The Journey Prize anthology was perhaps the last thing on Yasuko Thanh’s mind after leaving high school at age 15 and living on the streets of Vancouver. Still, she wrote extensively about her travels abroad and, based on the merit of her work, was accepted to the University of Victoria where she earned a master’s degree in creative writing.
“Before I won 2009’s Journey Prize, I was busking in Vancouver’s Gastown to make ends meet. I lived in an illegal studio suite with no water. I took showers at a local drop in centre,” remembers Thanh. “The reality was I often didn’t even have enough money for postage stamps to send out my writing submissions.”
As a starving student she submitted to magazines with crossed fingers, hoping to get an acceptance instead of a rejection. “People figure a writer can write anywhere, because all one needs is a pen and a piece of paper,” she says. “Maybe one also needs to know how to starve well.” Thanh began to wonder at the state of her life: a few stories in literary magazines, a handful of published articles, no credit cards, no bank account.
“Then I won the Journey Prize. A whirlwind trip to Toronto. Having publishing houses hand me their business cards instead of me chasing after them,” she describes. “In the biz some say it’s harder to find an agent than a publisher: within a few weeks of winning the prize I had both. I was taken more seriously as a writer after winning the prize.”
“Literary awards like the Writers’ Trust / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize help introduce readers to short story writers they might not have heard of otherwise. I personally studied the Journey Prize Stories anthology as I would have a textbook on craft – and met many of my favourite authors this way,” says Thanh.
Fellow BC writer Michael Turner describes Thanh’s book of short stories, Floating Like the Dead, as “afloat on gorgeous prose, populated by men and women who hover at edge of life’s grand transitions. A remarkable debut by an observant and talented writer.”
“I owe a lot to the Journey Prize.” says Thanh. “An agent, a book deal. A renewed faith in my work. All signs that seem to say I’m on the right track.”
Yasuko Thanh's book of stories Floating Like the Dead, published by Emblem Editions, was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, BC's award for best fiction. Buy your copy here.