Chelene Knight's Dear Current Occupant wins City of Vancouver Book Award

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      Housing precarity isn't an abstract term to Vancouver poet, editor, and writer Chelene Knight.

      Her memoir, Dear Current Occupant, recounts growing up in 20 different homes in the form of letters to people now living in those dwellings.

      And today, this riveting work that's tinged with optimism was honoured with the City of Vancouver Book Award.

      Knight, programming director of the Growing Room festival, received the award today at the Vancouver Public Library's central branch, along with a $3,000 cash prize.

      The other finalists were Georgia Straight writer Travis Lupick (Fighting for Space), Erín Moure (Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots), and Rachel Rose (Sustenance: Writers From B.C. and Beyond on the Subject of Food).

      In a news release, the city's general manager of arts, culture, and community services, Sandra Singh, noted that Vancouver has a "deep and connected literary community...that brings forth rich and diverse voices".

      "With the Book Award at its 30th year, we continue to champion creativity and connection through stories that encourage reflection in ourselves, our communities, and our shared city," Singh said.

      The first winner of the City of Vancouver Book Award was Paul Yee for Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver.

      Other winners have included Wayson Choy for his landmark novel about growing up in Strathcona, The Jade Peony, and Downtown Eastside poet Bud Osborn for Keys to the Kingdom.

      Knight, managing editor of the feminist journal Room, spent time in a multitude of neighbourhoods as she grew up, including the Downtown Eastside, where her mother still lives.

      In Dear Current Occupant, Knight writes about how much she worried about her mom, particularly when the bathroom door was closed.

      “There are so many stories of struggle and abuse and neglect,” she told Lupick in an interview with the Straight earlier this year. “I think that a lot of young girls think, ‘Well, that’s my path. This is what I’ve seen, this is the way I grew up, and this is the only way to go.’

      “I’m showing folks that ‘Yes, this is kind of rough stuff, but…there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can go through all of these things and still be bloody amazing.’ ”