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 www.gritlit.ca. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop about year-round programming and writing workshops.
Christine Fischer-Guy and Stephen Marche