Born, raised and based in Vancouver, Filipino-Canadian author C. E. Gatchalian writes drama, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. His plays, which include Broken, Crossing, Claire and Motifs & Repetitions, have appeared on stages nationally and internationally, as well as on radio and television. Recent work includes his play for young audiences, People Like Vince, which was commissioned by Green Thumb Theatre and toured BC, Saskatchewan and Ontario, and his latest play, Falling in Time, which premiered in Vancouver in November 2011, was published by Scirocco Drama/J Gordon Shillingford in 2012 and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He is the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Dayne Ogilvie Prize, awarded annually by The Writers’ Trust of Canada to an LGBT writer of merit. He is the former Artistic Producer of the frank theatre company and an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia.
Your latest work, Double Melancholy: Art, Beauty, and the Making of a Brown Queer Man, discusses growing up in Vancouver as a queer Filipinx-Canadian. How has your lived experience shaped your writing?
It’s ubiquitous in my writing, whether it’s intentional or not. My lived experience explicitly informs Double Melancholy, as it’s a memoir; however, it informs all my other work as well, whether it be drama or poetry or fiction. Even the “purely” fictional parts of my work, the things I’ve ostensibly completely “made up,” are produced by an imagination that is shaped by my specific lived experience and positionality as a queer person, a cisgender male, a Filipinx settler. That’s the prism through which I see the world.
Your memoir includes your fondness of Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables – what drew you to her?
Her imagination, her spirit, her love of books, her steely determination, her ambition. She made something of herself despite the odds being totally against her as an orphan. This was all very empowering for a shy and alienated queer brown boy growing up amidst homophobia and racism.
As a playwright, what are the differences between writing plays and writing your memoir?
With prose, the language I work with is invariably more private and nuanced. The reader has the freedom to read at whatever speed they want, and to mull over and reread passages at will. So with prose there is the capacity for a tremendous amount of texture. With plays, I always write primarily with the idea of a live audience rather than a reading one, and with the idea that they will only ever see my play once. So the challenge with drama is to write fresh, textured dialogue whose subtleties an audience can grasp while watching it, realizing they don’t have the luxury of controlling the uptake-speed the way a book-reader does. It’s a tricky art.
What was your experience like as a past Joy Kogawa House writer-in-residence?
The five months I spent as writer-in-residence at Joy Kogawa House were wonderfully productive. It’s where I wrote a significant chunk of Double Melancholy. Just as importantly, I had a chance to connect with other writers through workshops that I had the pleasure of facilitating. I’m extremely grateful that we have a program like what Kogawa House offers right here in our city. Solitude and time to write are everything for a writer.