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Bestselling author talks of near-death experiences at Leadership Lecture

NOVELIST, MEMOIRIST AND SHORT STORY WRITER: Wayson Choy will be speaking at the University of Toronto Scarborough on March 25. (Photo by Robert Mills.)

by Allan Grant

In 2001, Wayson Choy, social activist and bestselling author of The Jade Peony, All that Matters, and Paper Shadows, suffered a combined asthma attack and heart attack. Throughout his ordeal, men and women, young and old, from all cultures and ethnicities stayed by his side until he was well. When his heart failed him a second time four years later, it was the strength of his bonds with these people, forged through countless acts of kindness, that pulled him back to life.

Now Choy will share his inspirational story at the next installment of the Perspectives on Leadership Lecture Series at the University of Toronto Scarborough on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:00 p.m. in the Arts & Administration Building Lecture Hall (AA 112).

“After I had my asthma attack and was in a coma, three days later, I had a heart attack, and I emerged from those not knowing what had happened,” he said in a 2002 interview. “But now I've been told how terrible it was for my extended family and my friends. I now realize, from their eyes, seeing me go so close to death, that there's a deeper level of connection between people. Much of it is primal, but it's very decent.”

As a result of two heart attacks, Choy decided to examine his life more closely and to put into perspective his appreciation for those who watched over him while he was sick. On March 31, he will be releasing his second memoir, Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying (Doubleday Canada, 2009), which chronicles these feelings.

Not Yet has been described as “a passionate, sensitive, and beautiful exploration of the importance of family, which in Choy’s case is constituted not through blood but through love. It is also a quiet manifesto for embracing life, not blind to our mortality, but knowing how lucky we are for each day that comes.”

“A big part of leadership is questioning the assumptions you make about your life and about the world around you,” says Drew Dudley, coordinator of leadership development at U of T Scarborough. “It’s impossible to hear Wayson Choy’s story of life and almost-death and not be moved to reexamine the ways we live our own lives each day. We are confident that our students will leave his lecture asking important questions that will help them in their development.”

Wayson Choy’s lecture follows last semester’s highly-successful Perspectives on Leadership appearance by Dr. James Orbinski, which was attended by more than 700 students. The Perspectives on Leadership Lecture Series is presented by the Department of Student Life, and aims to provide students with an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by some of Canada’s most dynamic leaders.

“The Perspectives on Leadership Lecture Series resonates with our community because it provides a forum for Canadian leaders from all disciplines to engage with students on issues and experiences that, with increased awareness and discussion, can bring about positive change in our society,” explains Dudley, “Our hope is that by attending, students will be encouraged to re-examine their own beliefs and experiences in order to make positive differences in their lives and in the lives of others.”

Admission to the Perspectives on Leadership lecture is free. However, seating is very limited. To reserve tickets, visit For more information on the Department of Student Life’s Leadership Development Program, contact Drew Dudley at

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