It’s difficult to describe Vancouver-based cultural “badass” Amber Dawn in a single sentence–poet, editor, teacher, mentor, filmmaker, performance artist, and now award-winning writer, it might actually be easier to list all of the things she isn’t. She is the author of Sub Rosa (which received a Lambda Award in 2011), How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir (which won the Vancouver Book Award in 2013), and most recently, Where the words end and my body begins, a debut poetry collection which continues to draw outstanding reviews. One thing is certain: Amber Dawn is a literary force to be reckoned with.
SAD Mag was lucky enough to chat with Dawn about her teenage years to celebrate the upcoming launch our High School edition. Turns out, Teenage Dawn was every bit as cool as Adult Dawn, even if she didn’t know it yet.
Tell me what you were like in high school: would Teenage You get along with the person you are today?
I don’t think I’ve changed that much since high school. Back then I valued humility and kindness, and yet I was a badass who liked to kick holes in walls, still do. I coloured my hair red then, still do. I listened to Bongwater and Siouxsie and the Banshees then, still do.
Any strange high school hobbies?
Shoplifting. Food mostly, I was hungry. I became so good at stealing food, I’d steel foot-long submarine sandwiches for other poor students short on lunch money. For a while, It became a daily “thing” to see if I could nab a couple of foot-longs and a couple cans of 7 Up from the cafeteria.
What did you think you would become after graduation? Were your sights already set on becoming an (award-winning) author? Or did that come to you later?
Many kids leave the small community I’m from after high school. Most go to Toronto. But I heard that Vancouver was like Canadian San Francisco (and Toronto like New York). I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do with my life after graduation so I came to Vancouver before my 18th birthday to be a “Canadian San Franciscan queer hippy punk.”
What was your most mortifying teenage moment? If you could send Teenage You a letter (or maybe an instant message) about it from the future, what would it say?
I was bullied a lot. I could draw a great number of mortifying memories of surviving bullying. But all these years later, what truly darkens my memory are all the times I was a bystander to witnessing other kids get bullied. It took me a long time to learn about strength in numbers organizing. I wish I could have banded proudly together with all the other outcasts back then. This is what I would tell Teenage Me: build your army of misfits now. Love each other. Keep each other safe. And try smashing the system while you’re at it.
Find out more about Amber Dawn on her website. Stay tuned for more High School Q&As on sadmag.ca.