence that she has overcome the racist nonsense she absorbed as a child about Chinese people -- that old Chinese men kidnapped little children, for example. However, it took a long time: she recounts her realization: "I have lived in the same neighbourhood as Chinese people for 22 years now and don't know a single Chinese person." The story is an early example of what I call "story theory," although I have no idea if Maracle would accept that term or classification. It grounds contemporary fiction in oracy and aims to engage readers in considering what they might learn from it, about how the "unkind world" has "schooled us in ignorance." Story theory is also grounded in the autobiographical, modeling a way in which we can learn from everyday experience if we keep paying attention like the "little girl of noble heart" in the story. Another example of story theory is Warren Cariou's "Dances with Rigoureau" (in Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations, edited by Deanna Reder and Linda Morra, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2010). I have several other examples on my list, but I’ll leave it for you to think of them.

Margery Fee is the editor of the literary journal Canadian Literature and professor of English at The University of British Columbia, where she teaches Canadian, Aboriginal and postcolonial literature.

Canadian Literature 124/25 (Spring/Summer 1990) and Native Writers and Canadian Writing, Ed. W.H. New. Vancouver: U of British Columbia P, 1990.

Sojourner’s Truth and Other Stories. Vancouver: Press Gang, 1990.

Sojourners and Sundogs: First Nations Fiction. Vancouver: Raincoast and Pressgang, 2002.

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