Chelene Knight, Author, Entrepreneur, and Founder Breathing Space Creative Literary Studio
1) What is your profession and what are the specific dimensions of your work?
I currently work as a writer and as founder of my own literary studio. As a writer I dabble in all genres, from poetry to creative nonfiction. Through my studio I focus on helping creatives build, shape, and sustain healthy creative practices so that they can flourish in the arts. I do this through my new coaching program, Thrive, and The Forever Writers Club which is a membership community.
2) How did you come to this type of career?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but I started my business, Breathing Space Creative out of necessity. I was watching all of my creative friends, colleagues, and acquaintances throw their creative practice out the window because they were unsure of how to prioritize it or, for the most part, they felt as though they couldn’t value it enough to prioritize it. This told me that there was work to be done and that in order to do it I’d have to work backwards and start to build a program and other offerings that focused on the storyteller, not just the story.
Since there aren’t any other organizations (that I know of) which dedicate their entire mandate to helping creatives build sustainable practices, I knew this was something I had to pave the way for. I’ve been doing this work now for five years.
3) Tell us something about your process of study and formal and/or informal education and the nature of your degrees and/or training. When, where, and how did you become educated and qualified to do what you do?
I’m formally trained in creative writing through Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio (in fiction and poetry), but much of my experience has stemmed from running a literary magazine and curating a literary festival in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. It was in these roles where I came in close contact with other creatives and found solidarity in the common barriers that we all faced in such an opaque and often abrasive industry.
4) What were the greatest obstacles that you had to overcome to achieve the success that you now experience? What challenges have your experienced and how have you overcome them? What goals do you have left to accomplish?
My biggest challenge to date is still getting people to listen and understand the importance of author care and helping creatives to sustain their practice. We all come from different backgrounds and have very unique life experiences, beliefs, struggles, and advantages, and yet there is often only one template that we are forced to fit into.
I’ve worked incredibly hard to spread the word about the importance of supporting folks in the arts and I am now starting to see some movement. For example, a few of the Canadian Masters of Fine Arts programs have started to include care into their program building through guest speakers, career prep, and even reevaluating how students are expected to show up. You can listen to a very special podcast episode on this very topic through my own podcast, The Balanced Creative (this will not be available until May FYI). It’s a small shift but huge in the ripples that it will indefinitely create. My goals are ever-evolving. I check in with myself often and I don’t focus on checking goals off the list. Instead, I focus solely on expanding them as time passes, and as new experiences occur. I am incredibly intentional about my goals and how I self-evaluate.
5) Did you have any role models or mentors either in your domains of entrepreneurship, work, research, and creation or outside of them? Who were they and how were they instrumental in shaping you as a person and as a professional?
Many of my writing mentors are people I think about now that I am building my own business. Writers Wayde Compton, Jen Currin, Jen Sookfong Lee, and David Chariandy are all people who I will always cite when it comes to the growth I’ve experienced as a writer or as an entrepreneur. These folks act as forever-pillars on which I can drape my own narratives of success. We all contribute to each other often in ways we least expect.
6) What does your daily work routine look like? Where is your place of business/production and how do you stay focused and productive?
My routine starts and ends with myself. I don’t begin giving to others through meetings, client work, showing etc. until I’ve first given to myself. This is something that took me 40 years to learn (and I had to do some major unlearning first). Each day is different but curated by priority. I also incorporate a lot of movement and stretch into my day. I’ve worked hard to say no with love and to say yes with conditions in order to create the kind of workday I wanted. I must reiterate that this came from being dedicated to the fact that it is a lifelong practice. I committed myself to the work of showing up each day fully nourished. This is not easy for most of us. It is a learned skill. We have to want to get better at these things.
7) What are your guiding principles? What informs how you do your work and how you engage with your co-workers, clients, customers, or consumers?
I believe in meeting myself where I am each day. I start here. I do the same with my colleagues and ask nothing less of my clients. We don’t always know what the world is going to hand us, we can’t control that. But we can control how we show up. I focus a lot on managing energy.
8) What are you working on now and when and how will it be shared?
Right now, I am working on establishing two programs: The Thrive Coaching Program, and an Author Care program for published writers. I am also writing a book on Black self-love and joy which I hope will be available in 2024 through HarperCollins Canada.
9) What are you proudest of in your career?
I am proud that I am still here. I am proud that despite my hardships in life, I haven’t given up even when it was statistically expected that I do so. No one can ever take that growth and it means the world to me.
10) What are you proudest of in your life?
I am proud of myself for always telling my story and showing up as authentically me as I can. And that’s a journey in itself as we learn and unlearn old versions of ourselves.
11) What fiction or non-fiction book should be essential reading?
Everyone should read Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now (1993) by Maya Angelou.
12) What TV show or film should be essential viewing?
This feels too impossible for me to answer.
13) How do you relax and take care of yourself?
I take care of myself by slowing down enough to acknowledge how I am feeling and what it is I actually need in that moment. Then, I make sure I give myself exactly that.
14) What’s next?
For me what’s next is what is now. All the beautiful projects I am working on will continue to be worked on without pressure to complete them. This is the way I’ve chosen to create more space for myself to do my best work.
Chelene Knight is the author of the Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant,
winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and long-listed for the George Ryga Award for
Social Awareness in Literature. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American
literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and the Toronto Star. Her work is
anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black
Writers Matter, winner of the 2020 Saskatchewan Book Award. Her poem, “Welwitschia” won
the 2020 CV2 Editor’s Choice award. She was shortlisted for PRISM’s 2021 short forms contest.
Chelene’s novel is forthcoming with Book*hug Press in 2022 and her book on Black self-love
and joy is forthcoming with HarperCollins Canada in 2023.
Knight was the previous managing editor at Room magazine, and the previous festival director
for the Growing Room Festival in Vancouver. She has also worked as a professor of poetry at
the University of Toronto. Chelene is now founder of her own literary studio, Breathing Space
Creative through which she’s launched The Forever Writers Club, a membership for writers
focused on creative sustainability, the Thrive Coaching Program, and the Rise Author Care