Giller win gets A+

Former St. Pius student gets top marks from teacher

Laura Czekaj, The Ottawa Sun
November 20, 2006

More than a decade after graduation, Vincent Lam is still getting top marks from his St. Pius X Catholic High School teacher.

Before "all of this hoopla" -- as Lam calls it -- that has surrounded his first novel, the Giller Prize-winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, Lam sent an advance copy of the novel to his former English teacher, Stephen Durnin, who continues to teach at St. Pius X.

"I was absolutely stunned and when I read that book I thought 'Wow, this man is a writer,'" said Durnin. "It was very impressive and I couldn't believe this was Vincent's first book."

The teacher gave his former student an A+ on the book, which has lived up to the standards set by the high-achieving adolescent Lam.

Now living in Toronto, Lam, 32, spent much of this formative years living in Ottawa with his parents and winding his way through the local separate school system with stints at Our Lady of Good Counsel, which is now closed, St. Rita, Frank Ryan Catholic and St. Pius X.

"I had a lot of great role models at St. Pius X and I had teachers who, to this day ... inspired the way I learn and the way that I think," says Lam.

As a parent of a toddler son, Lam said he has gained a greater appreciation for the importance of teaching children ways to learn.


"He was always a good writer and was always an articulate student," said Durnin.

"He was just one of those people that when you got an assignment from Vincent you knew it was 200% and it just sort of rose above everybody elses."

Lam specifically credits Durnin and former teacher Terry Bain for their guidance, but said that in no way is that a comprehensive list of the many teachers at St. Pius X who were role models in his life.

"He (Durnin) sent me a lovely note with some of his marking sheets from 20 years ago," Lam said chuckling. "I got a very good mark in a short story assignment."

Durnin, in turn, praised Lam's writing skills saying he just happened to be in his life at the right time.

"On a personal note, it's the most rewarding thing I can think of," he said. "When I think of my career as a teacher these 30-some years, there is no greater reward than receiving accolades from somebody like Vincent Lam. I may as well have won the Giller Prize myself, I feel that good."

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