Embracing local talent and fostering a community

By Elizabeth DiEmanuele

When gritLIT: Hamilton’s Readers and Writers Festival first started, there was one goal: to give Hamilton the literary festival it deserved, one open to all community members, regardless of whether or not they read the novel. gritLIT wanted to bring Hamilton readers together and give writers at all stages in their career a chance to learn, share, and even develop their work in a welcoming space.

Bringing a literary festival to a city without one was an ambitious goal, but one that gritLIT is proud to say they have accomplished. From holding larger author panels and workshops at the Art Gallery of Hamilton to hosting more intimate writer and author events with friends from The Staircase and Mills Hardware, gritLIT has grown past its initial goal to create a literary festival and has fostered a community.

“gritLIT is all about engagement,” Jennifer Gillies, gritLIT’s artistic director shares. “We give Hamilton book lovers a chance to dive in, ask questions, meet their favourite authors and get as excited about Canadian books as we are.”

One of gritLIT’s goals is to keep events casual, accessible, and comfortable, free of the pretention that sometimes gets associated with literary circles. As its name implies, literature is gritty and messy because life is gritty and messy. Previous attendees of the festival know that they can attend in their ripped jeans and trade stories over drinks without ever feeling unwelcome.

Photos by Reba Shahid

Recent results from gritLIT’s 2017 surveys revealed that about one fourth of festival goers come from out of town, much of which can be attributed to its strong reputation and sense of community. As Gillies suggests, “We’ve got a great community. When book lovers come to our events, they always come back.”

Now, in its fourteenth year, gritLIT will further build upon its goal to foster community by offering a Fall Program, which includes partnered events with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hamilton Film Festival. This will be the first year that gritLIT will maintain a full year of programming.

Included in their Fall Program is a full-day festival event, called Hamilton: A Celebration of Stories. This event, sponsored by the City’s Canada 150 Fund, will feature authors and writers who have a strong connection to Hamilton, including: Hamilton Reads author, Zoe Whittall; Hamilton authors, Dr. Daniel Coleman, Sally Cooper, Krista Foss, Shannon Bramer, and John Terpstra; and, other local authors, like Cherie Dimaline and Lee Maracle. The event will take place on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at The Staircase.

In line with its mandate to embrace local talent, gritLIT is also running a memoir writing contest for writers in southwestern Ontario. Those who submit their work will be judged by a panel of published authors, with the winning writer receiving $500 and a chance to read at gritLIT’s festival.

To learn more about gritLIT, visit gritlit.ca.