Trailblazers 2021: Rae Spoon's Green Glass Ghosts reflects Vancouver through lens of young trans adult

It's not autobiographical, but the novel is inspired by some real-life events

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      Just over a year ago, writer and singer-songwriter Rae Spoon felt liberated.

      The nonbinary, Calgary-born author (who uses the pronoun "they") and former long-time Vancouver resident felt that they had beaten cervical cancer after undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Victoria.

      So Spoon drove from the B.C. capital to Toronto, planning on launching a fresh start back east, and even found an apartment. That’s when the musician and writer learned that the final medical scan in Victoria had revealed that more surgery was necessary.

      “Because I had so much radiation, the operations that I’ve been having have had complication after complication,” Spoon disclosed in a phone interview with the Straight from Victoria General Hospital. “They’re just working on how to keep certain body systems working.”

      On the upside, Spoon reported receiving “the best medical treatment you can get in Canada”. Plus, the cancer is gone. The downside? Spoon said they may remain in hospital for weeks.

      In the meantime, Spoon was healthy enough to discuss their fourth book, the young-adult novel Green Glass Ghosts, which includes illustrations by Gem Hall.

      The narrator is a queer, guitar-wielding musician who arrives in Vancouver in 2000 at the age of 19. Written in Spoon’s usual highly accessible style, the story of youthful exuberance, excessive drinking, and emotional angst plays out across Vancouver—on the bus system, at the beaches, and in various neighbourhoods.

      “I was unhoused for periods, and so was Gem, but the book is more about youth that are kind of ‘struggling working poor’,” Spoon said.

      The author added that it’s a common misconception to think that being poor is someone’s own fault. “I think that’s a really ignorant way to look at youth.”

      It raises an obvious question: how much of Green Glass Ghosts is made up and how much is borrowed from Spoon’s own life?

      “It’s a bit like my first book [First Spring Grass Fire], which is very close to autobiographical,” Spoon conceded. “But I wanted to write it as fiction. I think remembering things, and the freedom to change things, is really important to me. I don’t like to write memoirs so much. I like to have that space. But it’s definitely very close to my own experiences.”

      It’s astonishing to consider how far the trailblazing Spoon has come from being a poor couch-surfing, sometimes homeless trans youth living on the East Side. In addition to four books, including the Lambda Award finalist collection of short stories that kicked off their career, Spoon has created a dozen albums. In addition, they achieved their dream of touring extensively.

      “I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to be an adult,” Spoon quipped of their early years. “I didn’t know how to live and feel okay. It didn’t make sense to take care of my body. I had goals. I was very driven, artistically.”

      One of Spoon’s writing mentors was 2020 Freedom to Read Award–winning novelist and filmmaker Ivan Coyote; an early musical mentor was East Van klezmer star Geoff Berner, who taught Spoon about comedic timing and the importance of meeting people where they’re at.

      “I remember the two of us showing up at a really far-up northern Norwegian town,” Spoon recalled with a laugh. “People didn’t know what to make of us, the two of us together. It’s an interesting combination: this person’s transgender; this person’s Jewish. And the way we express it is so outward.”

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