We are so thrilled to have Vancouver-based author and poet Chelene Knight as our guest on The Debutante Ball this week!! Chelene has been published in various Canadian and American literary magazines, and her work is widely anthologized. Chelene is currently the managing editor at Room magazine, and the 2018 Programming Director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. Chelene has been a judge for many writing contests and literary prizes such as the BC Book Prizes. Braided Skin, her first book (poetry) (Mother Tongue Publishing, March 2015), has given birth to numerous writing projects including her second book, a memoir, Dear Current Occupant (BookThug, 2018), Chelene is currently working on a novel set in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley. Junie is forthcoming with BookThug in 2020.
Her latest book Dear Current Occupant is a memoir inspired by a collection of letters she wrote to the current occupants of the homes she grew up in. The book recounts her childhood in 1980s and 1990s Vancouver and examines the ideas of race, identity, belonging, and home. Dear Current Occupant was recently named the winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award.
DEAR CURRENT OCCUPANT: Using a variety of forms, Knight reflects on her childhood through a series of letters addressed to all of the current occupants now living in the twenty different houses she moved in and out of with her mother and brother. From blurry non-chronological memories of trying to fit in with her own family as the only mixed East Indian/Black child, to crystal clear recollections of parental drug use, Knight draws a vivid portrait of memory that still longs for a place and a home. Peering through windows and doors into intimate, remembered spaces now occupied by strangers, Knight writes to them in order to deconstruct her own past. From the rubble of memory she then builds a real place in order to bring herself back home.
Devi: Which talent do you wish you had?
Chelene: I have always dreamt of being a singer or dance choreographer. Neither of those things happened, but I also think that I was meant to write books, share stories, teach, and break templates.
Devi: Have you ever met someone you idolized? What was it like?
Chelene: This year I had the chance to interview Dionne Brand in person and I felt sick for two days before hand because I was so nervous. So many thoughts raced through my mind. What if my questions were too generic? What if she doesn’t show up? What if my voice recorder doesn’t work? What if she asks me something and I don’t have an answer? What if she looks bored? I tell you, it was so rough leading up to it, but after it was over I realized it was a lovely conversation and that she’s a human being just like the rest of us.
Devi: The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
Chelene: When I published my first book, I had no idea what the publishing process was like or what was involved. There’s back and forth substantive editing, copy editing, proofreading, media interviews, events, panels, launches… so many non-writers think you just write a book and that’s it! It magically appears on the shelf. Many people idealize the life of a writer, but really it’s a lot of hard work! Work that I enjoy immensely, but hard work nonetheless.
Devi: Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
The Best Canadian Nonfiction of 2018 —CBC Books
2018 Books of the Year: Nonfiction —49th Shelf
Also, LitHub also ran an excerpt on the site recently.
Praise for Dear Current Occupant:
“Knight is a poet at heart, somewhat disinclined to follow the dusty rules of prose writing, and we are all richer for it. This memoir is built from shards of pure resilience, expertly pieced together into a compelling—and at times devastating—chronicle of youth, family, and sense of place. From Clark Drive to Commercial and Broadway, Dear Current Occupantis a love song to East Vancouver—it is a map of scars, and as everyone knows, scars make for good storytelling.” —Carleigh Baker, author of Bad Endings, finalist for the 2018 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
“Dear Current Occupant is an astonishing book: haunting, intimate, and deeply rendered. A lyrical memoir set against the backdrop of Vancouver’s gritty East Side, it triumphantly melds together prose, poetry, letters and imagery, to illuminate the pain of un-belonging, the search for a home, and the power of words to heal and transform us. It is a book that boldly takes risks, unafraid and brimming with raw energy, tenderness, and heartbreaking beauty. Chelene Knight emerges as a fierce new voice in Canadian literature, deserving of our full attention.” —Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place on Earth
“I want to thank Chelene Knight for not forcing her memoir into a point “a” to b” narrative. Too often complex and stigmatized stories are dumbed-down, but Knight elevates! She uplifts both her experiences and the poetic prose and hybrid forms used to share these experiences. Dear Current Occupant will surely become a nuanced creative touchstone that shows us how our stories of survival can and should be told.” —Amber Dawn, author of Sub Rosa and How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir.
Watch the book trailer for Dear Current Occupant.