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Lesbian novelist Larissa Lai hits a milestone

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Larissa Lai

Lesbian novelist Larissa Lai hits a milestone

The awarding of the 2020 Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize to Larissa Lai shows how this lesbian writer has achieved a milestone in her career.

The award is in recognition for LGBTQ-identified authors that have published a number of novels, has a strong reputation and following, and has potential to continue publishing high-quality work.

Larissa was awarded the prize dedicated to the author and journalist Jim Duggins. First introduced in 2007, the award includes a cash prize of US$5,000.

Larissa Lai: Writing intersections

Born in La Jolla, California in 1967, Larissa grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Having spent most of her adult life in Vancouver, British Columbia, she identifies as Chinese-Canadian.

She graduated with a BA in Sociology from the University of British Columbia in 1990, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England in 2001, and a PhD in English at the University of Calgary in 2006.

Presently, she is an assistant professor of Canadian Literature in the English Department of the University of British Columbia.

Larissa told Midinette: “I learn a lot from my students about the value of clarity. It is pretty cool to workshop students work too and to think with them about what works and does not work in narrative.”

She presently holds a Canada Research Chair at the University of Calgary, and directs The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing.

However, she has also been an instructor at the Clarion West science fiction and fantasy writer’s workshop twice, and an instructor at the original Clarion workshop at UCSD.

Larissa Lai: A fictionist’s life

She has already written three novels (The Tiger Flu, Salt Fish Girl, and When Fox is a Thousand), as well as two poetry collections, a chapbook, and a critical book.

She has been a finalist for several awards, like the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Tiptree Award, the Sunburst Award, the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Award, and the bpNichol Chapbook Award.

She’s also won the Astraea Foundation Emerging Writers’ Award. Her latest work, The Tiger Flu, won in the 31st Annual Lambda Literary Award for best lesbian fiction.

Aside from writing, she has worked as an cultural organizer and as an assistant curator for a contemporary media exhibit.

In an interview with Sine Theta Magazine, Larissa said: “The reason I write fiction is because we’re living in a historical moment now, where stories need to be accessible.”

“I feel if there’s something I need to be doing right now out there, it’s telling women’s stories, and in particular telling stories about women in conflict,” she added.

Milestone in a writing career

In assessing Larissa’s career, the Lambda Literary judges for the award, Shani Mootoo and Brian Leung, were unanimous in choosing her.

In a statement, they said: “Larissa Lai is way overdue for a prize that honors her very productive career that, since 1995, has been well received for its innovativeness and importance to cultural studies internationally, especially Asian Canadia/ American literature.”

“Her novels and other works are pertinent not only to lesbians, but to the entire queer community. She is also known for supporting the queer work and politics of younger writers, and of Indigenous communities,” they added.

“Academically and intellectually, through her writing, critical and fictional, and through her initiation of conferences and broader public conversations, Lai has been an enduring and important voice in literature regarding issues of queerness, identity in general, language and citizenship,” they noted.

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