A mighty wind of motivation has filled Christine Lowther’s sails and pushed her through the stormy seas of writer’s block.
The Tofino poet and author is riding a tremendous wave of celebration this month as she was named one of 38 finalists for the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize on Sept. 7 and then announced among the five finalists on Sept 14.
“It’s basically turned me completely around 180 (degrees) because I was ready to quit writing,” Lowther told the Westerly News. “You just get to a point where you’re living under writer’s block.”
Lowther served as Tofino’s Poet Laureate from 2020-2022 and curated two anthologies highlighting the importance of trees, Worth More Growing and Worth More Standing, during her tenure. She wrote a wildly successful memoir Born Out Of This that was published in 2014 and was a finalist for 2015’s Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. She also holds the impressive claim of being the West Coast’s first-ever Rainy Coast Arts Award in 2014.
Speaking to the Westerly News from the Tofino library where she works last week, Lowther talked about the struggles she’s experienced with writer’s block, noting she had kept a journal from the age of 10 until stopping in 2020.
“Writers are supposed to write everyday. They’re supposed to be completely in that room and I can’t even get the friggin door open most of the time. But, when you’re in that room it’s fantastic. It just feels incredible. You feel like you belong on the planet for a change,” she said. “It’s the worst thing in the world to call yourself a writer and then feel like a fraud all the time because you’re not writing…All I’m doing most of the time is the odd poem and keeping a record of all the wildlife I see around my float-shack and that’s really inspiring; that’s where the poems mostly come from.”
She said when the CBC’s nonfiction contest opened, everything lined up in terms of having the time needed to meet the deadline as well as the makings of her submission Environmental Services.
“I happened to have that piece just sort of languishing, having been rejected from a literary press that I submitted it to a couple years earlier, so I picked it up and looked at it and thought, ‘OK I’m going to update this, add a few things to it and polish the dickens out of it,’” she recalled.
The piece explores Lowther’s memories working in the Tofino Hospital’s housekeeping department, which was called environmental services.
“I had been working there for about 10 years and can’t forget these really fascinating, beautiful experiences with patients and other hospital workers,” she said. “To me, they seemed worth writing down because a writer is made to share. We’re made to want to express what we experience.”
She added tweaks were made to keep identities confidential.
She said seeing her name listed alongside the other writers in the CBC’s top 32 was emotionally uplifting.
“The fact that I’m close to tears right now kind of answers that question,” she said. “It was a total morale boost, the illustrious company. I’m just so thrilled and honoured and humbled.”
She added the most important aspect of having her work recognized is having it read.
“It means that your writing is being read,” she said. “You can put writing out there and never hear about it again, but the fact that you’re actually being read is almost spooky. That’s what it’s all about, I think, it’s about being read.”
With the award recognition now breathing new enthusiasm into her passion for writing, Lowther said she has four ideas for future works.
“A world of motivation has suddenly popped into my life,” she said.
She added though that “getting published is harder than getting struck by lightning.”
“It’s really, really easy to self publish if you’ve got the money. But, I don’t go that route,” she said, adding she will only collaborate with publishers who share her respect for old-growth trees.
She said Caitlin Press published her last three books and “always make sure that they use paper that doesn’t kill old-growth trees.”
Lowther’s love of trees runs deep as a founding member of Tofino Natural Heritage.
Along with lobbying for trees, Lowther works two jobs outside of her writing and hopes readers will be motivated by her example that one does not need to be a full-time writer to share their experiences through writing.
The winner of CBC’s 2023 Nonfiction Prize will be announced on Sept 21 and will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts as well as a two-week writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point.
Lowther said the Clayoquot Writer’s Group, which she’s been a member of since it was struck around 1994, has expressed huge support for Environmental Services chances at winning the grand prize.
“My writer’s group is just clamouring for this win and I don’t want to let them down,” she said.
“I’d be really surprised if I won because obviously the other essays are amazing. I just hope that my group isn’t disappointed if I don’t win because I’ve already won. Just being on the shortlist is my win.”
The other four writers in the running are Princeton B.C.’s Finnian Burnett, Louie Leyson of the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, Barbara Joan Scott from Calgary and Kelly S. Thompson, a Canadian writer now living in Colorado, U.S.A.
Editors note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 32 finalists were announced for the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize on Sept. 7. That has been corrected to 38 finalists.
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