• 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards: Fiction Finalists

    November 27, 2015 by Stephen Near

    This is the third in a four part blog series showcasing the finalists of this year's 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards. Find out which authors will take home the prizes by attending the gala celebration on Dec. 08, 2015 at Theatre Aquarius.

    From a compelling story inspired by real life, to a historical fable for young adults, to a harrowing tale tackling vital social issues, the books in our 2015 Fiction shortlist offer a diversity of voices and approaches to storytelling. From Smoke River by Krista Foss, White Oneida by Jean Rae Baxter, and Carafola by Christine Miscione, each of these stories represents Hamilton storytelling that is both unique and engaging.

    Krista Foss’ debut novel Smoke River describes the tensions between a Mohawk community and its neighbouring town after a proposed housing development turns into a land dispute. Loosely based on events in Caledonia, the narrative follows several characters on both sides of the conflict as they struggle through divisions, heartbreak, and terrible violence. This book is a fearless study of character, of family, and of the lines we draw and those we will cross for our beliefs, expertly positioned against luminous descriptions of the Southern Ontario landscape.

    The White Oneida, Jean Rae Baxter’s latest historical novel for young adults, tells the story of Broken Trail, a young white boy captured and raised by the Oneida tribe. Under the influence of military leader Joseph Brant, Broken Trail attends a boarding school with the intention of uniting its students, the first step in creating an independent aboriginal nation. With honesty and strength, Baxter combines the best of history and fiction to bring us a harrowing tale of injustice, loyalty, and one boy’s journey to find himself in the midst of two very different worlds.

    In Carafola, author Christine Miscione’s experimental style takes flight, depicting a woman’s tumultuous descent into mental illness. Relentlessly self-aware and often cynical, the narrator struggles through broken relationships, insecurities, and heavy losses during her early twenties, caught between the reality inside her head and the one out of it. With careful insight and beautifully raw prose, this novel speaks of vulnerability, of doubt and growth, and of the decisions that carry us forward.

    This year's Award for Fiction is sponsored by:

    Next: the finalists for the Kerry Schooley Award

  • 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards: Non-Fiction Finalists

    November 19, 2015 by Stephen Near

    This is the second in a four part blog series showcasing the finalists of this year's 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards. Find out which authors will take home the prizes by attending the gala celebration on Dec. 08, 2015 at Theatre Aquarius.

    The finalists for this year's Non-fiction category for the Hamilton Literary Awards are all examples of true and compelling tales matching that of any work of fiction. From The House with the Parapet Wall by John Terpstra, Hidden Harvest by Mark Coakley, and Echo Soundings by Jeffery Donaldson, these tales recount real-life with the elegance of poetry and confront readers with hidden chapters of the world around them.

    In John Terpstra’s latest work, The House with the Parapet Wall, he walks through the streets of his childhood home, imagining the lives of the nineteenth-century inhabitants. As he considers these lives, with their joys and grief, Terpstra also walks through his own memories and emotions on the death of his mother, deftly weaving both narrative strands together on the page. With beautifully styled prose, Terpstra explores the connections between past and present, life and death, brick and bone, and the power of place to define family.

    In his exposé Hidden Harvest, lawyer Mark Coakley unravels the truth behind Canada’s $30-million cannabis grow op. Comprehensive and bold, his story tracks the culprits as they remodel an old Molson factory north of Barrie, transforming it into what would become the largest marijuana operation in North America. Following its downfall in 2003, Coakley examines the prolonged search for those involved, the questionable sentences issued by the court, and the violence and secrecy that surrounded it all. 

    Echo Soundings by Jeffery Donaldson is an insightful and compelling collection of essays on the nature of poetry and poetics. Heavily influenced by literary critic Northrop Frye, the text challenges conventional modes of interpretation, instead presenting poems as dynamic dialogues which extend through space and time. Donaldson looks at these "ghostly conversations" in the works of North American writers, tracing the echoes that weave them together with depth and simplicity.

    This year's Award for Non-Fiction is sponsored by:

    Next: the finalists for Fiction

  • 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards: Poetry Finalists

    November 6, 2015 by Stephen Near

    This is the first in a four part blog series showcasing the finalists of this year's 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards. Find out which authors will take home the prizes by attending the gala celebration on Dec. 08, 2015 at Theatre Aquarius.

    Hamilton is a city that abounds in poets, and this year's finalists speak to the diversity and strength of the poetry being written in our city. From Skinny-Dipping with the Muse by Ellen S. Jaffe, Moon Baboon Canoe by Gary Barwin, and Steeltown for Mary by Martin Durkin, these books move from the conversational to the surreal and blur the boundaries between genres.

    Ellen S. Jaffe’s four-part collection Skinny-Dipping with the Muse is a remarkable exploration of the vulnerability and power of poetry. In an undeniably feminine voice, she tracks the pain and triumphs of childhood, family, and writing itself, inviting the reader to reconsider the intimacies and wonders of everyday life and creativity. Jaffe’s lines are both fluid and sharp, warm and jarring, but always insightful as she delves into the complex relationship between language and experience. 

    In Moon Baboon Canoe we once again see the razor wit, innovation, and sensitivity characteristic of Gary Barwin. His newest collection will challenge and entertain readers, bringing equal depth to topics as universal as time and those as intimate as the life of a squirrel. His quirky, minimalist lines are refreshing, attentive, and all the more powerful for their sparseness. In them, Barwin questions the very way we see ourselves and our world, giving readers a new set of glasses from beginning to end. 

    SteelTown for Mary, Memoirs From a Dick by Martin Durkin is an entirely unique work following the life and memories of a Hamilton detective. With a gritty yet endearing tone, Durkin combines the best of poetry, narrative, mystery, and romance to paint a detailed portrait of both character and setting. It is a tale of grief, discovery, and moving forward, but ultimately a tale of the heart and the home.

    This year's Award for Poetry is sponsored by:

    Next: the finalists for Non-Fiction



    November 4, 2015 by Marie Franek

    (This is the third of a 4-part series of blog posts following Studio Babette Puppet Theatre's travels to three different WWI Commemorations in three different cities, to perform their WWI play with puppets, From Ruthven to Passchendaele)

    by Kerry Corrigan

    The midway stop on our fall tour was Ruthven Park, familiar ground for us, as it's where the play originated. We arrived for move-in on Saturday afternoon and the exhibitors were still set up from the first day of the event. It was reminiscent of the Southampton Commemorative, this time with vehicles in the large tent behind the coach house, including a couple of Model T's (one of which sold at the end of the day) and an authentic outdoor cook wagon. They even had free samples of beans. We had a terrific time checking everything out before they packed up, and we got down to building our set and hanging our lights and sound, a process we've done so many times now, I think we could do it in our sleep.

    Sunday's performance found us with a large audience, with a number of men in WWI uniform and even a nurse, dressed just like Lydia. Before the show, there was a wonderful equestrian display outside the coach house. Two soldiers, an officer and an enlisted man, showed up to demonstrate their horsemanship – they looked exactly like Drew and Mike! They even took Drew for a short ride. Then another two young women (sorry no names as yet) showed us how they hope to qualify for the Olympics in dressage with their two beautiful mounts, one named Althea.


    Now I'm not one to believe in curses, (although I never mention the Scottish play) and when I signed off on my first blog entry, way back when, with “I'll check back in next week and let you know how our road trip went, whether we had any disasters and how we were received”, I really didn't mean to jinx the tour. But after falling off the stage in Southampton, I should have known to be on the lookout for something to go wrong at Ruthven. Well, we had a great show, one of our best ever I venture, with some tears in the audience at the rousing finale.


    Even though the arm on one of my puppets came unattached. As soon as I picked up Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Thorburn Thompson to enter for scene IV, I knew something was wrong – his hand was hanging perilously low out of his shirt sleeve. A quick check confirmed my suspicions, the arm had completely unattached at the shoulder.  I quickly shoved it back up the sleeve and entered for the scene. (and yes I should have checked him earlier – I KNOW!)

    Acting is all about focus. There is a curious thing that happens to an actor when something goes wrong on stage. You find yourself going through the motions, delivering the lines with as much meaning as ever, while simultaneously your mind races ahead, trying to anticipate if the malfunction at hand will impact on what's to come, and what you'll do to handle it. I was getting away with just clutching the Colonel's arm during the scene with my two sons Drew and Walter, until I realized I needed to salute – yikes! When the moment came, I raised his arm, his hand really sticking out too far from his sleeve but I don't think anyone noticed.

    The scene ended and I exited but I really had no time to do any repair before my next scene, when the Colonel enters on the boat. Again I clutched his arm and charged ahead with the scene, except that in this scene the Colonel is much more animated, as he is addressing a large portion of his Battalion. Our table-top puppets have rather heavy heads that must always be supported, so you only ever have one hand to manipulate arms and legs. At one point, the arm simply slid right out of the sleeve and landed on the table, but luckily it was behind the canvas boat railing and so the accident went unseen. But what to do with the arm now? I couldn't shove it back up the sleeve during the scene, I didn't have enough hands. So I grabbed it with my right hand and held that puppet arm hidden behind my back as I exited the stage, manipulating the Colonel with my left hand – jeez.

    Now I had some down time backstage to address the issue, and found the puppeteers handy fix-it that we keep for just such emergencies – sticky Velcro. I quickly applied some to the inside sleeves on either side. It wouldn't hold forever but it would see me through til the end of the show. Here's the Colonel on my work bench, awaiting repair.

    Join us this Saturday for the final instalment of our fall tour - where everything will run as smooth as clockwork!

    Hamilton Goes to War – A Day of Commemoration
    Saturday November 7; 1pm & 3pm
    Dundurn National Historic Site
    Hamilton Military Museum
    610 York Boulevard, Hamilton
    (905) 546-2424

    I 'll write a quick wrap-up next week, thanks for indulging me.


  • 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards Finalists

    October 27, 2015 by Stephen Near

    The end of the year is particularly exciting for us here at the Hamilton Arts Council, since it's around this time that we find out who our finalists will be in the annual Literary Awards. The Literary Awards are a signature event for the Hamilton Arts Council; one that we're very proud to continue holding year after year.

    A diversity of Hamilton titles for consideration

    This year we're especially pleased as we’ve had an abundance of books submitted: 20 books in total and in all four categories. In addition to this year’s awards for Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry, we are once again presenting the Kerry Schooley Award. This award is given to the book that is most evocative of the Hamilton region and was named in honour of the late literary icon Kerry Schooley. This year's submissions are all of the highest calibre and have generated a lot of excitement at our offices. What's more, our adjudicators were especially pleased with the diversity of the submitted titles, and we're confident that this year's Awards gala will truly showcase the finest literary talent our city has to offer.

    We’re also happy to be presenting our upcoming Literary Awards with the continued generosity of The Hamilton Spectator as well as returning sponsors Bryan Prince BooksellerJudy Marsales Real Estate Ltd. Brokerage, and A Different Drummer Books. In addition, we want to acknowledge our long partnership with our Venue Sponsors at Theatre Aquarius who are, once more, providing us with the perfect place to enjoy our ceremony and raise a glass to our winners. With the Norman and Louise Haac Studio Theatre at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts, we couldn’t ask for a better venue in which to hold our celebration.

    Theatre Aquarius - the Hamilton Literary Awards venue

    So, without further ado, here are the Finalists for this year's 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards:


    Moon Baboon Canoe, by Gary Barwin 

    SteelTown for Mary, Memoirs From a Dick, by Martin Durkin

     Skinny-Dipping with the Muse, by Ellen S. Jaffe

    This Award sponsored by Judy Marsales Real Estate Brokerage



    Hidden Harvest, by Mark Coakley

    Echo Soundings: Essays on Poetry and Poetics, by Jeffery Donaldson

    The House with the Parapet Wall, by John Terpstra

    This Award sponsored by A Different Drummer Books



    The White Oneida, by Jean Rae Baxter

    Smoke River, by Krista Foss

    Carafola, by Christine Miscione

    This Award sponsored by Bryan Prince Bookseller



    Deadly Venture, by Chris Laing

    Revenge on the Fly, by Sylvia McNicoll

    The House with the Parapet Wall, by John Terpstra

    This Award sponsored by The Hamilton Spectator


    This year's Awards will take place at Theatre Aquarius' Dofasco Centre for the Arts on December 08, 2015. Doors will open at 7 PM with the ceremony getting underway at 7:30. As always, we'll provide complementary snacks along with a cash bar and some music to carry the night along. Admission will be Pay-What-You-Can so we hope you'll join us to help celebrate the holiday season with true bookish style.

    For tickets, visit our Eventbrite listing and check out the Facebook Event page for further updates!