gritLIT 2015 is just around the corner ...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

I am thrilled to once again be on the committee for gritLIT: Hamilton`s Readers & Writers Festival, now in its eleventh year. The festival runs between April 16-19 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, but we have three pre-festival events. See the complete schedule of events and workshops below. Hope to see you at gritLIT

Wednesday, April 1st
Battle of the Books with the Hamilton Public Library
7:00 pm at Central Library (Wentworth Room – 1st floor)

gritLIT once again joins forces with the HPL to present our fourth annual Battle of the Books. Come watch ten well-known local personalities discuss, debate and mud-sling in defense of their favourite titles from the 2015 Evergreen Reading List. Hosted by CHCH anchor Annette Hamm.

Thursday, April 9th
Poetry with HPC
7:00 pm at Homegrown Hamilton

Join Gary Barwin and Deanna Young for an evening of award-winning poetry at our pre-festival partner event with the Hamilton Poetry Centre.

Sunday, April 12th
LitLive Partner Event
7:30 pm at Homegrown Hamilton

gritLIT joins forces with Hamilton’s long-running LitLive reading series for an evening of readings encompassing everything from octogenarian adventurers to serial killers to our national obsession with hockey. Readers include Elizabeth Bachinsky, M.A.C. Farrant, Janet Hepburn,Stephen Smith and Michael Lista.

Then, come see us at the Art Gallery of Hamilton for an unforgettable weekend of readings, discussions and workshops.

Thursday, April 16th
Chapbook Launch Party
7:00 pm

Winners of our 2014 gritLIT Short Story and Poetry competitions share their work as we mark the launch of the annual gritLIT chapbook.

The Life Bohemian
8:30 pm

Celebrate la vie boheme! Heather O’Neill and Elyse Friedman share their tales of the lives and legacies of struggling artists. Come dressed in your best Bohemian garb for a chance to win aBryan Prince, Bookseller gift certificate, and join us after the reading for music, cash bar and free goodies.

Friday, April 17th
The True North
7:00 pm

Explore the rugged and dangerous wonders of Northern Canada with award-winning authorsJames Raffan and Kathleen Winter.

Homes and Native Lands
8:30 pm

Richard Wagamese, Krista Foss and Tasneem Jamal present their intensely powerful novels exploring our relationships to our ancestral lands.

Saturday, April 18th
Literary Salon with Richard Wagamese
10:30 am at the Sheraton Hotel

Join national-award-winning author Richard Wagamese for coffee and tea, light refreshments, and lively discussion about books, writing and more. This event takes place at the Sheraton Hotel, Ferguson Room, 2nd Floor.

Workshop: Looking Into the Abyss
10:30 am

This workshop offers an in-depth look at how to write fictional villains who are both evil enough to be terrifying and complex enough to be real. Led by Giller-Prize-finalist Russell Wangersky.

Workshop: How to Catch a Polar Bear
12:00 pm

Winner of numerous geographical awards, James Raffan has been keeping journals of his wilderness travels since early days as a Boy Scout in Guelph, Ontario. No one was more surprised than he was when one of these journals morphed into his first bestselling book,Summer North of Sixty. Since then, journal keeping has been an integral part of his personal writing process but also something that he loves to share in his encounters with others interested in capturing the essence of experience through creative journal keeping. How to Catch a Polar Bear is a hands-on workshop that explores journal keeping as a first step in the writing process.

Workshop: It’s All About Character
12:00 pm

Alison Pick, bestselling author and nominee for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, leads a lively and participatory workshop about character development in fiction. Come prepared to have fun and leave with an enhanced understanding of how to create dynamic, three-dimensional characters.

Secrets and Lies
1:30 pm

Alison Pick and Alison Wearing share true-life tales about secrets that can tear families apart and their own journeys of discovery and acceptance.

Short…Not Always Sweet
3:00 pm

Discover the art of short-storytelling with three masters of the craft: Kathleen Winter and Denise Roig.

The Capitalist Regime
7:00 pm

Author Richard Swift discusses his controversial book and his assertion that finding alternatives to capitalism is no longer a leftist academic issue – it is a planetary necessity.

Monsters – Human and Otherwise
8:30 pm

Be thrilled and amazed by literary tales of terror from Andrew Pyper, Russell Wangersky andClaire Cameron.

Sunday, April 19th
Workshop: Flying with Butterflies
12:00 pm

Some people love doing public talks and readings, but many would rather crawl under the lectern with a glass of wine. Drawing on her experience as both an acclaimed author and an award-winning performer of one-woman shows, Alison Wearing offers insights and inspiration for ‘flying with the butterflies’ that can fill our stomachs when we stand in front of an audience, and she shares techniques for presenting literary work in engaging and enjoyable ways. This workshop is designed for anyone who would like to become more comfortable performing their work in public.

Unearthing the Past
1:30 pm

Christine Fischer Guy and Stephen Marche offer up compelling stories of odyssey, discovery and long-buried regrets.

Men of International Mystery
3:00 pm

Let acclaimed mystery writers David Rotenberg and Ian Hamilton transport you from Namibia to Shanghai with their electrifying tales of conspiracy and criminal underworlds. Then, join us in the Fisher Gallery for meetings with some famous literary detectives and a chance to win amazing prizes.

Closing Night with Steel City Stories
7:30 pm

Some of Hamilton’s best storytellers close out the festival with stories inspired by the word and concept Epilogue.

Solo Adventure: Chester and Manchester

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Nearly a year ago, I travelled to the UK, starting in London, taking a train to Edinburgh, and ending in Chester for a friend's wedding. I've posted already about parts of this trip, but sadly, it's taken me a year to wrap up this series. Check out the other posts here:

London, Edinburgh, and the Scottish Highlands were busy excursions. I darted from landmark to landmark, town to town, in an effort to see as much as I could in my mere week abroad. Thankfully, my friend's wedding was in the outskirts of Chester, in a part of the country ruled by green pastures and lambs, and I was forced to take some time to relax and enjoy the scenery. 

I trudged around Chester, a city of Roman baths and beautiful architecture that lies on the River Dee, near the border of Wales, with my backpack, which was already weighted down by souvenirs. Then I took the greatest bus ride of my life, through tiny towns and over stone bridges, to reach Higher Farm Bed and Breakfast, a beautiful slice of perfection that I hope to one day revisit. I walked. I snapped pictures. I watched lambs chase one another and I relaxed. 

I wasn't planning on going to Manchester. After a week of moving quickly from city to city, the backpack's straps cutting into my shoulders, I was ready to stay in one place. But my flight was out of the Manchester Airport, and in order to get to my airport hotel, I needed to pass through the Manchester Piccadilly train station. I'm one of those people who live in fear of missed opportunities. Knowing it might be my only chance to see Manchester, I couldn't pass it up. I'm glad I didn't.

One quick book blogger anecdote before I wrap up these posts for good. I'm a fairly awkward human being — one who isn't the best at striking up conversations or meeting new people. But of all people in the world standing in the baggage line in the Manchester Airport, I spotted Steph from Bella's Bookshelf. After I checked her Twitter account, and confirmed she, too, was in England, I went to say hello. After meeting Tanya from 52 Books or Bust in Edinburgh a few days before, my first solo European adventure turned out to be way more of a #CanLit adventure than I ever could have imagined.

I'll end these posts with a quote by Terry Pratchett, an author the world lost only last week. It reminds me of the importance of travel, and more so, the importance of travelling alone, giving yourself the chance to escape your comfort zone and see the world in a new way.

"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving."
— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)

LivingArts: (Don't) Quit Your Day Job?

Monday, 16 March 2015
This post originally appeared on the Hamilton Arts Council's Living Arts blog.

I'm writing this article at two o'clock, but for the first time in a long time, it's two o'clock in the afternoon, not two o'clock in the morning. I'm not writing this on a train or on my half-hour lunch break. I don't feel rushed, like I usually do.

Two weeks ago I quit my job. I walked into my boss's office with a letter in hand, and I gave my resignation after eight years. It wasn't an easy decision.

At 23, I landed what seemed to be a dream job, editing books to be used in classrooms. I was energetic and passionate, and I couldn't wait to get to work each day. I felt in control of everything, but that control was fleeting. Eventually, commuting, negativity, and the strict 9 to 5 began to feel suffocating.

As artists and organizers, we learn to find time, even when there isn't any, to do what we are passionate about. The small hours of the night and my already-busy weekends became my time to write, to create, to organize, to burn myself out. Sunday nights would inevitably come, bringing with them a feeling of dread. I worked all the time, and when I wasn't working, I felt like I should be, and with that came guilt.

For years, I've been an advocate for Hamilton, writing about it and talking about it as often as possible. But five days a week, I boarded a train that took me outside the city to work. It felt like a betrayal.

In the early days of my career, I'd see men and women on the train with misery painted on their faces. If they're unhappy, why don't they just quit? I thought in my naivety. I learned eventually that quitting a job isn't easy, even if it makes you unhappy. To state the obvious, financial stability is a luxury, and one that isn't easily thrown away.

Anaïs Nin once said, "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." They're words I'll eventually pin to the wall of my home office once I finally finish painting it (something I'll now have time for.)

It's easy to romanticize the allure of being a full-time writer. It's what many in literary circles aspire to become. It's also a luxury. One that most of us can't afford. In her recent viral article, full-time writer Ann Bauer wrote about her own privilege, saying "In this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why?"

I didn't have the luxury of quitting my job without a safety net, one that could cover my bills and buy my groceries. After two years of searching, I finally found one with an organization in Hamilton that does deeply inspiring work. It's a job that will allow me stability while I begin to take back control.

It's only been a few days since I've started my new life. I still have the comfort of knowing there's one more paycheck on the horizon, and I haven't yet needed to panic. I can't tell you yet if this move was a good idea or bad, but there's a freedom in knowing I'll get to find out.

Chances are, you'll still find me writing at two o'clock in the morning. It's when my mind feels most alive. But it's a luxury to know it's a choice I get to make. I've taken back control.

Playlist: Bookish CanCon

Saturday, 14 March 2015
It's Juno weekend here in Hamilton, which gave me the perfect opportunity to finally compile the Bookish CanCon playlist I've been thinking about for a while. It won't come as a surprise, but a lot of Canadian artists reference literature in both their songs and band names.

This list, of course, is just a snippet, but I hope to add to it. Send along your suggestions.

Arkells — Book Club 
Local favourites the Arkells are nominated in both the Group of the Year and Rock Album of the Year categories. They also have a song that features maybe the worst literary pick-up line in music: "You're my library. Always open for business." (Care to challenge me on that one?)

Broken Social Scene — Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)
At first glance, there isn't much literary about "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)," the second track off Broken Social Scene's 2005 self-titled album. However, the song's namesake is author Ibi Kaslik, who attended the Etobicoke School of the Arts with members of the band. Though Kaslik wasn't quick to admit it, rumour is her novel The Angel Riots was inspired by the band.

Library Voices — Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers
Library Voices from Regina, Saskatchewan, have a lot of literary lyrics to choose from, but these ones (coupled with this catchy title) are a personal favourite.

"I've read Yates and Hemingway
Maybe in our time it's liars in love
Then you call out my name like lines from a page
Feel my sins washed away, feels like I've been saved
I don't wanna die heartless in the heartland"

Honourable mention: "Generation Hand Clap," which references to Coupland and Murakami

Gordon Lightfoot — If You Could Read My Mind
Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" has hands down my all-time favourite bookish lyrics.

"If you could read my mind, love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind the drugstores sell
When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take"

Awkward related story: I saw Gordon Lightfoot at the Ottawa Folk Festival a few years ago when he filled in for Neil Young. I waited all night to hear this song from the front row, figuring it was one of those bits of Canadiana I needed to see live. However, the overpriced beer caught up with me. Of course, the second I closed the outhouse door is exactly when Lightfoot started playing "If You Could Read My Mind," meaning I heard the first few bars of one of my all-time favourite songs from inside an porta potty.

Honourable mention: "Don Quixote" by Gordon Lightfoot.

Dan Mangan and Blacksmith — Offred 
Dan Mangan and Blacksmith's album, Club Meds, is brand new, but its opening track, Offred, references the main character in a CanLit classic, Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale.

Tokyo Police Club — Your English Is Good
This CanLit reference might be difficult to spot if you're not looking for it, but scholars of Canadian literature will quickly recognize this ode to Robertson Davies: "So we searched for you by night/ In the Deptford gravel pit/ Until the tramp finds Christ/ Injustice is my middle name."

The Tragically Hip — Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)
Local classic rock DJs play this song a lot, but I've never heard them mention that it has a subtitle, or that it was written with Canadian writer Hugh MacLennan in mind. The song's lyrics reference MacLennan's 1959 novel, The Watch That Ends the Night. This song was also covered by Sarah Polley. I've included this version as a bonus to this playlist, because (as every child of the 90s knows), Sarah Polley starred in the ultimate reference to Canadian literature — Road to Avonlea. 

Rush — Tom Sawyer
Rush is receiving the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at this year's Junos Awards. Their 1981 album, Moving Pictures, featured this now famous opening stanza: "A modern-day warrior/ Mean, mean stride/ Today's Tom Sawyer/ Mean, mean pride. "

Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long — Shoulders
To be honest, I don't know a lot about Short Story Long. I do know that they're closely associated with one of my favourite acts, spoken-word poet Shane Koyczan, and they've got one of my favourite bookish names.

Leonard Cohen — References the Bible in pretty much everything
In high school, a teacher cautioned me against studying Leonard Cohen in an independent study unit. She thought the religious references would be too heavy, so of course, I took that as a challenge. I spent the next few weeks gobbling up as much Cohen as I could. His religious references are plenty, and I could never choose a favourite, but I'll leave you with the ones that are probably most covered by artists in Canada and around the world.

"Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?"

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