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Profiles of U of T alumni

The Dragon and the Stars

Writer Tony Pi draws on his Chinese heritage to create a magical alternate history

February 22, 2010

Tony Pi leads a double life. By day, he is the graduate administrator for cinema studies at Innis College. But once he’s off the clock, Pi sets his mind to creating mythical worlds as a science-fiction and fantasy writer. Now, one of his stories is set to appear in The Dragon and the Stars (DAW Books, 2010) , a science fiction anthology by writers of Chinese heritage. Pi (BA 1992 VIC, MA 1993) says he likes writing sci-fi because it allows him to explore ideas that fall outside the scope of mainstream fiction. “It’s always good to see what kind of things can happen outside the realm of the normal,” he says.

Raised in Taipei until the age of eight, Pi, who’s now 39, remembers sitting spellbound as his grandparents spun tales about the spirits of ancestors, ghosts and mythological creatures. He read voraciously as a child, and never lost his love of words – he studied linguistics at U of T. After teaching undergraduates for several years, Pi decided to dedicate more time to writing stories, and has now been published several times. Writing for this particular anthology prompted him to explore his heritage in a way that he hadn’t before.

In “The Character of the Hound,” Pi creates an alternate history based on the life of the Spirit General (Yue Fei), a famed military leader from China’s 12th century Song Dynasty. While many biographies about Yue Fei exist, Pi was interested in exploring the mythical and magical aspects of his history. “It’s a combination of the myth and the personal history that make him into the hero he is in Chinese culture,” says Pi.

The Dragon and the Stars includes 18 stories written by ethnic Chinese living outside of China. The stories vary considerably in content and tone, although many draw on China’s rich tradition of storytelling, myth and legend and examine how emigrants search for ways to understand, preserve and pay tribute to their cultural heritage. Despite the focus on Chinese writers, Pi hopes the stories will resonate with a global audience. “I hope readers will be able to look at things through our eyes,” he says.

The Dragon and the Stars will be published in May 2010 by DAW Books, and will be available in Canada through Penguin. The anthology was edited by Eric Choi (BASc 1995, MASc 1997) and Derwin Mak.


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