GritLit is the annual Hamilton literary festival. For years I didn’t go, for a number of reasons, but the most compelling one was that I was busy running Artword Artbar. Well, that’s over now, so now I can go.

I was impressed. It was consistently really interesting, the authors smart, their answers candid and to the point. I ended up buying more books than I expected. Eleven, in fact.

It got off to a bit of a rocky start with the Divas and Dudes lunch session on Friday: “sneak peeks . . . for the best reads of summer 2024”. I guess summer reads are not my thing. I thought “some books I don’t have to buy”. But I don’t go to the beach either.

The next session was Mary Francis Moore, the artistic director of Theatre Aquarius, talking with Tom Wilson about turning his book Beautiful Scars into a play. Two really intelligent people really getting into the issues.

Hamilton Writes was hosted by Megan Divecha, very personable, who started with someone not actually in the program, Lishai Peel. Their discussion was fascinating, so fascinating that Megan seemed to lose track of the time. There were four more to go: Gary Barwin, Dannabang Kuwabong, David Neil Lee and George Matuvi. Fortunately, Megan did move on, and we got to hear from all. I already knew Gary Barwin and David Lee, and their work. Dannabang Kuwabong has a book of poems, Saragasso Sea Scrolls. He explained that the Saragasso Sea is a little like an oceanic black hole (my metaphor, not his); things get in and go round and round and don’t get out, so it’s full of plastic and other junk. Hmm. I bought his book, and George Makonese Matuvi’s memoir of the Rhodesian war that led finally to the establishment of Rhodesia, The War as I Saw It. And I appreciated what a cosmopolitan place Hamilton has become (and really always has been, under it’s aw shucks steeltown cloak).

We arrived late to Speaking Fiction to Power, and so missed hearing the readings, but the discussion of the challenges in using art as a political weapon was of great interest to me, since I’ve tried to do some of the that myself.

And So, It Starts was ostensibly about “trauma”. Okay, maybe, whatever. But the books were really interesting. Shelly Kawaja’s The Raw Light of Morning, and Reuniting with Strangers, by Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio. This second author works with, and writes about, women from the Phillipines who have left their children behind to earn money abroad, and then are reunited with them five years (or so) later. Her book is a collection of linked short stories, very vivid. I’m reading it now.

The Poetics of Resistance, Saturday afternoon, was a high point. Canisia Lubrin’s Code Noir is made up of short pieces, each illustrating an article in the Code Noir, a set of decrees by Louis XIV governing slavery in the French colonies. Shani Moottoo was born in Ireland, raised in Trinidad, moved to BC and now lives in Toronto. The poems in her book Oh Witness Dey! combine hard hitting subject matter and rich imagery. I bought both books. But the subject of the talk was not about literature so much as about fighting for your ideals. Boy. Both were smart and tough and really articulate. Inspiring.

Sunday afternoon there was a session about beach novels. We had missed the morning, and this was our last opportunity, so despite my disinclination, we went to the beach. To my surprise, both authors, and their books, caught my fancy. Leanne Toshiko Simpson wanted to write about living with bipolar disorder and spending ten years in a psychiatric hospital, but she didn’t want to write some gloomy, morose memoir, because that’s not how she felt about it. So she wrote Never Been Better, about two friends from a psychiatric ward getting together again at a destination wedding. Not How I Pictured It, by Robin Lefler, is about a reunion of television actors that becomes a real-life replay of Survival. Both authors were so clever and personable that I figured, what the hell, maybe I will find a beach this summer after all. In any case, I did buy the books.


2 responses to “GritLit”

  1. Gunter Ott Avatar
    Gunter Ott

    Thanks for the comprehensive summary Ron.

    1. Hi Gunter. Nice to hear from you.

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