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Former Coquitlam resident wins nonfiction writing prize

Poh’s personal essay retraces his childhood as a son of immigrant parents, and how the smell of thrift stores and second-hand clothes have left lingering memories of bullying and racism.
Johnathon Poh
Johnathon Poh

A former Coquitlam resident is the winner of the 2020 CBC Nonfiction prize for a personal essay he wrote about his childhood memories of shopping at Value Village and how they helped him come to terms with lingering traumas he experienced growing up.

Jonathon Poh, who now lives in Burnaby, receives $6,000 and a two-week residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

Poh, a fashion writer and former editor of Hyperbeast, a men’s fashion and streetwear publication, said shopping for clothing bargains at the thrift store was an important part of his family’s experience as immigrants from Singapore in the early 1990s. But it was the unique smell of second-hand clothing that triggered memories of racism and bullying that he also encountered in his desire to fit in.

“I wanted to explore my own resistance to thrifting and finally face this thing that always bugged me about buying second-hand,” Poh told the CBC.

He said the story distills 23 years of anxieties that helped shape his chosen path in life.

“Writing Value Village showed me that there is a lot I could probably unpack in my own life. I wanted to speak into the silence and call some of those things out.”

The jury of three writers recognized the personal nature of Poh’s journey.

“This painfully entertaining coming-of-age story walks a weighty path through immigration, racism, class and bullying,” they said.

You can read Poh’s story here.