Former Gaibaldi Secondary student, Jonathan Poh, is the winner of the 2020 CBC Nonfiction prize. (Photo special to THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge grad wins national literary prize

Jonathan Poh won top honours, taking home the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize

A Garibaldi Secondary grad has been inspired to continue writing about human connections after winning a national CBC literary award.

Jonathan Poh is still pinching himself after finding out he won the 2020 CBC Nonfiction prize for his story, Value Village.

“It feels surreal,” said the writer, who now lives in Burnaby.

“This was my first time submitting to a literary competition, so my expectations weren’t high,” noted Poh, who only had four days to write his story after finding out about the competition late.

“I certainly didn’t expect to make the finals, let alone win the grand prize on my first try.”

As the grand prize winner, Poh received $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, which will be going towards buying him more time to keep writing.

READ MORE: Former Maple Ridge resident is a finalist for 2020 CBC nonfiction prize

“In other words: bills,” joked Poh.

In addition to the money he also received a two-week writing residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which he is looking forward to when the centre reopens again after the COVID-19 pandemic, sometime in the new year.

His winning submission has also been published on CBC Books.

In Value Village, Poh examines his personal aversion to the smell of thrift stores.

RELATED: Writing Home from Maple Ridge inspires a world of stories

On the road to self discovery, Poh realized it was due to an incident in elementary school where students made fun of him for wearing second hand clothing. His family would often shop at second-hand stores to save money after they moved to Maple Ridge from Singapore in 1992.

However, since his story has been published, many readers have reached out to Poh to share their own similar childhood experiences.

Value Village is such an intensely personal and singular story that I wasn’t sure it would resonate with anyone, but I realize now that I was wrong,” said Poh.

“Having my work out in public has really shown me how connected we all are as human beings,” he added.

Winning the award has been a source of encouragement and validation for Poh.

“As an artist and as a person, I feel like I’ve been seen and heard without having to compromise. It’s like this huge acknowledgement that I exist, that my voice and my story matter, and there’s room for me as a writer in Canada,” said Poh.

The win has inspired Poh to keep writing to help people feel less alone.

“I would like to inspire others to be kinder to themselves, kinder to each other, and kinder to our planet.”

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