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The Outer Harbour

The Outer Harbour

By Wayde Compton
Categories: British Columbia, Fiction, BIPOC, Black Literature
Paperback : 9781551525723, 208 pages, 2014


City of Vancouver Book Award Winner

In his debut story collection, poet Wayde Compton explores the concept of place and identity in which characters and space merge to make narrative. These interconnected stories, imbued with the colour of speculative fiction, are towering in their conceits. As much as characters are revealed by what they do and say, in The Outer Harbour, places also speak, in the way that they shape us.

One strand of stories follows the relationship between an artist obsessed with shipping containers and a drug-addicted student, each of mixed-race, who seek in art a response to unclear identities. Another set of stories follows the geological development of a volcanic island in Burrard Inlet--Vancouver's harbour--which becomes the site of a radical Indigenous occupation, and later, in increasingly absurd shadings, a real estate development, and then a detention centre for illegal migrants. And a final suite tells the story of Donald and Albert, biracial conjoined twins, and their father, an eccentric figure whose enigmatic expression divides them.

Moving from 2001 through to 2025, The Outer Harbour is at once a history book and a cautionary tale of the future. Collectively, these stories condense and confound our preconceived ideas around race, migration, and home, creating a singular world in a city built on the legacies of racism and colonialism, hurtling towards a future both impossible and inevitable.


  • Winner, Vancouver Book Award 2015


The ghosts of the present have finally arrived. Or rather, they have been with us all along, but, until this book, the music and cameras were all wrong and we couldn't see who we are, nor who is walking beside us. In this extraordinary cycle, performance artists, migrants, composites, gamers, conspirators, activists, conjoined twins, architect musicians, lost young men, drug dealers, explorers and indigenes make a mixed-race world for us with premonitory lucidity. Wayde Compton is a master of improvisation in this book, playing prose forms as though they are instruments or turntables. With a dizzying dexterity of ear and eye, he makes Vancouver shimmer differently. Compton's is one of the most important voices of and for our contemporary moment. -Larissa Lai, author of When Fox is a Thousand and Salt Fish Girl

A challenging collection that marks a bold step forward for Compton. -BC Bookworld

The Outer Harbour is the hybrid lovechild of a poet and prophet. So assured, so eloquent, my thought on the final page was, How did this not exist before? It's a rare thing, a debut from a writer who's already a master craftsman, creating in his prime. -Mat Johnson, author of Pym, Drop, and Hunting in Harlem

Though suspicion that the common factor uniting these stories is something unknowable or otherworldly is tempting, Compton achieves the more troubling, yet ultimately more satisfying, goal of portraying the fantastical as something that is very much rooted in what we think we already know about ourselves and our world. These stories confront the reader with the inescapable logic that, despite the very real social realities that result from them, identity markers like race, gender, class, and nationality are themselves projections based in relative and ever-changing contexts of unreality. -Full Stop

The Outer Harbour plunges Vancouver through the looking glass, a dazzling reflection into the future. Compton's stories ingeniously tread the ground between sharp, social criticism and giddy invention; he unfolds his characters like origami, injecting them with a sad wisdom and complex sympathy as the world around them mutates like a waking dream. -Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach

Like Swift or the undeservedly little known American satirist Nathaniel West, Compton makes the reader laugh, grieve and wince uncomfortably, all often in the course of a single page . .. The Outer Harbour is the work of a remarkable, mature writer at the top of his powers, creating fictions that are not only vastly entertaining but also freighted with important messages from the margins. -Vancouver Sun