Hamilton writers and Creatives speak on the city’s literary scene and its reputation across Canada
Writers, contrary to the image many of us have in our heads, are not islands unto themselves.
Sure, writers work alone – even when collaborating with others, there’s usually only one pair of hands on one keyboard as the creativity flowers. Yet all writers – poets, novelists, reporters, essayists, non-fiction authors – are part of a network. Whether they have a major book deal or are self-published, writers are engaged with professional readers, publishers, copy editors, jacket designers, distributors, publicists, illustrators, printers, and the many other professionals that make written and published works a dynamic industry.
In Hamilton, the written and published works sector is vital and ever-expanding. According to StatsCan, in 2016 the written and published works sector accounted for 36.8% of the total creative industries sector occupations in Hamilton. The city ranked 5th behind Regina, Edmonton, Ottawa and Sudbury of occupations as a percentage of total creative occupations in the sector, which was also ranked third in occupation growth between 2011 and 2016. During that time, it was “writing” that was the fastest-growing occupation in the city. In the last five years, however, writers from around the country have continued to relocate to Hamilton, so the numbers today would be much higher.
Remarkably, the same Stats Can information suggested almost 300 businesses in Hamilton were involved with written and published works. Among them is the award-winning publishing house Wolsak and Wynn. Under their umbrella are several successful imprints, including Poplar Books, Buckrider Books and James St N Books, the latter of which focuses on Hamilton writers and stories.
Created in 1982, the press is now run by owner Noelle Allen, who relocated Wolsak & Wynn to Hamilton over 15 years ago. “Hamilton is a vibrant city filled with history, with a gorgeous natural landscape and a lot of untold stories,” she says. “When I first moved the press here, I realized that this was the perfect spot for a publishing company. There were writers and readers and great independent bookstores, a literary festival, long-lived reading series, everything a publisher could hope for in a city with a warm and welcoming literary community.”
In Hamilton, that community is deeply supportive of writers and the businesses that support them. The annual Hamilton Literary Awards, for example, recognizes and celebrates the best of our region’s published authors. At the most recent presentation, poet and author Gary Barwin, won the Judy Marsales Award for Poetry.
“It’s small enough that people know each other so there’s a feeling of collegiality, but big enough that you can choose those with whom you’re most simpatico,” he says of the city. “Small enough that opportunities that you wouldn’t get in a bigger city are offered to you —and there are opportunities—but not so small that you’re the only one doing the work, or feel the obligation, or have to do it all yourself.”
Barwin, like many other local writers, frequently shares his experience and wisdom by mentoring younger or newer authors. He been the Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer-in-Residence (via the Hamilton Public Library and McMaster University) and is on the committee that steers the monthly reading series, LitLive, a long-running event that puts the spotlight on writers both local and national. For writers and readers, Hamilton is alive with readings, writers’ groups, book clubs, library events, and more. It also hosts the GritLIT Readers’ and Writers’ Festival, a four-day celebration of Canadian authors, which has earned a solid reputation with writers across the country.
“I knew that the scene here was vibrant, but I had no idea how welcoming it would be,” says bestselling author Amy Jones, who moved to Hamilton from Toronto just prior to the COVID outbreak. “Even during a pandemic, so many people reached out to introduce themselves, invite me to events, and just generally make me feel a part of the community,” she says. “The Hamilton literary scene is not just an extension of the Toronto scene–it has its own identity, its own life, its own breath.” New writers, new publishers, new events, new ideas – every day, the written and published works sector in Hamilton grows stronger and gains more recognition across Canada. It’s not just a business sector, it’s an inspiring arts community that is waiting to welcome you.
New writers, new publishers, new events, new ideas – every day, the written and published works sector in Hamilton grows stronger and gains more recognition across Canada. It’s not just a business sector, it’s an inspiring arts community that is waiting to welcome you.