Carleigh Baker

Writing a New Life: Carleigh Baker Creates a New Story For Herself in Creative Writing

“It's like, a tinge of glamour with just hours of sitting around eating cold pizza, crying. It's like tissue and a tinge of glamour here and there. But it turns out that it's what I love for sure.” That’s who Carleigh Baker describes her career as a writer and creative writing teacher. Baker is of Cree, Métis and mixed European descent and lives in Vancouver. 

While she is planning to write a novel, she mostly writes short fiction and articles about conservationism and Indigenous land sovereignty. Recently, she co edited an anthology called Carving Space with Jordan Abel and Madeleine Reddon, marking the five year anniversary of the Indigenous Voices Awards. 

Her career as a writer came as she was recovering from an unhappy marriage and a drug addiction. “ I think writing was one of those things that I was always doing. But for some reason, it took me a long time to realize that I could do it as a career,” she recalls. “I had to go slowly, and be gentle with myself and not expect to just be sort of a brilliant writer right out of the gate. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of time,” she remembers. 

Baker studied writing at Douglas College because it was so close there was no excuse not to go. Poetry was where she thought she would land but fiction captivated her. She went onto a one year certificate program at the Writers Studio at Simon Fraser University. Working with a mentor as part of a group of ten students and coming back a year later as a teaching assistant, she built up her writing practice and her skills. 

After that experience, she decided to continue on for a master's degree in creative writing at UBC so that she could teach, building on her undergraduate degree in theatre. Her parents are retired teachers, she loved the idea of helping emerging writers and she knew making a living solely off of writing was rare. She started connecting with emerging Indigenous writers and took classes in Indigenous studies. 

Her advice for Indigenous students thinking of leaving their home community for education is to find some kind of community in their new location. “The good news is there are many places to find community at school,” she beams. She found hers through the student-run Indigenous radio program “Unceded Airwaves” and by starting a weekly Indigenous literature reading group. They read together in a circle, outloud or not, and then discuss what was happening in their school or personal lives. 

While many of the activities she undertook had more extroverted dimensions, there are often opportunities for introverts to connect and work together quietly and Baker encourages students to seek out those opportunities to find connection in more conducive ways.

"We can't count on a colonial institution to take care of us, to take care of our mental health."

One of the biggest obstacles Baker faced was believing in herself. Beyond the individual work she’s done to try and overcome it, her family and friends have provided support and guidance, too. Giving back to communities she’s part of has created a feedback loop to refill her cup when it felt like she had nothing left to give.

If she could give her younger self advice it would be to treasure her youthful energy while it lasted. Otherwise, she would say, “All those things, the weird and awkward things about you, are going to make you an interesting person and a great writer later on in life. All those things that seem so ‘I'll never fit in. I just will always be sort of strange-o out there in the world’ those make for great stories later on.”

Illustration by Shaikara David

In the early stages of her writing career, she thought operating in chaos while depleted would make her more creative but what ended up being the game changer was working on her mental health. Positive self-talk has been something that seemed silly at first but has made a big difference for her.  

"There will always be plenty of chaos around us. There's no gonna be no shortage of that. But it doesn't have to be inside us. It's not necessary."

When she needs inspiration, Baker likes to go walking. She wanted to be inspired by running but she hates it and has resigned herself to being a walker, a practice where she often gets her best ideas. Another place she finds inspiration is watching youtube videos, finding connection to Generation Z, representing many of her students, and also watching people playing video games like The Sims or learning about writing craft techniques from passionate creators.

"I'm super stoked with what the upcoming generations are talking about and doing and the way that they're looking at the world and looking at politics but also just creative things.

Thinking about how how some people look down on how youth today use technology, Baker says, “I used to just play in the backyard all day when I was a kid and if I could wish that for the upcoming generation, it would be that folks are still getting an opportunity to play in in their backyards when they can, but the way that the upcoming generations use technology is amazing and absolutely educational and it's super exciting.”

With a tinge of glamour, and all the cold pizza and crying into tissues, Carleigh Baker rewrote her life after an unhappy marriage and drug addiction. She created a new chapter she loved doing something she already enjoyed but never dreamed could be a career. Committing words to the page and her talents to emerging writers, she’s helping others write their own stories as she creates her own.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    April 15, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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