Category Archives: #HamOnt

Lit in the City

This year I was once again thrilled to be a part of Hamilton’s very own gritLIT Literary Festival.

In the past, I have been on the organizing committee as a volunteer, as part of the marketing team, and most recently as the writing contest manager. Yes, gritLIT does have a writing contest, and you should probably enter. Next year, of course.

For a festival that happens in April, it’s not unusual that a lot of the heavy lifting and organizing and planning goes on late in the previous year. And late this past year I was extremely preoccupied while my son was in hospital, then with his subsequent recovery, and sadly my gritLIT responsibilities fell away. And Jen, our artistic director was amazing about it, of course, and of course the contest happened and then the festival happened and oh was it a good one, friends. For gritLIT’s 15th anniversary, stops were pulled out, let me tell you. I do wish I had been able to be more involved this year, but there is, of course, always next year to amp up my involvement. And now, let me tell you what I did get to do.

I hosted two workshops over the course of the weekend. The first was world building with Thea Lim, author of An Ocean of Minutes, the book that made me want to start a book club JUST SO I COULD TALK ABOUT IT WITH SOMEONE. And Thea is delightful and so, so knowledgeable and funny, and honestly, her book is as wonderful as she is, and everyone should read it. And then talk to me about it. Please. I’m begging you.

I also hosted and participated in K.D. Miller’s workshop which was all about connecting art and stories and was about as perfect a workshop as I have ever attended. Her most recent collection of short stories is inspired by the works of Alex Colville, and she brought small recreations of Colville paintings as prompts and inspiration. If you don’t know Colville, please be aware that there is a LOT going on in his paintings and they make for excellent – if potentially dark – writing prompts.

I then attended a fascinating panel with Tamara Faith Berger, John Miller and Claudia Dey (who has impeccable style, FYI) which was all about writing sex in literature, and later that evening I went to another panel called Confronting the Apocalypse featuring Thea Lim, Waubgeshig Rice, and Larissa Lai. And finally on Saturday a discussion about love, loss, and betrayal with Claudia Dey and Antanas Sileika and moderated by Ann Y.K. Choi who remains one of the loveliest people on earth.

I also got to drink wine with Gary Barwin and gush to Thea Lim not only about how much I loved her book but also how much I loved the Largehearted Boy playlist she created for it, because I am a sucker for those book playlists, honestly. And hers is a really good one.

If it seems as though I am namedropping, I totally am, and I’m not done. On Sunday, I watched Liz Harmer and Scott Thornley as they talked Re-imagining Hamilton with Mark Osbaldeston, and then I had to go home and, you know, spend some time with my family.

So basically what I’m saying is that when you attend and/or volunteer at a literary festival, you get to meet a lot of amazing, amazing authors. They will blow your mind in their workshops and on panels and in interviews, and then they will graciously sign your books and you might even get a chance to drink wine and talk random shit with them. Authors, they’re just like us!

There was so much more I wanted to see and participate in and next year, when I am a full-fledged volunteer again, and I don’t have to spend twelve hours a day in a hospital for five solid weeks during the most formative time of the festival, I will do it all.

Thanks for being amazing, gritLIT. Can’t wait until 2020.

I Survived Barton Street Too: For 52 Years and Counting

I should be working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project because I am a few hundred words behind, but after reading an Opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator earlier today, I was inspired to blog instead. Well, inspired might not be the correct word. I was seized with a blinding hot rage is more along the lines of what I felt, honestly. And oh boy, where to begin.

In this piece, the author decides to walk the entire length of Barton Street in the northern end of Hamilton. Barton runs from Stoney Creek in the east end of the city, to Locke St. in the central part. Why? Well because he is a transplanted Torontonian, don’t you know? (sorry Toronto, but most of these dudes are) and it seems he wanted to get to know his new city – his “adopted hometown” and its “most maligned thoroughfare.” Ok, sure. I guess?

It’s a pretty big task, honestly. It’s a long street. And when he said that he survived, I thought maybe he meant because it’s a really long walk and wow, maybe that’s a little much for him? Haha, no, of course, I didn’t think that. I knew exactly what he meant.

Throughout his walk and the article, he manages to hit nearly every stereotype in the book and then some. From the bars that would have been “heaving with steelworkers in the ’60s” to the closure of the Prince Edward Tavern being “One fewer place to drown your sorrows on cheap pints – or advance alcoholism, depending on your perspective.” I guess because hipster bars only have expensive pints and contribute to zero alcoholism? Help me out here, bud.

There’s more, there is oh so much more, and I encourage you to read it. It is, as I’ve said, an opinion piece, but some opinions ought to be kept to oneself.

He does seem to like the gentrification of a couple of areas on Barton because of course, he does. But I don’t know how anyone can walk that street and not notice the lovely churches at Barton and Sherman. St. Ann’s and St. Stanislaus have a proud history of serving the residents of that area. Or Woodlands Park. Or the Polish and Portuguese bakeries, the small grocery stores, the bustling hardware store and the stores selling bonboniere and other gifts. There is community there and there always has been, but it’s much, much easier to write about how downtrodden the street is, how it’s drug dealers and no sidewalk buzz. Was it a weekday when you undertook your epic walk? People work during the day. During the week. Consider that perhaps before making sweeping pronouncements about how the place requires serious saving.

You might already know or have guessed that I grew up on Barton Street, well just off it on Oak Avenue. So by disclosing that it would be easy for you or anyone to dismiss my thoughts as just anger at someone sullying my memory of the street, but the truth is I would defend anyone’s street in anyone’s city from people who arrive, agenda firmly in place, form an opinion, and leave. Whether it’s another street in Hamilton or Windsor, Calgary, Halifax, or Toronto – ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, honestly. And no, I don’t want to talk about how great Barton Street was when I was growing up, that is so not the point. And I also don’t want to try and convince this writer to come back later in the spring or summer when the street is livelier! And prettier! And please come back and like usssssss!

Barton Street is not without its problems, of course. There are no streets in any city anywhere that are without problems, and walking the length of a street you’ve never been on before in a city you barely know and congratulating yourself for living to see another day doesn’t make you a hero. It just shows what a privileged asshole you are.

 

Friday nights are for books and cheap wine

Last Friday night, I took the bus downtown, and when the friendly bus driver asked where I was headed, I told him I was going to the library. He said “That’s how you’re spending your Friday night? At the library?!” But you know what? Hell yes, I was. Also it was a licensed, 19+ event, and glasses of wine were five dollars. FIVE DOLLARS. Where else can you get a glass of wine – and it wasn’t even plonk – for five dollars? Nowhere, that’s where. Plus a lovely spread of cheese and crackers, Roma pizza (I firmly believe there is a bylaw that states you cannot host a party in Hamilton without at least one Roma pizza in attendance) and then a table of desserts. COME ON. Best deal in town, honestly.

And while the wine was very attractively-priced, we were also there for the reveal of the Hamilton Reads One Book One Community choice for this year, and for the lovely Jane Urquhart, who read from her new book A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through 50 Objects.

I will admit to being skeptical of the entire concept of A Number of Things, because there is this tendency, among Canadians, to focus only on the stereotypes when compiling lists of “Canadian” things. Toques and moose and hockey, amirite? And I still haven’t read the book, so I’m withholding judgement, but from what Jane read on Friday night, I feel I might be pleasantly surprised by the insight and depth of research, by the thoughtful inclusion of important, culturally significant objects, as well as some of the ones that may more generally spring to mind. I mean, she’s Jane Urquhart, after all. I suppose I needn’t have worried.

Worries aside, the entire evening was a delight. A packed house, standing room only for books and authors on a Friday night? Hamilton, you never disappoint. And of course, the big reveal of Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People as the choice for Hamilton’s One Book One Community!

HPL has organized a season of programming designed around the OBOC pick, and there are some amazing events lined up. I’m not sure the details are available online yet, but you can pick up this little booklet and make your plans for the fall. There’s even a series of workshops by me! Pretty sure I’ll have a lot more to say about those later this summer. Other than, you know, “Eeeeeeeee! I’m running some writing workshops, you guys!” I promise, ok?

HPL staff were also there to offer book talks for those who were interested, and listening to two book talks meant you were eligible to be entered into a draw. 12 tote bags with books were up for grabs, as well as a large bucket o’ books. I didn’t win, but my friend Jessica won one of the tote bags, which made an already great night even better.

Finally, HPL is also running, for I believe the first time EVER, an Adult Summer Reading Club! It will surprise virtually no one that I consistently OWNED at summer reading club as a kid, and over the years I’ve wistfully watched from afar as other library systems began advertising their own adult versions, so I’m happy HPL is finally on board! Grab your card at any library branch, or download from the website, and print your own.

So to recap, wine and cheese, door prizes and authors, book talks and cupcakes. And all for just 10 bucks. Friday nights at the library? Absolutely, and let’s do it again soon.

Love your library system, folks. Hamilton truly has one of the best.