Hamilton needs a centralized writers’ association
In a progressive, culturally robust city, this is unacceptable
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wolsak & Wynn, a literary press at 280 James St N. in Hamilton.