Zoe S. Roy MA '93Zoë is passionate about books. She first discovered the joy of reading as a child growing up under Mao’s regime in China. In those harsh times, reading was her refuge—a place to learn and dream of another life. Now as an adult educator and published author, Roy gives credit to her love of literature for helping to turn that dream into a reality.
As the daughter of a history professor, Roy spent her early years on a university campus. This gave her more access to books than most had at that time, but during China’s Cultural Revolution, Roy was not allowed to attend university herself until 1977.
Freedom“I was so excited to finally be able to go to university.” She studied English language and literature, reading literary works in their original language. “It was thrilling.” Roy went on to teach and was happy to be able to share her love of books with her students, but she wanted to further her studies. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to get into a graduate program, she tried to get into a North American university upon a friend’s suggestion.
“I needed financial assistance but as I wasn’t a Communist Party member, there was no chance I would get sponsored by the Chinese government,” she says. “I contacted many universities. It took me a few years before I got an acceptance with financial aids.” Three universities accepted her application. One of them was Saint Mary’s University.
Life in Halifax
Roy came to Halifax in 1990. While working on her Master of Arts in Atlantic Canada Studies, Roy took a part-time job – in the university library, of course. Not content to just spend time with books, Roy also joined the Society of Atlantic Canada Studies, a group made up of both undergraduates and graduates of the program.
They planned activities together and went on ski trips, farm tours, and even a journey to Newfoundland. “It was a crucial life experience for me. We did things and saw things I might not have otherwise, but the best part was the people. It was a very friendly group.”
Reading literature and having life experience make her want to write. She was no stranger to writing fiction, having started writing stories when she was a teacher in China, but time was an issue. It wasn’t until she found herself unemployed after a subsequent degree—a Master of Education from the University of New Brunswick in 1995—that she was able to return to it.
“I couldn’t find a job so I started to write again. I had so many ideas in my head.” It was during this time that Roy wrote some of the stories featured in her first published book, Butterfly Tears, a collection of short fiction published by Inanna Publications in 2009. The Long March Home, her first novel and second published work, came out in 2011. It tells the story of three generations of women as they deal with personal loss, discrimination, and political revolution.
Currently living in Toronto, Roy often needs to emphasize that her books—about the experiences of Chinese immigrant women forging a life in a new country—are works of imagination.
“I write about China, the cross-cultural experiences of Chinese immigrant women and of women from North America in China. Many people think I am writing about my own life, but it is not my story. I like to make up stories that tell the truth.”
As a child, Roy never would have thought she would ever be able to leave China, let alone become a published author in English. “There were many times along the way when I could have given up, but I didn’t,” she says. “I have overcome a lot of obstacles to get my education, to establish a career, and to get published. Frustration is part of life; it’s important to just keep going because you never know what might happen next.”