Most Canadians who keep on top of current events are familiar with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. From the court battles over safe injection sites to the international media that focused on the impoverished neighbourhood's juxtaposition to the glitzy 2010 Olympic Games, the area known as "Canada's poorest postal code" has a reputation as a place people want to avoid.
But not for Michael Christie. He's a former pro-skateboarder who went on to study psychology at Simon Fraser University before working in an emergency shelter in the Downtown Eastside. Christie has drawn from his experiences of assisting those with mental illness, addictions and joblessness, to write a debut short story collection entitled The Beggar's Garden. The book has received critical praise and has been included on the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist and is a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
In this special CBC video, Christie reads excerpts from his book and discusses the challenges that arise from writing about marginalized groups with honesty and authenticity.
"It's very easy to judge from the outside that someone is responsible for where they are," he said. "But to truly understand what it took for them to get there and the choices that they've made and the difficulties that they've had ... it's very arrogant to think that you know why someone is living on the street."
"I think that is partially the power of fiction is that it can at least shed a little bit of light into how people end up the way they do."