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Special Feature! Talking About Hamilton's Literary Culture with gritLIT Director Jennifer Gillies

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gritLIT festival 2016

As Hamilton's reputation as a city of artists and art lovers continues to grow, there's no better time to hop on a GO Bus or train and head to gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival, the city's premiere literary festival.

The festival has been going strong since 2004, bringing in acclaimed writers in every genre from across Canada, from prize winners and bestsellers to compelling new voices. There is also a focus on the vibrant Hamilton literary community, with many local authors participating.

Today we're talking to gritLIT Creative Director Jennifer Gillies about the festival's history, what makes Hamilton such a dynamic artistic destination and what the future holds for gritLIT.

To see the full festival line up, check out the gritLIT website. gritLIT runs from April 7 to April 10, 2016 and includes readings, panels, writing workshops and much more.

Open Book:

Tell us about how gritLIT came to be and what attracts authors and readers to the festival.

Jennifer Gillies:

gritLIT is Hamilton’s annual Readers & Writers Festival, and 2016 will mark its 12th year. It started in 2004, when local author Krista Foss decided that a city the size of Hamilton and with such a burgeoning arts community should have its own annual literary event. Since then, we have brought more than 350 authors from across the country to read in Hamilton.

I would hope what attracts authors and readers to the festival is a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. We work with other literary organizations in the city (LitLive and the Hamilton Poetry Centre) to ensure that all booklovers have something to look forward at the festival. With a line-up this year that includes writing workshops, a timely panel discussion about gun control, readings from some of the best authors in the country and a chance to have tea and conversation with Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke, gritLIT 2016 is sure to please.


What is unique about the literary community in Hamilton? Why is Hamilton a great place to run a literary festival?


Hamilton is a great place in general, and we are so happy to have a part in showing people that!

The literary community here is booming, and there is never a shortage of Hamilton authors to showcase at gritLIT events. In February of this year, we hosted a sold-out reading with Hamilton author Lawrence Hill as part of our year-round programming. During the festival in April, we are thrilled to present Gary Barwin, Bernadette Rule, Showey Yazdanian, John Terpstra and Brent van Staalduinen — all proud Hamiltonians.

Once perceived a gritty (hence the festival name!) steel town, Hamilton is now defined by the health care sector and the increasing number of artists who move here each year. The city has always been arts-friendly, with a professional orchestra and theater, a thriving music scene and a strong visual arts community. gritLIT is proud to help make Hamilton a destination for readers and writers as well.


How did you become involved with gritLIT and what is your role?


I started volunteering with the festival in year two, and I’ve been here ever since. I am now the artistic director, which means I get to work with our amazing committee and board to put the festival together from programming and hospitality to marketing and fundraising. It’s a huge job for all of us but extremely rewarding, and the best part of festival weekend for me, always, is getting to see audience members discover a new favourite CanLit author.


Tell us about a few of the authors appearing at the festival this year and what guests can look forward to.


Guests can look forward to world-class literary programming at bargain Hamilton prices! We have readings from Plum Johnson, Helen Humphreys, Nino Ricci, Giles Blunt, Terry Fallis and Anakana Schofield, to name just a few. We have workshops with national-award-winning authors like Michael Winter and Kim Echlin, and we have our first-ever youth writing workshop. We have poets; we have panelists, and we have storytellers from Steel City Stories. And if none of that impresses, we also have pirates, polyglot parrots, the Inquisition and gefilte fish all wrapped up in the same story. (Gary Barwin’s hot-off-the-presses Yiddish for Pirates) There has never been a better time to come get LIT in the Hammer!


What does the future hold for gritLIT?


We are excited to continue growing the festival as we move forward. In 2017, we will be expanding our children’s programming and starting a new partnership with the Hamilton Film Festival. We will celebrate our country’s 150th birthday with events highlighting Canada’s history, culture and aboriginal people. Down the road, we are also looking at doing more multi-arts events featuring authors and musicians/actors/dancers/filmmakers.

In short, we look forward to continuing to bring the best books and writers in the country to Hamilton and to many more exciting, engaging, wonderful years of gritLIT!


For more information, visit the gritLIT website.

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