Isabella Wang: student, writer, and literary community volunteer

October 24, 2019

Isabella Wang spends so much time studying at Simon Fraser University (SFU) that the cleaners have started bringing her samosas. However, it’s not surprising that Wang has made a second home at SFU. She loves pursuing her double major in English and World Literature, as it has helped her to develop her writing career and share her knowledge with the local literary community.

Wang didn’t always intend to study English when she went to university.

“Being the only child of two immigrant parents, I was under a lot of pressure to pursue something in the sciences, criminology, medicine—anything that wasn’t in the arts,” Wang says.

While still in high school, though, she discovered a passion for writing and started submitting her work to literary magazines. Well-known Canadian publications like The New Quarterly recognized Wang’s talent and she became the youngest writer ever shortlisted for the magazine’s essay contest.

“I thought that if I could just get one thing published I could prove to myself and my family that I was a ‘writer’ now,” she says.

On her English 12 provincial exam, which she completed a year early, Wang read a poem by Evelyn Lau for the first time. After some online research, Wang discovered that Lau taught continuing studies poetry classes at SFU.

“I used my lunch money to sign up, and throughout Grade 12, I began studying poetry with Evelyn, as well as Fiona Lam and Rob Taylor, who would become my first poetry mentors,” Wang says.

Wang also started attending readings and volunteering at literary festivals. There, she met English professors like David Chariandy, and this, along with positive recommendations about SFU’s World Literature program from alumni who have made their career in the publishing industry, helped her select SFU as her post-secondary home. However, this decision was a brave one.

“For every other university application, I had science as my main choice of program to make my parents happy,” says Wang. “SFU was the only application that my parents weren’t aware of. I did that one for myself, put down English, and didn’t tell my parents.”

Once she began taking SFU English and World Literature classes, though, Wang was relieved and happy to have found the community of support she had been looking for.

“Going into my first semester, I took a class with Stephen Collis because I knew of him as a poet in the literary community,” Wang says. “I go to talk to him about poetry a lot. It’s cool when someone else gets excited about your work, like they believe in it. He’s always asking me what I’m working on, and offering to give me constructive feedback.”

During her short time at SFU, Wang has had success as a writer. She has been published in more than 20 literary journals, three anthologies, and this fall, she had the pleasure of launching her debut poetry chapbook, On Forgetting a Language, with Baseline Press.

Wang enjoys sharing the lessons that she has learned in class with the literary community, through her work as a volunteer, event organizer, and editor.

“What I learn in class, I take back with me and into the community so that I may be of better support and be mindful of other writers through my interactions with them,” she says.

Wang’s engagement with the local literary community has helped to enhance her experience in her SFU English and World Literature classes, where she is able to incorporate creative work into the academic, and write about literary events for The Peak.

“With Room magazine, I helped to program a ten-day literary festival drawing in more than 100 writers and artists from across Canada,” Wang says. “Then, back in class, it was really rewarding to be able to study their work in depth and contribute to discussions having met and engaged with them in person.”