The Hamilton Spectator
Sharp Words has good reads for everyone
Inaugural book fair to be held Saturday at Bridgeworks
One of the things the pandemic made many of us appreciate was the value of the printed word. When you’re isolated at home, there’s no better friend than a good book.
So it’s probably a good time to celebrate our local publishers, booksellers and writers. You can do that all in one day at the Sharp Words Book Fair on Saturday at Bridgeworks (200 Caroline St. North). Admission is free.
Bridgeworks is best known as a live music venue, but Sharp Words will fill it with readers, writers and books of every description for both young and old.
“We will have books for everybody,” says Noelle Allen, owner of Hamilton-based Wolsak & Wynn publishing house and one of the organizers of the event.
The book fair will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with almost 30 vendors, representing independent publishers like Book*hug, a new press based out of Six Nations, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Between the Lines (a social movement press started in 1977), small comic publishers like Black Eye Books, letter press artists like Wes Bates, chapbook publishers like Baseline Press from London, Ont., as well as several children’s book authors.
There will be panel discussions throughout the day on the Bridgeworks stage, including one at 11 a.m. on the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, featuring Allen, of Wolsak & Wynn, and author Mark Leslie Lefebvre who runs Canadian ebook seller Kobo’s self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life.
In recent years, Hamilton’s literary scene has risen to national prominence as home to some of the top authors in the country. Just to prove you don’t have to live in Toronto to achieve success, a 1 p.m. panel will discuss “Making it Big in the Hammer.” The panel will feature Hamilton authors Sheila Murray, Gary Barwin and Joe Ollmann. All three have been finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Award.
Beginning at 7 p.m., the book fair will transform into a literary cabaret. The bar will open and a lineup of local authors will take the stage — not to read, but to sing.
The cabaret is the brainchild of Hamilton writer Nathan Whitlock, who is co-ordinator for Humber College’s creative book publishing program. Whitlock put together a band of area musicians and invited local writers to sit in and sing with them.
Among those who accepted the challenge are: Murray, whose debut novel “Finding Edward” made last year’s Governor General’s list; Jamie Tennant, novelist and host of CFMU’s “Get Lit” program; awardwinning poet John Terpstra; and Andrew F. Sullivan whose latest book “The Marigold” is about a city eating itself.
“The cabaret is going to be an enormous amount of fun,” says Sharp Words’ organizer Allen. “It’s basically a big karaoke night. Nathan (Whitlock) asked a lot of authors within the city, if they wanted to sing. I really can’t wait to see it.
“Gary Barwin is going to do something with his typewriter. Yes, he plays electronic music with his typewriter. It’s an enormous mix of people.”
Allen put together Sharp Words with the help Tim Potocic of Supercrawl Productions, which runs the Bridgeworks venue and the annual street festival on James Street North. Allen had helped stage an author and book area at last September’s Supercrawl that proved to be a popular success.
“Seeing how people really enjoyed the author readings last year, Tim (Potocic) felt there was an appetite for this if we put it on,” Allen explains.
Allen, 51, has been a key member of the local literary scene since purchasing Wolsak & Wynn shortly after it moved to Hamilton about 16 years ago. The small independent was started up initially 40 years ago in Toronto by poets Heather Cadsby and Marja Jacobs. Within six years, the firm had won its first Governor General’s Award for poetry.
“Wolsak and Wynn were old family names on both sides of Heather and Marja’s families,” Allen says, explaining how the press gained it’s name. “Because they were both publishing authors at the time, they didn’t want to name the press after themselves. They wanted to keep the press separate from their publishing.”
Allen, a native of Fort McMurray, Alta., had worked for Wolsak & Wynn for several years when she decided to purchase the company. About 14 years ago, Allen moved the firm from its first Hamilton location on Hughson Street to its present home on James Street North, where it now publishes a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
“One of the best things we did was move from Toronto to Hamilton,” Allen says.
“Moving out of Toronto gave us space to grow because it’s so expensive in Toronto. Everything costs more. It was the perfect time to move here. And Hamilton is an incredibly welcoming city. We’re all fairly down to earth here.”
After studying political science and economics at the University of Calgary, Allen tried her hand at becoming an author, but the isolated life of a writer proved not to be for her. She decided to apply her love for the printed word in other ways.
“I love making books, working with the writer to finish a story, seeing it through, getting the finished book, selling it to the book stores, all the processes and parts of getting the book out there,” says Allen, who lives with her husband of 30 years and their two sons in the Kirkendall neighbourhood off Locke Street.