Dear Current Occupant is a creative nonfiction memoir about home and belonging set in the 80s and 90s of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Using a variety of forms including letters, essays and poems, 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 and fragmented 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.
“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 Occupant is 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
Read an excerpt from Dear Current Occupant: ‘Teachers are Gatekeepers’ —Toronto Star
“One of the great things about the current era of Can Lit is how many new voices we’re getting to hear. How many stories are finally getting told. We are all better off for it. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to miss knowing Knight, one of the storytellers we need most right now.” —Tara Henley, Toronto Star
“Knight subtly reinforces the fact that home is more than just a roof overhead: it is feeling that you belong to the wider society, as well as to a personal matrix, and that you know where you are from. Dear Current Occupant gives voice to the desire for home in all of us.” —Jennifer Chutter, BC Bookworld
“Knight weaves poetry, essays, letters, and photographs together to create a work that is halting and profoundly moving. Knight’s fragmented approach succeeds in exploring the truths of her past more than any conventional, linear method could.” —Mormei Zanke, Prism International
Chelene Knight’s Dear Current Occupant remembers the Downtown Eastside through the eyes of a child —The Georgia Straight
The Chat With Chelene Knight —Trevor Corkum, 49th Shelf
VIDA Reviews! Interview with Chelene Knight on Dear Current Occupant —VIDA
“What makes this book so engaging is in knowing that Knight writes from a perspective built from the inside, and not from the outside, peering in; and knowing that she managed to pull herself out, and not only survive, but thrive. And, throughout the events described in her memoir, this is a book that works, just as much, to honour the strength of her mother.” —rob mclennan’s blog
“Using poetry, essay, flash nonfiction, and photography, Knight weaves what she refers to as a “patchwork” story of her life, told through the lens of different places she’s called “home” throughout her life. The effect is absolutely dazzling.” —Alicia Elliott, This Magazine
“With this book, Chelene Knight has created something more than a fort, more than a house. She’s strategic. She breaks the rules in all the right ways and explodes the house from the inside out.” —Cara Lang, subTerrain
10 Canadian memoirs to check out this summer —CBC Books
8 Books that Need to Be in Every Classroom in Canada —49th Shelf
Chelene Knight was born in Vancouver, and is currently the Managing Editor of Room Magazine. A graduate of The Writers’ Studio at SFU, Chelene has been published in various Canadian and American literary magazines. Her debut book, Braided Skin, was published in 2015. Dear Current Occupant is her second book. Chelene is also working on a historical novel set in the 1930s and 40s in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley.
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