Born the second of July 1971 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Evelyn Lau has always known she wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, the path to her writing career was strewn with many obstacles. As the oldest daughter of ambitious Chinese immigrants, she was expected to follow the wishes of her parents and become either a doctor or a lawyer. Her writing, which she perceived to be her sole talent, was considered by her parents to be a nuisance and a distraction from her studies and, accordingly, was forbidden at home. Despite her parents' efforts, Lau wrote in secret and managed to publish some poems and short stories at the age of twelve. Constantly pressured to excel at school and incessantly forced to study, Lau ran away from her repressive parents early in 1986. With only ten dollars in her pocket, the fourteen year old was soon forced to turn to prostitution to support herself. During her life on the streets, Lau was raped, interned in a psychiatric ward, tried twice to commit suicide, became bulimic, and turned to drugs; through it all, Lau kept a diary, “the one thread by which [she] could keep alive” (Condé 106). A condensed form of this journal was published in 1989 under the title of Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid. The success of her autobiography—it stayed on the Canadian best-seller list for more than thirty weeks—propelled Lau out of the streets and social institutions.
Merely a year after the publication of Runaway, Lau published her first volume of poetry, You Are Not Who You Claim (1990), for which she was awarded the Air Canada/Canadian Author Association's Award for Most Promising Writing Under 30 and the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award for a work that sustained the tradition of a people's literature in Canada and