gritLIT 2015: The good, the great, and the even better

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

I've had a lot of incredible opportunities as a committee member of gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival, but sitting in Richard Wagamese's literary salon (and introducing him) is now firmly planted at the top of that list. The intimate crowd was captivated from the second he started sharing his experiences, among them having money for food but not shelter and devouring the wealth of material at the St. Catherines library. 

"Every book I ever opened had a thousand doorways in it," he said. 

The intimacy of a literary festival, especially one that is small in comparison to the International Festival of Authors and others, presents opportunities for book lovers and aspiring writers to share experiences with favourite authors that happen off the page. Richard's workshop (He hugged me, which in my mind gives me permission to call him Richard from now on) was just one highlight in a weekend full of memorable encounters with authors and books at gritLIT, which ran from April 16-19 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

As always, gritLIT caused my to-read list to swell and my book budget to shrink thanks to our resident booksellers Bryan Prince, Booksellers. Here are just a few of the many highlights of gritLIT 2015. Regretably I missed Day One of the festival becuase it conflicted with YWCA Hamilton's Women of Distinction gala, but from what I've heard, Heather O'Neill is one of the most endearing humans who has ever graced the earth, and one day I will hear her read for myself.

gritLIT: Day Two

When my better half arrived at the hospitality suite where authors gather after their readings, I cornered him, and pointed out Kathleen Winter. "That's Kathleen Winter!" I said excitedly, and though he's not much of a literary type he immediately recognized her name. I had read him passage after passage in the weeks that I was reading Annabel. It's still a book that haunts me. One of Kathleen Winter's latest books (she has two) is Boundless, a memoir about her time in the North. 

Kathleen Winter was only one of the incredible readers from gritLIT Day Two. Among the others was James Raffan, who later in the weekend made us paint and burn things in a workshop (more on that later!), Tasneem Jamal, Krista Foss, and Richard Wagamese. 

Recent winner of the Mayor's Poetry Challenge, John Terpstra, took on hosting duty.

gritLIT Day Three

gritLIT Day Three began (for me) with Richard Wagamese's literary salon at the Sheraton Hotel, but at the same time across the street at the AGH, a sold-out crowd of festival-goers were chatting with Alison Pick about character development.

James Raffan's Circling the Midnight Sun relied heavily on his own travel journals. His journaling workshop was as hands-on as hands-on gets. Instead of bringing paint, he asked us to make our own with the help of egg whites and the remnants of burned paper. My "art" may look like it was done by a toddler, but as someone who hasn't picked up a paintbrush (unless you count to paint a room) in the better part of two decades, this workshop forced me outside of my comfort zone, and I loved that. 

Full disclosure, you don't eat a lot when you're helping to organize a festival, and you ignore your family, so I snuck out during the afternoon of Day Three to meet my dad at the Hamilton Food and Drink Show. I came back to wonderful readings by Claire Cameron, Andrew Pyper, and Russell Wangersky. You might expect a reading called Monsters: Humans and Otherwise would be dark and disturbing, but the banter between these three writers was anything but, bordering on hilarious for the most part. 

gritLIT Day Four

gritLIT Day Four began for me with a workshop by Alison Wearing, author of Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, on performing one's art. Authors today aren't asked only to deliver publishable material that is highly engaging. They're also expected to present their work in a highly engaging fashion, which isn't easy for the introverts among us.

As arts organizers know, the final day of a festival can be a blur, so after a day of readings, which included authors Christine Fischer Guy, Stephen Marche, Ian Hamilton, and David Rotenberg, giving the reins to Steel City Stories for a partner closing event was the best way to give the gritLIT team a break and enjoy our turn as audience members. 

"I was taught to regard the story as a living thing," said Richard Wagamese in his literary salon. Steel City Stories, and the many other storytellers who joined us at gritLIT 2015, proved this to be true.

To learn more about gritLIT, find us at Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop about year-round programming and writing workshops. 

Christine Fischer-Guy and Stephen Marche

Masters of Mystery Ian Hamilton and David Rotenberg

Interview: Ariel Gordon

Thursday, 30 April 2015
You know who needs a break from time to time? Our tireless independent booksellers. We're lucky to have a number of them in Hamilton. They're the ones who have grown used to answering our questions: "I'm looking for a book. It's blue, I think. I read about it in a magazine. Which magazine? Oh, I can't remember." They're at the front lines of Hamilton's literary scene making sure we all get the books we want without having to line-up at Chapters. 

In a collaborative effort between authors and independent bookstores, booksellers will get a bit of a break on Saturday as 600 authors volunteer as guest booksellers at 120 bookstores across Canada for Authors For Indies. 

In Hamilton, stop by Bryan Prince, Bookseller (Schedule here) to meet authors Sally Cooper, Krista Foss, David Collier, Aimee Reid, Ross Pennie, Gillian Chan, John Lawrence Reynolds, Bonnie Lendrum, Jill Downie, Joanne Levy. Or visit Epic Books on Locke Street, which is hosting authors Amanda Leduc, Ariel Gordon, Gary Barwin, Gisela Sherman, Sally Cooper, and Sylvia McNicoll (Schedule here). 

I had the chance to chat with participating author Ariel Gordon, who will also be reading at Lit Live on Sunday night.

Not My Typewriter: You're visiting Hamilton this weekend. Can you tell us a little bit about what's bringing you here and what you're looking forward to?

Ariel Gordon: First, I’ll be taking a shift at Epic Books on May 2 from 1-3 pm for Authors for Indies day, hand-selling books by my favourite Winnipeg writers: Robert Kroetsch, Alison Calder, and Roewan Crowe. They all try to write to/against the idea of ‘the prairies,’ so I thought you southern Ontario folk might find that interesting. Or, at least, a break from the usual idea about literature from western Canada.

And then I’m going to settle in with a cup of tea and watch Gary Barwin write a story with assistance from visiting customers. I might heckle him every now and then, just for fun …

Next, I’m going to be reading with a pile of other great writers — Andrew Forbes, Valerie Nielsen, Patrick Friesen, and Amber McMillan as well as emerging writers Nicholas Papaxanthos and Michael Casteels — at the Lit Live Reading Series on May 3.

I’m looking forward to all the readings, but am most excited to read with Patrick Friesen, a fine poet of Mennonite extraction who spent most of his adult life in Winnipeg. Which makes him a once-and-forever Winnipegger. (We’re not like the East Coast, where you’re a Come-From-Away even if you’ve lived there for twenty years. In Winnipeg, if you’ve spent more than three weeks there, you’re in!)

NMT: Why is participating in Authors for Indies important to you?

AG: I worked at an independent bookstore for a few years, organizing events but also hand-selling my favourite books. It was strange fun, finding ‘the blue book that I saw on TV last week.’ I also sort of addicted to the bookish elation that comes out of a connection between a writer, her work, and an audience that happens at good events.

Now, as a writer, I work really hard to try to create that feeling at my own events, with the support of great booksellers like McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, where I’m from, and Epic Books in Hamilton, where I’ll be on Authors for Indies day.

Also, my lit shopping habits are mostly the same as my everyday buying habits: I prefer to buy local or at least Canadian. Who wants tired, shipped-in cucumbers when you can get ones grown nearby? Similarly, I like my authors fresh and crunchy …

NMT: To borrow from your usual line of questioning, what do you want people to know about your second collection of poetry, Stowaways?

AG: Turnabout, eh? Hmm. This question is harder than I thought …

Well, Stowaways just was awarded the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry at the 2015 Manitoba Book Awards gala, so maybe I’ll share the judges’ comments instead of coming up with something original.

"Stowaways is well imagined and well crafted, each poem tight, the poet’s attention evident. From wildlife to the clutter of the everyday to “how-to” offerings, the reader is charmed and enticed by the poet’s light touch and sure pen. Images jump out at us, grab us by the throat, leave us gasping. Ariel Gordon’s second collection is as strong as the parts of its sum.” — Margaret Michele Cook, Katia Grubisic, and Paul Savoie, judges, 2015 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry / Prix Lansdowne de Poesie.

NMT: In Stowaways acknowledgements, you write "I am a sucker for art/writing cross-polination." Can you ellaborate on this and tell us how this influenced the writing of this book?

AG: I really like the energy of first draft writing. I also like editing, which feels more like fixing a broken vase than just moving words around and fiddling with punctuation.

But collaboration? That’s the most fun you can have with another artist.

It’s work and play, just like solo writing. And there are so many ways to collaborate. So far, I’ve worked with a visual artist or two, another writer, and a multi-disciplinary pack of dancers/actors/musicians, but I’m always open for more...

NMT: Stowaways is rife with sensory imagery, exploring all five senses. Is there a sense you most enjoy putting into words, and if so, why?

AG: Thanks for that. My writing tends to be very visual, so even though I’m committed to using concrete imagery I sometimes have to remind myself to include the other senses. Smell is the worst one for me, because I have virtually no sense of smell…

NMT: What book has had you buzzing recently? If you could recommend just one recent release to the world, what would it be?

AG: I’ve been enjoying getting to know Tracy Hamon’s Red Curls, which focuses on Austrian artist Egon Schiele and his mistress/model Valerie Neuzil. Hamon works with ekphrasis, biography, and travel poetry in really interesting ways and just got the Regina Book Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards for her trouble.

NMT: Sum up in a tweet (140 characters or less) why people should join you at Authors for Indies on Saturday.

AG: @JaneDayReader: I'll be bringing #poets & troublemakers, the city & the prairie, to @epic_books on Saturday for #Authors4Indies. See you there?

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer. Her first book of poetry, Hump, won the 2011 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. Most recently, her chapbook How to Make a Collage won Kalamalka Press's inaugural John Lent Poetry-Prose Award. When not being bookish, Ariel likes tromping through the woods and taking macro photographs of mushrooms. 

Beer and Baseball Road Trip

Wednesday, 22 April 2015
“That's why I love road trips, dude. It's like doing something without actually doing anything.”
John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

We spend a lot of time trying to get from place to place as quickly as possible. In past years, some of my smallest victories have been mapping shortcuts and shaving minutes from my daily commute, all in an effort to maximize that difficult-to-wrangle concept of free time.

A few weeks ago, on a road trip, we took the less-travelled route between Toronto and Ottawa (and later Ottawa and Toronto), taking the scenic route along Highway 7, and stopping along the way. The trip also took us to Olympic Stadium in Montreal for a pre-season Jays game.

Our soundtrack was favourite albums and favourite songs, among them:

I can't feel you anymore, I can't even touch the books you've read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin' I was somebody else instead.
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy,
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin' glory.

Stop One: The Campbellford Toonie
Old Mill Park, Campbellford
Highlight: A 27-foot toonie, obviously.

Stop Two: Church Key Brewing Company
1678 County Road, Campbellford
Highlight: Church Key's Holy Smoke beer (one of my favourites). This girl is a sucker for smoked beer.

Stop Three: Olympic Stadium, Montreal
4141 Pierre-de Coubertin Avenue, Montreal, Quebec
Highlight: The Jays took the lead early in the game, and ended up winning 9-1.

Stop Four: Dieu Du Ciel
29 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal
Highlight: Another smoked beer highlight, this time the Dieu Du Ciel Caserne 30 Weizen Fumee

Stop Five: High Spring Trading Post
RR3, Havelock
Highlight: The High Spring Trading Post is on Highway 7, just outside of the Village of Marmora. The store sells some great bits of Canadiana, but it is wondering around the outside, reading the signs and snapping photos, that is most fun. 

Stop Six: The Oldest Barn in Town
4477 Highway 7, Norwood
Highlight: Everything. You would need days to do this place justice, and we had only about a half hour. The Oldest Barn in Town is worth a road trip in itself.

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