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Remarkable Talent: The 26th Annual Hamilton Arts Council Literary Awards

Blog/NewsDecember 11th 2019
Jamie Tennant

[all photos by Lanvy Do Photography]

This past Monday, the Hamilton Arts Council recognized a lower-profile form of art in Hamilton – writing – at the 26th Annual Hamilton Arts Council Literary Awards.

Writing isn’t just “lower-profile” in Hamilton. Despite Canada’s international successes (Atwood, Martel, Coupland) and several major national awards, our authors tend to be lesser known than, say, our musicians. That, of course, needs to change. There are countless authors whose work is published in Canada every year, and many of these authors are stunningly talented. Take it from a guy who reads dozens and dozens of Canadian releases every year, as the host of Get Lit.

Hamilton is home to some remarkable talent, whether they’re native to the city or transplants from that place around the lake known as Toronto. For 26 years, the Literary Awards have shone a light on these poets and authors, in order to celebrate the community and let others know about these books. As with most literary prizes, the short list titles are as important as the winners are. The point is to let people know about literature in our city.

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Jaime Krakowski, owner of Epic Books, a local independent bookstore, at the awards.

The 26th Annual Literary Awards were held at the Norman and Louise Haac Studio Theatre and hosted by CBC personality (and Dundas resident) Jeff Goodes. There were three short-listed titles in each category, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and the Kerry Schooley Award. Schooley was a Hamilton poet, teacher, publisher, editor and writer (and CFMU volunteer!). After his death, the award became his namesake. The Kerry Schooley Award goes to the book that best captures the spirit of Hamilton.

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Jeff Goodes, host, at the awards.

This year’s Kerry Schooley Award winner was author and poet John Terpstra. It’s possible a collective “oof” was heard at City Hall over the news, as his winning title is Daylighting Chedoke, a work that “weaves the history of the creek with the lyrical observations of nature and humankind’s connections to nature that he is celebrated for, while also examining the reality of our contaminated waterways.” As he pointed out at the podium, it was a timely win, though perhaps not for the greatest reasons.

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John Terpstra, Kerry Schooley Award winner, at the awards.

Darrell Epp on the Literary Award for poetry for his collection Sinner’s Dance, his third collection of poems. Epp’s work has appeared in dozens of magazines including Maisonneuve, Poetry Ireland, Sub-Terrain, and The Saranac Review.

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Darrell Epp, Literary Award for poetry winner, at the awards.

The fiction award went to Sylvia McNicoll, for her book Body Swap. McNicoll has penned over thirty novels, and Bringing up Beauty, her guide dog story, won the Silver Birch Award and led her to international success.

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Sylvia McNicoll, Fiction Award winner, at the awards.

The non-fiction award went to legendary playwright Sky Gilbert for small things: a random selection of anti-essays. Gilbert who long ago relocated to Hamilton from Toronto,  is a teacher, writer, director, and filmmaker. He was co-founder and artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (North America’s largest gay and lesbian theatre) for 18 years.

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Sky Gilbert, Non-Fiction Award winner, at the awards.

The Hamilton Arts Council will be accepting submissions for the 27th Annual Literary Awards early in 2020.

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(L to R) John Terpstra, Sylvia McNicoll, and Darrell Epp with their awards.

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​Jamie Tennant, the author, at the awards.

Jamie Tennant is the host of Get Lit and the Programming Director at CFMU. Contact him at: jtennant@msu.mcmaster.ca.