• The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Fiction Shortlist

    December 3, 2014 by Stephen Near

    From a compelling story of two souls experiencing a spiritual crisis and an awakening, to a recounting of memories both peaceful and passionate, to a heart-warming journey from hardship to hope, the titles in our 2014 Hamilton Arts Council fiction shortlist offer a diversity of voices and approaches that make them unique and engaging .

    Amanda Leduc’s debut novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men, is the story of two unlikely dreamers: Sam, a man who wakes up to find himself growing wings, and Lilah, a woman who has lost her brother to the streets of Vancouver. The novel, with its two separate yet connected storylines, is both enchanting and visceral in its exploration of spirituality through the lens of magic realism. Leduc isn't afraid to ask big questions about the existence of God and divine Providence and, in the end, challenges readers to wonder what is righteous and what is sinful... and whether it even matters.

    Nightswimming by Janet Turpin Myers is another engaging debut novel that harnesses the sights and sounds of the Muskokas, the momentous events of the Apollo 11 moon landings, and the stirring passions of first love. Beautiful yet funny, Myers explores the major turning points of the 60s and how these events affect us in our consciousness and our memories. In language that is lyrical and moving, Myers takes readers to places they know like the back of their hand and then flips the hand over to read the map of its lines.

    Much like the protagonist in her book The Manager, Caroline Stellings' book packs a powerful wallop and is not to be underestimated. Whip-quick narrative and dynamic characters combine with a twisting road-trip that leads readers into the boxing ring for a charming adventure that will have both young and adult readers cheering. Short and powerful, Stellings book surprises readers with characters who are heroic and flawed, a conclusion of unexpected revelations, and a journey that touches the heart.

    Coming Next: The Kerry Schooley Award Shortlist

  • The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Poetry Shortlist

    November 25, 2014 by Stephen Near

    For a city known for its gritty urbanism Hamilton abounds in poets. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of the beauty of the escarpment against the light of the flares from the steel mills that inspires them, but this year we’ve quite the poetry shortlist. From a several strong collections submitted this year, three experienced poets have been selected for our shortlist. Slack Action, Jeffrey Donaldson’s fifth collection, A Bee Garden Marilyn Gear Pillings fifth collection and John Terpstra's seventh collection, Brilliant Falls show the unusual strength of the poetry being written in our city.

    Marilyn Gear Pilling's A Bee Garden is composed of poems of family, memory, love and friendship, centered around a searing sequence of poems tracing a family’s grief at the death of a young woman from suicide. Laced through these all-too-human stories are gardens, greenery and beauty. Gear Pilling writes of this difficult topic and all other poems in this book with warmth and forgiveness, balancing them with her delight in the physical world. She brings her well-known compassion to bear, and invites the reader into her poems.

    In Slack Action we again encounter Jeffery Donaldson's thoughtful yet witty verse. Borrowing its title from a railroad term describing the interplay between train cars, where free movement transmits from one to another, Donaldson’s words highlight the floating space of mid-life. The uncertain space where children are leaving home and parents may be returning, where one can’t always remember how things started and certainly can’t tell how things will end. It is a slippery concept to capture in poetry but Donaldson succeeds admirably in this innovative collection.

    John Terpstra's Brilliant Falls is grounded in the grace notes of the everyday. The epiphanies that occur as you teach your daughter to drive or as you clear a house of years of a parent’s accumulated belongings. These poems acknowledge endings, either slow ones or sudden, but as all good poets do, Terpstra tells us these truths slant. We consider being let into heaven due to cutbacks or whether or not a crow on a prairie road might be Sitting Bull. As always Terpstra questions our place in nature and what constitutes divine. But he does it while wrestling an old mattress from the roof of a Honda.

    Coming Next: The Fiction Shortlist

  • I'm not an artist, but I love the arts!

    November 19, 2014 by Kerry Jarvi

    I don’t sing, dance, sculpt, write or paint. My work history is rather varied and I have never been employed by something within even arm’s reach to the arts.   So... why am I fortunate enough to be on the boards of two incredible arts organizations?  Well… I wish I could sing, dance, sculpt, write or paint.  I am fascinated by the amazing things others create.  I have paintings on my walls that bring me joy every day and never tire of written words that can make me laugh out loud or draw the sincerest of tears.   I hope that in some way, channeling my envy of artists through the skills that I have will support those that can do all of those wonderful things.

    Why are 'non-artists' helpful on arts boards?  We are enthusiastic about what you do.  I have been known to share with great exuberance the wonders of Hamilton Fringe or the supports made available through the Hamilton Arts Council.  It is very easy in our day to day lives to find ourselves surrounded by the same network of people.  We 'non-artists' most likely have a network of people who may not be as involved in the arts community.  We can share what is happening with a broader network.  When signing on to volunteer on a board there is an expectation to fundraise for the organization. This is to benefit what you do and we each have varying abilities to fundraise whether it be cutting a cheque or connecting our colleagues to the cause.  All board members I work with, either artists or not, appreciate the work that staff of arts organizations do.  Generally, wages are not exceptional for staff in arts organizations and I believe most of us hope that we can volunteer our time at events or through committees to lighten their load.   Lastly, us 'non-artists' are generally great consumers of the arts.  We volunteer in arts organizations because we appreciate what you do and want to see your shows, buy your art (although some of us may have walls that are about to burst) or read your articles or books. 

    Help us!  Share with us!  Tell us why you do what you do.  We are genuinely interested and can’t wait to share your work!  Sometimes you may need to ignore our ignorance in your process and teach us.  Speak to us so that we can be better advocates of your work and the arts in general.  Support the organizations that are supporting you.  If you have spare time, volunteer at an event or attend the events that they host.  Share with others why you are involved with those organizations.  Please keep singing, dancing, sculpting, writing and painting - there are many 'non-artists' out there that can't wait to share what you are doing!


    Kerry is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Downtown Hamilton BIA.  She is Vice-President/Secretary for the Hamilton Fringe Festival and a new Director for the Hamilton Arts Council.  


  • The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Non-fiction Shortlist

    November 12, 2014 by Stephen Near

    From one man's poignant and intimate recollections about growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario, to another's recounting of four Hamilton murders and the ensuing work of police to another's provocative and profound review of the scientific and social history of blood, 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.

    This House Is Condemned represents a hard-hitting and heart-felt testament by author David Haskins to a life lived on the edge of Lake Ontario. It is an exploration of the currents of humor and sadness that flow through both his physical landscape and his memory of it. Within the book, Haskins combines a myriad of forms, from fictionalized prose to personal essays to poetic interludes, to capture the geographic impact of the lakeside environment on the human condition and his own personal journey from childhood to adulthood.

    Lawrence Hill's Blood: The Stuff of Life is a meditation and examination on the power of blood. Written as a series of essays for the CBC Massey Lectures, Hill boldly breaks down ideas of identity, belonging, gender, race, class, citizenship, and nationality by looking at the scientific and social history of blood. Through his examination  of how it liquid pulses through the veins society, Hill offers a profound insight into ways that blood both unites and divides us all.

    Death's Shadow is Jon Wells' taut and visceral recounting of four harrowing stories of murder and justice in Hamilton. Collected from his multi-part series from the Hamilton Spectator, Wells shines a light on the details of these crimes while focusing on both the investigations by police and the unheard voices of the surviving family and friends of the victims. What emerges is an intimate yet captivating addition to Canadian true crime writing.

    Coming Next: The Poetry Shortlist

  • Hamilton Literary Awards Update

    October 27, 2014 by Stephen Near

    November is literary award season, and everyone is watching the big prizes being announced across Canada, but here in Hamilton we’re all particularly interested in celebrating the talent in our own city.

    This year we have even more reason to celebrate. We’ve had an abundance of books submitted with 18 in total and in all four categories. In addition to this year’s awards for Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry, we will once again be presenting the Kerry Schooley Award for the book most evocative of the Hamilton region in honour of the late literary icon Kerry Schooley. The submissions are all of the highest calibre and have generated a lot of excitement at the Arts Council offices.

    We’re also happy to be presenting our upcoming Literary Awards with the continued generosity of The Hamilton Spectator as well as our long partnership with our Venue Sponsors at Theatre Aquarius. Each year they have given us the perfect place to enjoy our ceremony and raise a glass to our winners and we couldn’t ask for a better venue in which to hold our celebration.

    This year we’ll be holding the awards a bit later than usual due to the exceptional preparations for Theatre Aquarius’ run of Mary Poppins, which we encourage you all to see. As a result, we’re moving the date of the 21st Annual Literary Awards to January 5th, 2015, in the Norman and Louise Haac Studio Theatre at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts. We hope you'll join us in ringing in the New Year with true bookish style.

    Keep watch for our shortlisted books, which will be posted very soon. The judges are still deliberating the last few titles, and we invite you all to read our shortlists once they’re posted to see just how hard a decision the final choice will be.