First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 86

ART+LIT Métis Author & Poet CARLEIGH BAKER By Matthew Ryan Smith, PhD C ARLEIGH BAKER is a Métis and Icelandic writer based in Vancouver. In 2016 Baker published her first poetry chapbook, The Closest We’ll Get to Neon. A year later, Anvil Press published her short-story collection, Bad Endings, which garnered national and interna- tional acclaim—the book was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and won the 2017 City of Vancouver Book Award. As a result of these accom- plishments, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) named Baker one of their “Writers to Watch” in 2017. The same year, Baker was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) research scholarship, a federally funded, post-secondary research program. Although Baker’s central focus is writing, she is also an Indigenous Collective member with Unceded Airwaves, a weekly radio show on CiTR (101.9 FM) produced by the University of British Columbia and aired on Wednesday afternoons. In 2012 Baker won subTerrain Magazine’s Lush Triumphant Award for short fiction. Her poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction work has appeared in the Journey Prize Anthology, PRISM International, Joyland, and This Magazine. Furthermore, her book reviews and critical writing have appeared in publica- tions including the Globe and Mail, the Malahat Review, the Goose, and EVENT. Baker also contributed to the anthology In This Together: Fifteen True Stories of Real Reconciliation. MRS: How did you become interested in writing and poetry? Perhaps you can plot this journey for our readers. CB: I’ve been interested in writing for a long time—since I was a kid—but I didn’t take it seriously until about ten years ago. My friends and family knew I was a writer at heart; I filled journals with stories and monologues (and a lot of bad poetry) instead of whatever teenage girls should write in their journals. They were always encouraging me to go for it. But I assumed it would be impossible to make a living as a writer. So instead I worked a bunch of terrible jobs I hated, which turned out to be useful material for my stories. So it wasn’t all bad. When I finally started writing in earnest, I was not in great shape—I was recovering from drug addiction and in an unhappy marriage. I was pretty desperate to make some changes, and when the haze of recovery started to dissipate into health, I was finally in the right state of mind to think about what I should do with my life. So I asked myself what I would do for a living if I could do anything, and it was clear that writing had always been the answer. I guess having been down in a hole was mentally freeing in a way, although 84 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM I don’t recommend it. This sounds like some kind of cheesy feel-good movie of the week, but it’s actually what happened! I started taking some writing courses at the community college because it was within walking distance, and I didn’t want any excuses for not going. The profs were very generous and encouraging. Of course I wasn’t good at it right away, but I was so excited about learning how to get better. Also, I hadn’t had much of a sense of self, or of my own voice before then, and storytelling gave me both of those things. A lot of the stories I started then are in Bad Endings, and a lot of them are inspired by real life. After leaving my marriage, I just kept plugging away. Working minimum- wage jobs didn’t seem so bad when I was funding my writing time. I took a one-year course at the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and finished Bad Endings. In the meantime I worked as a bookseller and picked up freelance jobs