Grad reflects on life of writing and community building

Photo by Dan Toulgoet

If life had turned out differently, Candie Tanaka would be an accountant today. After high school, instead of chasing their childhood dream to become a writer, Candie received an accounting diploma. “In most Asian families,” laughs Candie, “writing isn’t a real career.”

Luckily for the arts community, the Writer’s Studio (TWS) graduate found their way back to their creative side. They became not only a writer but also a visual artist, community builder, social entrepreneur and library professional. With their first book—a young adult novel entitled Baby Drag Queen—about to be released by Orca Books, Candie can now add “published author” to their résumé.

Times were different back in 2013, says Candie, when they graduated from TWS. As a queer, trans writer of Asian descent, Candie recalls struggling at first to find a publisher interested in their work.

But times change, and as believers in karma would note, what you put out in the world has a way of coming back to you. And the energy Candie has poured into supporting other writers and artists has been plentiful.

As the Vancouver Public Library’s program coordinator, Candie has organized numerous public events and developed connections throughout the city. They’ve also devoted considerable time and their own funds to creating a wide range of personal projects—including a reading series for marginalized writers and an inclusive maker space for local artists and writers.

“In life, it’s important not to think about what you’re going to get from things,” they explain, “When you connect the community, there should be no expectation of getting anything back.” Giving a struggling writer an opportunity to read in public? That’s reward enough for Candie.

Candie has also become one of TWS’s most visible and active community members, organizing and hosting semi-monthly writing sprints and chats on Twitter.

“We invited Candie to lead our social media community because they were already doing amazing work in the Vancouver arts and writing scene,” says TWS program director Andrew Chesham. “No one is better suited, and we’re so grateful for the caring way Candie supports and nurtures our community.”

Contributing tirelessly to the world of books and writing is now bringing tangible rewards Candie’s way. Through connections they made in their volunteer work, Candie was able to pitch ideas to Orca Books—leading to their first book contract. In 2022, Candie had an essay published in Resonance: Essays on the Craft and Life of Writing (Anvil Press, 2022), a textbook used in TWS. The same year, Guernica Editions chose three of Candie’s stories for the flash-fiction anthology This Will Only Take a Minute.

Sometimes, says Candie, things come together when you least expect it. Looking back, Candie recalls that even joining TWS was an unexpected opportunity. “The Writer’s Studio was a dream I had for a long time, but I didn’t even get in when I first applied,” they admit.

When a last-minute spot opened, Candie recognized the universe was sending them a sign. Despite the challenge of balancing evening classes and writing time with their library work, Candie seized the chance and made the most of their year in the program.

“If you’re disciplined and motivated, it’s not an issue,” they explain. “This was something I really wanted to do, and I would have done it no matter what.”

A decade later, Candie remains grateful for the support and encouragement they received at TWS, for the lasting friendships they made, and for the opportunities that followed, including a highly coveted residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Candie says it’s all helped them grow surer of themselves and their writing over the years.

“You just have to be patient, have confidence and never give up,” notes Candie. “When you’re a creator, an artist, you have to keep doing what you want to do. When you’re on the right path, you’ll see the signs.”

By Kim Mah