WITH, Cathleen (1967- )

Author Tags: Alcohol, Downtown Eastside, Fiction

As a creative writing graduate from UBC, Cathleen With first related the harrowing experiences of runaways and addicts in Skids (Arsenal Pulp $19.95), a collection of short stories based on her experiences trying to get clean from drugs in recovery houses among street youths, mainly in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Cathleen With then won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for her first novel, Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison (Penguin, 2009), the story of fifteen-year-old Christa in Canada's far north as she copes with sexual abuse, drunkenness and failed motherhood. It dramatically evokes the struggles of teens struggling to adapt to a clash of cultures in the outback of Canada.

Born in 1967, With acknowledges the help of many writers and teachers, including Billeh Nickerson, Lorna Jackson, Bill Gaston, Jack Hodgins, Keith Maillard, Alison Acheson, Steve Galloway and Rona Murray, as well as several women who assisted her in her own recovery. When she was 21, she entered Great Northern Way detox for alcohol and drug abuse. “In the last fifteen years,” she says, “I have had my ups and downs, but I always had the support of family and friends. I also had a good childhood, which I think helped a lot to centre me.” Skids has been described as a homage to the kids Cathleen With befriended while on the skids, many of whom are now gone. Partial proceeds will go to assist Covenant House Vancouver.

“One of my roommates here I detox, she’s good at puking. Ruby, her name is, she pukes all the time, even when she hasn’t had anything to eat. We have these long lines of beds, in five wings, like flower petals, so everyone can see everyone. She comes out of the can, wakes me up, and says, I just puked up lunch. Then I nod and go back to putting myself into sleep-hypnosis and she goes downstairs to use the exercise bike.”


Skids (Arsenal Pulp $19.95)

Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison (Penguin, 2009)

[BCBW 2010]

Nominated for Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison
BC Book Prizes (2010)

from BC Book Prizes catalogue
Against the stark and haunting landscape of Canada’s Far North, fifteen-year-old Trista chronicles the events of her life from her room in the Polar Girls’ Prison. Caught in the decline of sexual abuse, drunkenness, and failed motherhood, Trista tries to make sense of her past, especially the events that led her to jail. Within the grim confines of the prison there are acts of kindness on the part of the staff and Trista’s fellow detainees, there is the thrill of Trista’s illicit romance, the memories of her mother, her best friend, and times spent with the Snow Nanuks, elder women who live according to Inuit tradition. The young woman’s stream-of-consciousness narration, through memories of the past and visions of the future, takes the reader far beyond the prison’s walls. Cathleen With, author of the story collection Skids, has worked as a teacher in Inuvik and Seoul. She lives in Vancouver.