Monday, December 16, 2013

Rob Ford, semi-colons, poetry, short stories, and prize-winners: Report from The LitLive Reading Series, December 1.

It’s amazing really: each month in Hamilton, actual real live writers—well known nationally or locally—participate in a lively reading of their work live on stage. And it’s free. The series is called Lit Live, not only because it's ‘live’ (as opposed to recorded) but because it makes literature come alive and I don’t mean in a Frankensteinian way.

The reading series is held the first Sunday of each month at Homegrown Hamilton. It features six writers—novelists, short story writers, poets, memoirists, and non-fiction writers, including, this December, three winners of the GritLit Writing Contest. The audience and the guest writers are always impressed at the size of the crowd and how congenial the series is. And no hipster posing (though I try, I try) or cliquishness.  Just fantastic writing in a friendly atmosphere. This evening, as usual, we had to get out extra chairs for the full house. All found their way to a libation and got comfortable.

Writer/educator/cartoonist Jen Jones was the entertaining host. (Each month, there's a different host from the arts community.) Jen explained how she had recently met Margaret Atwood (I think she's a hockey star or something) at Bryan Prince, Bookseller event and, after talking cartooning, Atwood drew a cartoon for her mother for Christmas. (Jen’s mom: if you’re reading this: we’ll make sure that she gives it to you and doesn’t keep it for herself!)

The first reader was poet/biologist Jan Conn who travelled from Albany, NY to read. Jan Conn has written eight books of poetry and is also a Research Scientist at the Wadsworth Center, Division of Infectious Diseases in Albany. She read a series of dark and darkly humorous poems, some of which incorporated her interest in biology, from her recent collection, Edge Effects.

Second was Toronto writer, Mark Goldstein. Before becoming a full-time writer, he played drums alongside Leslie Feist and Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning in the indie rock band By Divine Right. Mark read hauntingly from his book on ‘motherloss,’ Form of Forms as well as some of his inventive translations of Celan.

Next up was writer and teacher Dave Haskins who has been involved with the local writing community for many years.  He read from his recently published memoir, This House is Condemned (just out from Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn.) The passage was an evocative account of his English boyhood vision of Canada and of a recent trip to Haida Gwaii.

Then we heard from three winners of the 2013 GritLit Literary Festival writing contest.

Burlington writer Janet Turpin Myers, read her short story, “Crashing,” a dramatic and humorous piece which involved some cars. Crashing. The story placed third in the contest. Her debut novel, Nightswimming was recently launched by Seraphim Editions.

Hamilton writer Alexandra Missett gave a vivid and dynamic reading of her story, "Fire," which won the GritLit short fiction contest.

Raymond Beauchemin, now of Hamilton, closed the evening with a charming reading of three poems (which were part of his 3rd place GritLit-winning poetry entry) and which appear in the novel he is currently writing. Raymond set the scene with some funny stories and read with a beautifully resonant voice.

Then Jen Jones the host asked everyone to look under their chair. We each received a new car and a cruiseship! Alright, so maybe that didn’t happen, but she did let everyone know that all of the GritLit winning writing is available in a chapbook. And that details of the next reading  (Sunday, January 5th, 2014 at 7:30 at Homegrown Hamilton) can be found at the LitLive blog. 

The writers stuck around to chat with the audience, many of whom visited the booktable to buy books and have them signed.  Before we all left, Rob Ford who was in the audience, suddenly stood up and said, “This kind of reading series is great opportunity to hear a diverse range of both new and familiar writers in an intimate setting (as opposed to those poetry readings at the ACC); it is an experience of writing that is vivid, fun, engaging, and often moving.” Then he said, “Did I just use a semi-colon?”  “I can’t comment on a semi-colon that may or may not exist,” Mayor Bratina said. “But this was a really great night of literature in Hamilton.” OK, so if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that that none of this paragraph is true, except for the great night of literature part. And the part telling you that none of it was true except for that part. And, you know, this part.

I do invite you to come out to a LitLive Reading. The series really is a great opportunity to hear great writing in a welcoming and congenial setting; and semi-colons.

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