B.C. writer Jonathan Poh wins 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize
"What does putting on the costume of a new country mean? Wanting to fit in is a common need for adolescents. It's a way to be accepted. It's a way to be cool. But for many kids, it's a form of camouflage in a hostile environment. This painfully entertaining coming-of-age story walks a weighty path through immigration, racism, class and bullying. Value Village is a beautifully written story told with wisdom, heart and, always, a gently biting humour," the jury said in a statement.
The jury was composed of writers Yasuko Thanh, Bill Gaston and Robyn Doolittle.
Poh's story was selected from more than 1700 English-language submissions received from across the country.
In Value Village, Poh explores how unprocessed trauma is stored in the body — in this case, through the sense of smell — and how it can trigger intense memories.
"Writing Value Village showed me that there is a lot I could probably unpack in my own life. I've lived and worked in several countries and the common thread has always been this interest in streetwear and sneakers. That's how I started my career," Poh told CBC Books in an interview.
"Value Village goes back to the origins of that, and this idea that what I wore could be a kind of armour. I experienced a lot of racism when I was growing up and I found that by choosing the right clothes or the right shoes, I could fit in. Over time, it changed into a form of self-expression."
"I wasn't confident about entering the competition so I procrastinated, wavered between entering and not entering. But in the end, I knew this was a story I needed to push myself to tell," Poh said.
"I was fortunate enough to still have time before the deadline and I spent the next four days writing and rewriting several drafts in a frenzy, one of which became Value Village. In a strange and difficult year, my first submission to the CBC Nonfiction Prize is an accomplishment I will cherish forever."
I knew this was a story I needed to push myself to tell.- Jonathan Poh
The four remaining finalists for the CBC Nonfiction Prize are Joseph Kakwinokanasum of White Rock, B.C. for Ray Says, Amy MacRae of Vancouver for Take a Photo Before I Leave You, Rachael Preston of Nanaimo, B.C. for The Story Teller and Leona Theis of Saskatoon for Sturnella Neglecta (Overlooked Little Starling). They will reach receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.