This year, the Word on the Street festival returns with a new moniker—Word Vancouver—and a hugely varied schedule that runs at venues around town from September 25 to 29. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which book left deep impressions early on? Which one overhauled the way they see and think about the world, and set them on a path to a literary life?
Here’s what Amber Dawn told us. She’s the Vancouver author of the award-winning novel Sub Rosa and her latest book, How Poetry Saved My Life. Amber Dawn will read from her work at 11:45 a.m. on September 29, in the fest’s Poetry Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
Every life-changing book has two stories: the story within the pages, and the story of the reader who experiences the change. So when I say The Chrysalids, a science-fiction novel by John Wyndham, was the first book that changed my life, I should start by saying that I was 15 years old when I read it and I was attending summer classes for students who had screwed around enough during the academic year that their only option was to attend summer school or be held back a grade. To top it off I was the only girl in the class. I felt like a freak, so a novel that pitted genetic mutants against absolute “normality” spoke to me.
I fell in love with the strong female characters: Sophie, the six-toed mutant; Petra, the child telepath; even tragic Aunt Harriet, who struggles to keep her “blasphemous” baby. Harriet has a heartening line of dialogue that goes “I've done nothing to be ashamed of. I am not ashamed—I am only beaten.” I’ve never forgotten her words of resistance. To this day, I echo Wyndham’s credo of being shameless and a fighter for diverse and transgressive identities.