“Sometimes being a leader means creating space by giving up your space.”
Chelene Knight knew fairly early on that she was a storyteller. “I was a really quiet kid, I wouldn’t talk a lot, but you could pull things out of me with a paper and pen. In school, there was always this fear of getting it wrong or saying things people didn’t want to hear. In my 20s, I threw that out the window and started to break some templates and get creative.”
Once Chelene threw away her need for structure, doors started to open. She uses a variety of formats in her writing to address her own experiences with mixed ethnicity and belonging and often speaks about her desire to build community through authentic storytelling. As a mentor, teacher and entrepreneur, she encourages her students to think about their message before they focus on their structure. “I want them to think about what they want their community to take away from the book, how they will engage with it.”
Growing up, Chelene felt isolated. “I was shy, and my family wasn’t the closest. I didn’t have that close-knit community.” Yet, she found that when she attended SFU’s The Writer’s Studio in 2013, suddenly, she felt safe to explore the stories she wanted to tell. She also realized that there were conversations taking place behind closed doors and decisions being made that had restricted access. “I came into the publishing world really fresh. I had no idea what it meant to publish something. I just knew that the industry was really hard to break into without an MFA or someone leading you behind those closed doors.”
Chelene started volunteering with Room Magazine, and that’s when she got a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening in the industry. “I was let into so many private rooms; I got to hear the conversations taking place amongst writers and publishers. I saw the gaps of what was missing and what was starting to take shape.”
As Room’s former Managing Editor and now owner of her own writer’s boutique studio and author care consulting firm, she has that opportunity. She works with emerging writers to not only help them produce better work but also to better prepare them for the opportunities they’re presented with. “We have this huge responsibility to filter down what we’ve learned. It can be life-changing to bring someone into a community they didn’t know existed. My goal is to help bring people into worlds they’ve not seen before. Organizations like Creative BC help us try new things and connect with communities in different ways. They give us permission to explore.”
For Chelene, one of the most important things we can do in publishing is to take better care of our authors. For so many new authors, they’re asked to travel to new cities and speak on panels in rooms full of people they don’t know. Chelene wants to support emerging authors too, especially those from marginalized communities who might be too afraid to ask questions like she was. That’s why she started Breathing Space Creative, an author care consulting firm where artist care is rooted in building resilience, community, and trust through authentic communication (launches fall 2019).
“I remember sitting in front of an audience feeling like I was going to vomit, and being asked questions I didn’t want to answer. It’s so important to help writers navigate all of that, and prevent situations where they feel uncomfortable or vulnerable. Trust and safety are so important when you’re sharing your story.”