Sunday, February 25, 2024

Near and Now: Happy Anniversary Lit Awards

The annual lit event has a milestone celebration

Thirty years of stories is something we should all be proud of.

That was the key take-away to last month’s annual Hamilton Literary Awards, celebrating their 30th anniversary of recognizing the rich literary talent of this city.

Organized by the Hamilton Arts Council, and held in the Hamilton Public Library’s Hamilton Room, the ceremony was a sold-out, jam-packed who’s who of local literary talent and cultural arts advocates. 

The ceremony recognized winner’s in four categories, for books published in 2022. For Fiction Book, the award went to Sheila Murray and her debut novel Finding Edward. The Poetry Book Award went to poet Fareh Malik and his debut collection Streams that Lead Somewhere. Winning the Kerry Schooley Award for the book that best represented the spirit of Hamilton was Darrell Epp and his poetry collection Permanent Smoke.

Perhaps, the biggest coup of the evening was children’s author and journalist Joyce Grant winning both Awards for Non-Fiction Book and Children’s Book with Can You Believe it? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts. In some ways, Grant’s double win echoes last year’s Awards where Denise Davey won both the Non-Fiction and the Kerry Schooly Award. Both Grant and Davey are journalists, and both books deal with timely issues from a straightforward point of view. In Grant’s case, Can You Believe It? gives kids the tools they need to tell fact from fiction in a smart and fun way.

This being the 30th anniversary, there was a sense of legacy throughout the evening. Be it in the speeches from the winners and presenters, the familiar faces of the sell-out crowd, or the celebratory cake, this year’s Awards felt special. From book publishers and arts advocates, lit festival organizers and community foundations, all the way to the people who sell and loan these stories to the public through indie bookstores and the library, it takes a proverbial village to tell the stories of a city.

Starting in 1994, the Awards have been a consistent part of the Hamilton literary community with a changing array of Award categories. In 2014, the Literary Committee announced the creation of the Kerry Schooley Award. This year, thanks to the number of submissions, the Committee was able to add the Children’s Book Award. Dozens of writers have been recognized by the Awards writers since they started and it’s an important milestone for the city’s literary scene which has experienced tremendous growth in the past decade as more writers flock to Hamilton. It was fitting, too, that the 30th anniversary would be held at Central Branch of the Hamilton Public Library as this was the site where the very first Awards took place in 1994.

The host of this year’s gala was Anuja Varghese. When she hosted last year’s festival, her book Chrysalis was just about to be released. Her book has since gone on to earn widespread acclaim by winning the Canada Council for the Arts’ Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Varghese noted this year’s Awards are taking place amidst a tumultuous time of overseas conflict and political strife here at home. She noted how difficult it can sometimes seem to make space for a celebration when there is so much injustice and conflict happening now. But, she added, if writing is the act of imagining better things ahead, then events like the Lit Awards are just as important for keeping hope in the future alive.

I am no stranger to the Literary Awards. For eight years at the Hamilton Arts Council, I organized the Awards alongside the Literary Committee. So, I felt a bit of pride at being part of the enduring legacy of the awards as further illustrated by Wolzak & Wynn’s Noelle Allen, who gave an overview on the history of the Awards. Speaking with Allen after the event was over, she expressed excitement at what was to come for the Awards, specifically next year. “With so many local authors having released new books this past year, it’s going to be a bumper crop for the Awards.”

One wonders what tales are to come, and who will tell them for the rest of us to read? Here’s to another storied thirty years in Hamilton.

To learn more about the Literary Awards, you can visit:

Editor’s Note: As part of our values, it is noted that in addition to his role as a columnist for Beyond James, Stephen Near served as an adjudicator for the Kerry Schooley Book Award for the 30th Annual Hamilton Literary Awards.

Stephen Near
Stephen Near
Stephen Near is a freelance writer and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University (BFA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (B. Ed) and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. He works at Mohawk and Humber College and is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and an alumnus of both the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre. Stephen's plays have been produced at the Hamilton Fringe Festival and Theatre Aquarius and he is completing his first fiction novel.

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