Hamil­ton needs a cen­tral­ized writ­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion

In a pro­gres­sive, cul­tur­ally ro­bust city, this is un­ac­cept­able

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LAURA FURSTER

If you Google “Hamil­ton Writ­ers’ Guild,” you will find an or­ga­ni­za­tion at the Hamil­ton Cam­pus of Mi­ami Univer­sity. Try “Hamil­ton Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion,” and you will find your­self in Hamil­ton, New Zealand. Type in “Hamil­ton ON­TARIO Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tions,” and you will find work­shops and off­shoots of na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The top search re­sult? “Writ­ing Mee­tups in Hamil­ton” on meetup.com. Only one of the listings is ac­tu­ally in Hamil­ton.

But, I’m not look­ing for a “meetup,” I am search­ing for a pro­fes­sional-level writ­ers’ council that does more than just lead open po­etry work­shops and host a few read­ings per year, or run an an­nual fes­ti­val. As far as I can tell, which is far enough if Google can­not pro­duce my de­sired re­sult with sev­eral dif­fer­ently worded searches, there is no such thing in Hamil­ton.

In a pro­gres­sive, cul­tur­ally ro­bust city that is com­ing up on the heels of Toronto, this is un­ac­cept­able.

We have gritLIT, an an­nual lit­er­ary fes­ti­val that is so aptly named it makes me giddy. We host au­thors from all over the coun­try at this four-day event, held pri­mar­ily at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton. It is a fan­tas­tic as­set — once a year.

Of course there is the Hamil­ton Arts Council, which pro­vides in­for­ma­tion, an artist di­rec­tory, and re­sources for all ma­jor dis­ci­plines. I am cer­tainly a strong pro­po­nent of over­ar­ch­ing arts as­so­ci­a­tions that bring us all into one room, but who is hav­ing or­ga­nized and fo­cused con­ver­sa­tions about the lit­er­ary land­scape in Hamil­ton? If you know some­thing I don’t, please, do tell. Why is Hamil­ton so low on lit­er­ary mojo? I stud­ied English at the Univer­sity of Toronto, and spent sev­eral years com­mut­ing into the big city from my fam­ily home in Mis­sis­sauga. I passed up UTM for the St. Ge­orge cam­pus be­cause I wanted big­ger and bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties to net­work. I am still thank­ful to have at­tended a cre­ative writ­ing sem­i­nar with Al­bert Moritz there, and to have kept in touch years later. He is one of our great­est Cana­dian po­ets — a Grif­fin Prize win­ner, and an as­set to Toronto.

I later spent four years liv­ing in Guelph, a much smaller city with a strong, but en­closed, lit­er­ary scene. There I per­formed at monthly po­etry read­ings, and net­worked with many tal­ented writ­ers at small book launches.

So, what do these cities have that Hamil­ton doesn’t? Size.

Guelph is small, and like minds not only know each other, but tend to run into each other on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, cre­at­ing a sense of sin­gu­lar com­mu­nity. So, people talk, stop to join each other for cof­fee. In Guelph, you can an­tic­i­pate who will be at var­i­ous events, and there are a fair num­ber of events to choose from. How­ever, Guelph has lim­ited po­ten­tial, and tends to keep to it­self. This is not the model for progress.

Toronto is big, and at­tracts a great amount of tal­ent. As I said, I chose down­town Toronto for my school­ing be­cause I was look­ing for the people and re­sources to best equip me for my ca­reer in writ­ing. U of T’s en­rol­ment is nearly triple that of McMaster, which means big­ger fac­ul­ties of pro­fes­sors not only teach­ing up-and-com­ers, but gen­er­at­ing their own out­put in their fields. Events such as book launches tend to oc­cur on the out­skirts of the cam­pus, and they hap­pen of­ten.

Uni­ver­si­ties have an im­por­tant roll in fos­ter­ing cre­ative and in­tel­lec­tual ac­tiv­ity, but they are not the only in­sti­tu­tional as­set to a city’s cre­ative de­vel­op­ment. In the lit world, pub­lish­ing houses are the movers and shak­ers bring­ing writ­ers to­gether at book launches and fes­ti­vals, pro­mot­ing en­tire ros­ters of tal­ent at each event. Toronto boasts the likes of Pen­guin Ran­dom House, House of Anansi Press, and McClelland & Ste­wart Ltd.

From what I have found, Hamil­ton has one qual­ity lit­er­ary press, Wol­sak & Wynn, who have a store­front on James St N. Lack­ing the fun­da­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties of pub­lish­ing and pro­mot­ing books and their writ­ers is, I be­lieve, the great­est void in our lit­er­ary land­scape, but there are many fac­tors that play into this fail­ing.

And this is why Hamil­ton needs a writ­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion, with board mem­bers and ev­ery­thing. With­out con­ver­sa­tions, Hamil­ton will not grow its lit­er­ary scene. We need to at­tract and cre­ate the right as­sets, and we need to fig­ure out how to do it. Who will join me?

Laura Furster is a fine artist, lit­er­ary writer, and jour­nal­ist liv­ing in down­town Hamil­ton. She can be found on Face­book/Twit­ter/In­sta­gram, and at www.laura-furster.com. Con­tact: laura.furster@out­look.com.

LAURA FURSTER

Wol­sak & Wynn, a lit­er­ary press at 280 James St N. in Hamil­ton.

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