Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being by Amy Fung

Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being by Amy Fung

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Co-published with Artspeak Gallery
Essais Series No. 7
Nonfiction / Essays
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
192 pages
8 x 5.25 inches
ISBN 9781771665056

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Longlisted for The Believer Book Award: Nonfiction

In that moment, I felt closer to whiteness than not. I was completely complicit and didn’t think twice about entering a space that could cover their walls with images of contemporary Indigenous perspectives, but exclude their physical bodies from entering and experiencing. In that moment, I felt like a real Canadian.

Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being is the debut collection of essays by Amy Fung. In it, Fung takes a closer examination at Canada’s mythologies of multiculturalism, settler colonialism, and identity through the lens of a national art critic.

Following the tangents of a foreign-born perspective and the complexities and complicities in participating in ongoing acts of colonial violence, the book as a whole takes the form of a very long land acknowledgement. Taken individually, each piece roots itself in the learning and unlearning process of a first generation settler immigrant as she unfurls each region’s sense of place and identity.

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Praise for Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being:

I am most definitely the kind of white American who breathes a sigh of relief whenever I cross the border and this compulsively readable document of the multiple states of discomfort, belonging and questioning that constitute Amy Fung’s citizenship both complicates that sensation as well as telling me more about Canada than all the trips I’ve taken so far. That flatness can be equated with modernism and the absolute erasure of Indigenous rights is the kind of poetry I live for. Amy is an awesome writer and her sheer skill and playfulness at the absolute noun and especially verb level where writing lives make the hours I’ve spent with this knowing and moving book about place and placelessness among the most valuable ones of my reading life. Wow, thank you, Amy.”
—Eileen Myles

As an Indigenous/Haudenosaunee writer and reader, I recognize within the pages of Amy Fung’s book that she does not try to convince us that she is a native rights ally but shows us with language as she moulds the term ally into a verb. Before I Was a Critic, I Was a Human Being does not pluck the weed from the top of the grassline but removes and exposes the roots to announce that humanity is what’s normal and commonplace. Her work, as a writer ally boils down to two simple things; remembering and reminding. Amy does this concisely, without pretension or want of reward. She is remembering her humanity in a time when a multitude of inhumane messages ambush us everyday. Amy also reminds the reader to nurture their own humanity. Her experienced journalist voice is tempered with the creativity of a poet to help send her medicine out into a culturally divisive world through her book.
—Janet Rogers, author of Totem Poles and Railroads

“In this compelling work, Amy Fung breathes life and relevance into criticality. To explicate colonial and racist norms comprising 150+ years of this state and white settler civility, she carefully and unflinchingly, seeks to right her own complicity. Her retrospective stance is both attentive and productive. Through Before I was Critic I Was a Human Being we reach a better understanding of this moment of contemporary art in Canada and beyond.

With keen observation and humility, the author situates herself amid and alongside Indigenous, as well as Black, and racialized artists’ futurity and solidarities. More than vulnerable self-effacement, she enacts a grounded experiential. Fung affirms her mothers’ insight and sacrifice as she traces the infrastructural and systemic violence certain artists and audiences continue to endure. We witness many a meal and listen to a well-traveled storyteller who can spark a laugh as deft as she can reveal white supremacy. Refuse apathy—before the next opening, event or after party, this visitor’s guide is integral reading.”
—Cecily Nicholson, author of Wayside Sang, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry

“Amy Fung’s project—part essay collection and part extended land acknowledgement—presents complex narratives of the self that never settle, but shift and glitter around questioning of power and representation in art and writing. An astute and darkly witty voice that takes no prisoners and will hold you captive from the first page.”
—Alex Leslie, author of We All Need to Eat

Press Coverage:

Most Anticipated: Our Spring 2019 Nonfiction Preview 49th Shelf

Before She Was an Immortal Plant She Was An Author: Amy Fung in Conversation No One Receiving

Top 10 books that may take up your May Loan Stars

11 Books We Can’t Wait To Read This Spring Refinery 29

The Space Between 49th Shelf

What We’re Reading: Editors’ Picks, Spring 2019 —Hamilton Review of Books

New book discusses Canadian identity from an immigrant perspective —Richmond News

Author and art critic questions her own knowledge of Canada: Amy Fung’s essays take a critical look at Canadian identity and Canadian art —Dana Gee, Vancouver Sun

Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being: An Interview with Amy Fung —Isabella Wang, Room Magazine

“In its totality, Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being functions as a challenge to white settlers and to other immigrants to really consider the land acknowledgments that are offered by our institutions and at our events.”  —Melanie Brannagan Frederiksen, Winnipeg Free Press

Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being: Amy Fung on Identity and Writing —, SAD Magazine

Whose land is it anyway? A Q&A with the author of Before I Was a Critic, I Was a Human Being —John Ackermann, News 1130/CityNews

Uncovering other Canadian histories and perspectives —The Source, Forum of Diversity

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week – May 16, 2019 —Big Hearted Boy

Personal essays blend art and experience to create new perspectives —Prairie Books NOW

Amy Fung’s new essay collection is an infuriated breakup letter to the art world —Mitch Speed, Frieze

In Conversation with Amy Fung, author of Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being —The Commentary podcast

“Amy Fung’s essays raise urgent questions about the way in which Canada has positioned itself as a welcoming nation of all peoples. Growing up as an immigrant, she comments on how Whiteness and colonization take away the pride of belonging to a cultural background that is deemed different, a reality rooted in the racist notion that Europeans were worthiest of the “Great White North” myth, which led to the exclusion and erasure of Indigenous people and their rights.” —Vinaya Gopaal, Humber Literary Review

“Touted as “a very long land acknowledgement,” Fung’s collection… is relevant and needed. First, as an attempt to unpack Canada’s national myth of the multicultural state without neglecting to see multicultural immigration as a form of continuing colonialism. Second, as an effort to join Indigenous writers such as Chelsea Vowel (Métis) and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg), among others, who should not be the only voices holding the settler-colonial state to task.” —Jenny Ferguson, Quill and Quire

Art Reads for Summer Moons: Books Handpicked by our Editor —Shannon Webb-Campbell, Visual Arts News

Choke: An Excerpt from Amy Fung’s Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being PRISM International

Bright Books for Sunny Days: Summer 2019 Recommended Reading List —Writers’ Trust of Canada

“This book is an example of how things are shifting. Everyone should read it. Even though it is written by an art critic, it is not a book of art criticism, barely referencing artists, art institutions, or other art critics. Rather, she demonstrates how the Canadian art world upholds the same race and class dynamics that it regularly criticizes, and she demands we do better.” —Amber Berson, Esse

“The manner in which Fung takes the lens and points in our direction, offers a snapshot of a country packed with flaws and inconsistencies. It should make all of us look inwardly for answers.” —Shelf Life

“Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being is not interested in engaging in the panic-driven and often highly theoretical conversations about how to engage with art… Rather, it points to the framework in which criticism continues to exist in this country, to the idea that “the Canadian experience cannot be removed from the Canadian imaginary, which, as a byproduct of culture being produced in this country, continues to serve and protect a white masculine settler-colonial hegemony.” —Margaryta Golovchenko, Canadian Art

2019 Best Books of the Year: Recommended Reading Lists —Carleigh Baker, Writers’ Trust of Canada

Art Books 2019 —Galleries West

The Gift of Reading: Ten of the Year’s Best Books by Local Authors to Look Out For —The Edmonton Journal

“A tremendously important read, as it shows us a bare portrait of Canada from the perspective of a first-generation immigrant (and settler), addressing its foggy multicultural dynamics and colonial politics. Thoughtful, sharp, full of difficult nuances and tough reflections, that book complicated and enriched me.” —Staff Picks 2019: Catherine, Librairie Drawn and Quarterly Blog

Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being is one of the most unique and necessary books I’ve ever read about what it means to live as an artist, writer, and human being on Indigenous land. —Staff Picks 2019: Saelan, Librairie Drawn and Quarterly Blog

“Moving effortlessly from personal anecdote to unsettling recognition of her own complicity to disturbing insight and political statement, Fung’s testimony is essential reading.” —John Yau, Hyperallergic

“I Left This for a Reason”: An Interview with Amy Fung —Momus

“Memory Knows No Compromise”: A review of Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being —Cornel Bogle, Canadian Literature

“While [Fung] delves deeply into colonizing mythologies and racialization from the point of view of a critic and a theorist, Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being is a book of personal essays, rather than an academic treatise. The most successful essays employ a deft layering of narratives—personal, cultural, political—and combine lyrical writing with harsh realities.” —Kris Rothstein, Geist Magazine

Amy Fung is a writer, researcher and curator born in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and spent her formative years in and around Edmonton on Treaty 6 Territory. Her writing has been published and commissioned by national and international publications, galleries, museums, festivals, and journals since 2007. Her multifarious curatorial projects have spanned exhibitions, cinematic and live presentations, as well as discursive events across Canada and abroad. Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being is her first book.

Additional information

Dimensions 8 × 5.25 in