Last week, gritLIT recognized and apologized for our wrongful planning and promotion of “Is CanLit a Raging Dumpster Fire?”, an event we programmed that ignorantly made reference to an article of the same name by Alicia Elliott. This event was disrespectful, and for that I am deeply sorry. We commit to doing better.

Our community has rightfully asked: What does this commitment look like? After making a public apology to Alicia Elliott, as well as to Nick Mount, Elaine Dewar and Dana Hansen who were also misrepresented in the description, gritLIT took a moment to let the conversation continue and voices be heard, both on and off social media. Here are two of the outcomes we would like to share.

  • We made personal apologies to all the parties involved, including a phone call to Alicia Elliott, and to all our writers taking part in the festival.
  • We decided to fill the event-space with the conversation that the original description should have encompassed: a discussion about Canadian literature that centers the voices of our BIPOC authors in a space that is inclusive and accessible. It will also be a discussion where authors are compensated for their labour because, as authors on this panel and others have expressed, these conversations are labour. We need to recognize that as a community.

Alicia Elliott has graciously accepted our invitation to take part in this discussion as a gritLIT author, and she will be joined by Jael Richardson from the FOLD Festival and fellow gritLIT author Carrianne Leung. After a discussion with the authors, this event has been titled “CanLit REALLY Is A Dumpster Fire.” We encourage our community to learn more about the event here.

We cannot undo the mistakes we made or the hurt we have caused. I truly hope that by opening the gritLIT space to have these conversations in a real way, we can at least relieve some of that pain and provide a positive path forward.


Jennifer Gillies

Artistic Director


By Elizabeth Obermeyer

It has been a little longer than we’d hoped between writing contest judge introductions – those darn holidays, messing up all our plans – but we are back, and extremely pleased to present the second of our three contest judges, Hamilton’s very own John Terpstra.

John has published several books of poetry and nonfiction, and has been a longtime supporter and friend of gritLIT festival, and we are so grateful that he has taken the time to participate in our 5 Questions With series.

You can read more about John on his website, and of course keep reading for John’s five answers here!

1. You’re a writer who moves between poetry and nonfiction. How difficult – or not – is it to switch gears between the two? And, does your nonfiction ever stray into poetry or vice versa? 

Some of my poetry has found its way into my non-fiction, especially early on, in Falling into Place, and there are some readers/listeners who have told me that when they attend my readings they cannot tell the difference between the prose and the poetry, so maybe it’s only a matter of line-breaks. I hope not.

One difference for me, from the writing side of things, is that the non-fiction is requires a lot of time, and that you stay on a schedule or it will never get finished.

Poetry is without schedule. It is outside of time. So there.

2. You write a lot about places and locations and you have a real eye for the details of your surroundings, whether it’s a forest, a city, a building. Have you always been a keen observer of detail, or is that something that has come out of your writing?

The writing itself is what makes me an observer, I think. For some unknown reason something will call attention to itself and I have to begin pursuing it. Then I get kind of obsessive, and the details start emerging, and i love them. In normal, everyday life, I get easily distracted.

3. You’ve been involved with gritLIT since the very first festival – I think that was determined at an event back in the fall! What is your impression as to how the festival has grown and evolved since the early years?

It’s still evolving, isn’t it? It’s always cast a wide net when hauling-in the authors, and has also been pretty sensitive to the feelings of local authors who may or may not get invited to read. I like that it is a Writers and Readers Festival.

4. As someone who writes both poetry and prose, what advice would you give to writers entering the gritLIT contest who might be new to the creative nonfiction or memoir genre?

My advice would be don’t be afraid, you have nothing to lose, write whatever is right in front of you to write. 
5. Finally, can you give us a glimpse into what’s next for you, creatively?

My latest project, which is supposed to be handed in to the publisher by the end of this month (!), concerns a captured creek that no one knows about that runs through the city of Hamilton. It’s called Daylighting Chedoke and Wolsak and Wynn (ever heard to them?)(just kidding) is publishing it for next fall 2018.

Many thanks to John for answering our questions candidly and with his signature sense of humour, too!

Our memoir and creative nonfiction contest is now closed, but we still have one more judge to reveal to you, so please stay tuned for our next 5 Questions With, coming soon!

Ann Choi (cr John Burridge)

The January 10th deadline for the gritLIT writing contest is quickly approaching, and, in order to introduce you, our potential entrants, to this year’s contest judges we will be bringing you our new “Five Questions With” feature.

Today we are delighted to present to you the first judge for our 2018 Memoir and Creative Nonfiction contest, Ann Y.K. Choi!

Ann is a Toronto-based author, whose first novel Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was published in 2016. The novel follows the story of Mary, a Korean-born Canadian, growing up in mid-1980s Toronto. Mary is torn between the expectations her parents have for her, and her own desires for her future.

Ann was a featured author at this year’s gritLIT Festival, and not only is she a wonderful writer, but is also one of the most delightful people you could ever hope to meet.

You can read more about Ann at her website, learn more about her debut novel at, AND settle in to read her answers to our questions for the blog!

  1. While Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety isn’t exactly autobiographical, some of your experiences growing up in Toronto as a new Canadian helped shape the story. Did you ever find yourself slipping from Mary’s story into your own or vice versa?

I wanted this story to be as “real” as possible because my motivation for writing it was to ensure that my daughter understood what life was like for the Korean immigrants coming to Canada in the mid-70s. Back then, there was very little of the Korean culture or heritage represented. Mary and her best friend Kate are composites of the Korean-Canadian girls and young women I knew growing up in the 70s and 80s. Because I struggled with my mental wellness, a counsellor suggested that I find out what made other Korean-Canadians with variety stores or demanding parental expectations happy. I was an undergrad at the time so I interviewed several Korean-Canadian young women. I found out that we were all struggling and feeling burdened by the pressure to excel at school and to help out with family businesses. When I started to write my novel, I was able to recall our combined voices and use them to guide my writing.

  1. The variety store is definitely central to the story, and the store itself almost feels like another character at times. It’s comforting and familiar, but it also looms over Mary’s story and her life. How important is it to have a sort of “home base” in this kind of writing? A place for characters to retreat to, or, at times escape from?

I have a complicated relationship with the variety store. Growing up, I felt it was robbing my family of something. It kept us chained to it. The store’s hours were long and demanding. Even when my mother was hospitalized and we thought she was dying, we had to keep the store open because it was our only source of income. This meant missing school. I think that’s why as a teacher today, I really don’t care if student assignments come in late or homework doesn’t always get done – because we don’t know what home life is like for students. My parents had a lot of pride in our store. After coming to Canada with nothing, they had managed to start a business.  I used to joke that the variety store was my mother’s fourth child. It was her baby – something she nurtured and protected. I really enjoyed talking with some of our regular customers and feeling part of the community – that’s what made the store feel like home for me. The store in my novel serves multiple purposes: like a character, it complicates relationships amongst other characters and also creates a foundation for the story to unfold.

  1. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was one of my favourite books of last year, so I’m curious to know what you’re working on now. Can you give us any insight as to what’s next for you? Another novel, perhaps? But no pressure of course!

Thank you for reading Kay’s! I’m working on a novel set in 1924 Korea, when the nation was one country under Japanese occupation. Because I’ve never studied Korean history, much of my time over the past few years has been spent on researching. My daughter and I even went to South Korea to visit the places that inspired my setting.  She wasn’t happy with me when I tried to re-enact some of the scenes with her. In one case, we found ourselves deep in the mountains which was both lovely and scary. I was trying to imagine my character there, running away to avoid an arranged marriage. I wore flip-flops and a long skirt just as my character would have – which made trekking through the mountain trails extremely challenging. The August heat was oppressive. Then there were the bugs …

  1. I know you’re a full-time teacher in the York Region District School Board, AND a full-time mom, so I suspect your writing time is precious. Can you give us a little glimpse into your writing process, and when and where you do your writing?

I’ve learned after years of putting “writing” on the bottom of my daily to-do list that I needed to build some sort of accountability for myself. Although I often struggle to get started, I will do almost anything to avoid missing a due date or deadline. Years ago, I took creative writing courses which had built-in deadlines for me to work towards. Now, I have a wonderful writing circle that meets every second Saturday of the month. This means I have monthly writing goals to drive my novel forward. I often work at night, or if I’m working on a personal essay or interview questions for a specific publication/website, I’ll make time wherever I can to meet the tight turnaround times. I love my Blackberry because the physical keyboard allows me to type almost as quickly as I can on my laptop. This is especially useful for writing on the subway or waiting in lines at the supermarket, or cafés.

  1. Finally, the gritLIT writing contest is looking for short works of creative nonfiction or memoir this year. What advice would you give to writers who plan to enter our contest?

Creative nonfiction, like fiction, includes characters, dialogue, setting, and a storyline. Make use of these elements and literary devices to tell a memorable story. Read writing by authors you admire. What makes their creative nonfiction pieces compelling for you? Some of my favourite nonfiction classics include Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Studying them through a writer’s lens (as opposed to engaging the text as a reader) was one of the most useful exercises I had to do in my creative nonfiction courses. Finally, I think writing from real life can stir many emotions and pose several challenges. Be gentle on yourself, and stay focused on crafting an authentic story only you can tell.

Many, many thanks to Ann for taking the time to provide such thoughtful and inspirational answers to our questions, and for being on board to judge the 2018 writing contest.

Stay tuned for our next Five Questions With…coming soon!

Do you know about gritLIT’s Memoir and Creative Nonfiction Writing Contest?

Our contest is now open! If you are a writer and a resident of southern Ontario, we await your entries of creative nonfiction or memoir! You can find all the details about the contest on our website at, and if you have any questions that aren’t answered on the site, please send them to

We are thrilled to announce that we have three fantastic authors joining us as judges for the 2018 contest. Who are they? All will be revealed in good time! Our plan is to introduce you to them one at a time here on the blog in a feature we are calling Five Questions With… We will be sending each author/judge five questions that will serve to let you know a little bit more about them and their work, their writing process, their inspiration, AND maybe even a bit of advice for anyone entering our contest.

Intrigued? Stay tuned for our first Five Questions With, hitting the blog very, very soon!

“Like This? You’ll Love These” is a new feature on our blog, where we compare lesser known Canadian novels to mega hits that have topped the bestsellers charts and gained rave reviews. And, best of all, the authors featured in this series will ALL be in Hamilton from April 6th to 9th!

For our first instalment of “Like This? You’ll Love These!”, we tackle Gone Girl, the novel that set in motion our renewed addiction to literary thrillers and all of the twists and turns of the genre!

Like This?

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn, Crown Publishing Group


What we have to say: Think back to the literary scene of 2012, if you can. Everyone was still swept up in the buzz of the runaway smash hit from the previous year, Fifty Shades of Grey and Canada was preoccupied with the beauty of Will Ferguson’s 419. And then a dark little story about the psychological effects of long-term relationships and a mysterious disappearance. Skyrocketing to the top of the charts, Gone Girl was on the New York Times‘ bestsellers list for 8 consecutive weeks and was quickly made into a blockbuster David Fincher film starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Ever since then, readers haven’t been able to get enough of the literary thriller, evidenced by the fact that the genre occupies multiple spots on most bestseller lists.

You’ll Love These! 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things: Iain Reid, Simon & Schuster


From the Dust Jacket: “In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned. In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.”

(Note: This is one of our volunteers’s staff picks! If you ever need someone to talk about *that* ending with, he’s your man!) 

Iain Reid will be reading from I’m Thinking of Ending Things on Thursday April 6th at 9:30 pm! Tickets to the event are available here.


The Couple Next Door: Shari Lapena, Doubleday Canada


From the Dust Jacket: Fast-paced and addictive, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR announces a major new talent in thriller writing. You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall. Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying. Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour. Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone. You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there. What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

Shari Lapena will be reading from The Couple Next Door on Saturday April 8th at 8:00 pm! Tickets to the event are available here


So Much Love: Rebecca Rosenblum, McClelland & Stewart


From the Dust Jacket: When a young woman named Catherine Reindeer vanishes without a trace from her small town, those who know her are left to cope with her absence. Moving back and forth from her outer circle of acquaintances to her closest intimates, Rebecca Rosenblum’s first novel reveals how the lives of those left behind can be overturned in the wake of an unexplained disappearance. But at the heart of the novel is Catherine’s own surprising story of resilience and recovery. When a final devastating loss after months of captivity forces her to make a bold decision, she is unprepared for everything that follows her dramatic escape. Woven throughout are stories about a local female poet who was murdered decades earlier, a woman whose life and work become a lifeline for Catherine during her darkest hours—and who may ultimately hold the key to Catherine’s quest to find solace in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy. So Much Love is a haunting novel of longing and loss, the necessity of bearing witness, and how the stories we tell have the power to shape our lives.

Rebecca Rosenblum will be reading from So Much Love on Thursday April 6th at 9:30 pm! Tickets to the event are available here.


Each year, we kick off gritLIT with Battle of the Books, where ten well-known local personalities discuss, debate, and mud-sling in defence of their favourite titles from the Evergreen Reading List.

Battle of the Books, in partnership with the Hamilton Public Library, will take place Tuesday, March 28th at 7:00 p.m. at the Central Library (Wentworth Room).

We’re excited to have the following presenters join us this year:

  • Cole Gately defending How Can I Help? 
  • Pauline Kajiura defending Serial Monogamy
  • Shannon Kyles defending Five Roses
  • Jeff Mahoney defending Carry Me
  • Chris Cutler defending The Spawning Grounds
  • Aidan Johnson defending Tomboy Survival Guide
  • Molly Hayes defending The Break
  • Emma Reilly defending The Hidden Keys
  • Bernadette Rule defending The Name Therapist
  • Sharon Bray defending Middle Aged Boys and Girls

Let the battle begin!

There’s an old saying that goes something like “In Hamilton, there are two seasons: Winter, and construction.” Well, we’re pretty far into winter, and we think it’s a good time to celebrate!

Winter in the Hammer is a charming time. The pier transforms into a skating rink; the local waterfalls take on a magnificent aura; there’s tobogganing around every corner (shh, I think this is still illegal in the city…). It’s really quite lovely.

But, it’s also cold. Really, really cold. Especially if you’re around the wind tunnel that is Main St. And it’s usually fairly icy. Of course, by “icy”, I mean a solid layer of ice covered by a few solid inches of snow. That part of Winter in the Hammer isn’t quite as pleasant.

That’s why February is the perfect time for Winterfest! Put on by Tourism Hamilton, Winterfest 2017 is a celebration of the city of Hamilton and the beauty of the season. With events taking place all over the city, from Pier 8 to the Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology and everywhere in between, there’s something for everyone!

Here are four reasons to attend Winterfest:

Enough hibernation

It’s been a relatively tame winter, as far as Hamilton is concerned. But, still, it’s only natural to spend some time hibernating in your warm houses with your Netflix (or, in our case, a great book!) and hot chocolate. But spring is almost here, and it’s time to show winter that we’re not going to be afraid of it any longer! So, strap on your boots, wrap up your scarf, and head down to one of the many awesome events happening throughout the city.


For those of you paying attention to Hamilton recently, the city has undergone a renaissance of sorts. The responsible party? The incredible community we’ve established here. Whether you’re an artist, a scientist, an entrepreneur, a student, or a tourist, this event, much like the city, has something for you. Hamilton is an experience unlike any other, so it’s time to get out there and experience it!


For years, Hamilton was known as the Steel City (among other, slightly more offensive nicknames). Recently, however, that moniker has started to be replaced with something along the lines of “Art is the New Steel”. James St. N, Ottawa St., and Locke St. are all cultural hubs that come to mind when one thinks of Hamilton. Beautiful shops, art galleries, fantastic restaurants, and more now define Hamilton. Couple this culture with the beauty of the natural landscape, and you have the recipe for a city that’s worth celebrating.

Heather O’Neill

Time for a shameless pitch: As part of Winterfest, gritLIT is hosting a night dedicated to the literary arts that has a little something for everyone. Writer? Come try your hand at our flash fiction contest, which will be judged by award-winning authors Gary Barwin and Marnie Woodrow! Poet? Or, perhaps, a writer that isn’t too fond of competition? Take part in our Haiku station! Not really a writer but want to check it out anyways? Well, we also have a trivia station! Plus, we’ll be officially announcing the gritLIT 2017 author lineup!

Above all else, though, we have a special surprise in store for all you avid CanLit readers and lovers of the written word out there: Award-winning author Heather O’Neill (The Girl Who Was Saturday Night; Lullabies for Little Criminals; Daydream of Angels) will be doing a special reading from her brand new book, The Lonely Hearts Hotel!

Winter Tales is on Thursday, February 9th from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at The Staircase Theatre on Dundurn St. Tickets to the event are $10 and are available online or at the door.

Winterfest is an annual celebration of Hamilton and winter put on by Tourism Hamilton. For more information, visit their website or follow @CityOfHamilton on Twitter.


Written by: Kenzie Barry, gritLIT co-op student

These have been trying times across the world. With the election of Donald Trump, there has been a marked shift in the way that international relations  have been discussed, especially by those in the Arts & Culture business. With news arriving that Trump’s administration plans to slash funding to various Arts programs throughout the United States, it’s not difficult to understand why artists have started pushing back. Writers have been no exception. Most vocal (and popular) has been Stephen King, but others have joined in on questioning his legitimacy and policies, among other things. Here are a few Canadian authors that had strong reactions to the American election.

Kelley Armstrong

“I have land in the Yukon & I joke it’s to fulfill my lifelong goal of becoming a hermit. This morning, that doesn’t seem like a bad idea.”

Allison Baggio

“Let’s all use this as motivation to personally practice as much kindness, acceptance and tolerance as we possibly can. (RT if you will!)”

Shauna Singh Baldwin

“Seems we hired some unskilled laborers to run the White House.”

Dave Bidini

“trump is a wake up call, so let’s wake up. let’s be better at canada than ever before, ok?”

Scott Chantler

“Congratulations to Russia, ISIS, Hitler’s ghost, and that Duck Dynasty family on getting the president you wanted.”

Lynn Coady

“Realized I can’t watch #HouseofCards anymore; central premise that u need to be a Machiavellian genius to take the Whitehouse is now a joke”

Trevor Cole

“You know, America, we in Canada will watch Don Cherry on TV. Some even get a kick out of him. But we’d never elect him to lead us.”

Wayde Compton

“Trump, the oxycontin of the proletariat.”

Lauren B. Davis

“There is an invitation today: Don’t despair. Reach out in radical mercy to those feeling justifiably frightened. We’re here. #YoureNotAlone.”

Amy Jones


Guy Gavriel Kay

“My suspicion is every time Trump does or says something even slightly decent, everyone will scream, ‘Look! Look! He’s normal!’”

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

“Sane America, tell us what we can do to support you.”

Stephen Marche
“I guess this is what history feels like. It’s nauseating. I hate it.”

Written by Lindsay Ryan, Events Coordinator

We all know that prose comes in various shapes and sizes, right? Then why do we typically think of “good writing” as novel-length features or some kind of hard-hitting short stories featured in The New Yorker or some other famous literary magazine? Sometimes, the best writing comes in the tiniest of packages. Take Flash Fiction, for example.

Flash Fiction, or post card fiction, is quickly becoming a popular form of literary art.  Typically, the story will only consist of a few hundred words and distills the narrative down to its core.  More and more, it is becoming a part of the literary landscape. Room Magazine now offers a Short Forms Contest where the maximum entry is 500 words.  There are also many online zines that specialize in genre flash fiction and an online international Flash Fiction Challenge. 

Since Flash Fiction is so new and can be interpreted in so many ways, there are no real literary rules or guidelines regarding the form. Some nomenclature exists around various word lengths, but flash fiction is an umbrella term that covers anything shorter than conventional short fiction, typically set at 1500-6000 words, depending on the publication.

Writing these kinds of short narratives can be challenging considering the word limit, but can also be freeing.  The story may only be a snapshot, or a slice of life.  Ideas can be explored that may otherwise be lost in a larger narrative. Short does not necessarily mean simple. Like novels, plays, etc., the space can be used to deliver a stunning piece of art, a comical repartee, or at the worst of it, navel-gazing dribble. Because of the limited word count, the author must convey complexity of character, narrative, and theme without the luxury (or the burden) of space to develop these concepts in the reader’s mind. Like postmodern poetry, flash fiction occupies its space economically. 

Perhaps it was inevitable that this art form would emerge in our digital age where we can only spare a few minutes to read or write a few hundred words at a time. It would be easy to dismiss Flash Fiction as a lazy millennial’ s form. But, I prefer to think of it as taking a microscope to something and viewing it through a very tight and focused lens, like macro-photography where the beauty of a beetle is exposed where it would otherwise be lost.

Written by: Kenzy Barry, gritLIT co-op student


For one week in April, we are graced with the presence of extraordinary authors from all over Canada. You must wonder, what are they up to now?

Gary Barwin, who has been a part of the gritLIT festival a total of four times, is having a fantastic year. He was a finalist for two major literary awards, the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Prize, both for his book Yiddish for Pirates. Barwin’s first reading of his famous novel was at gritLIT 2016.

Our friend Emma Donoghue has also been recognized for her literary talent; she is nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her book The Wonder. Described as “a thrilling domestic psychodrama” by The Guardian, The Wonder is a must read.

2013 gritLIT reader Madeliene Thien has also had an amazing year!. Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing just won both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and The Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and it was a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. The novel tells the story of a young girl and her mother who welcome a Chinese refugee into their home.

Steven Heighton read his book Afterlands at gritLIT 2003. He is another winner of the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his book The Waking Comes Late. This philosophical book of poetry should be on everyone’s book bucket list.

Michael Helm’s novel After James has made the shortlist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The Globe and Mail describes Helm’s novel as “-entertaining, apocalyptic and complex”. As always, we suggest you give it a read.

And, finally, two-time gritLIT presenter Cordelia Strube has just won the Toronto Book Award for her novel On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light.

Congratulations to all of our gritLIT authors on their well-deserved success!