How many years does it take to become local around here? If you’ve read this column before, you know I sometimes moan about the lack of literary culture in St. Catharines (and the broader impact that lack has on regional literacy rates). My mistake, it turns out, has been to look primarily to St. Paul Street for evidence when I ought to have looked farther afield to places like Grimsby and Port Colborne. Now in my tenth year in this city, I am finally learning to take on a more regional outlook. Consider this month’s entry a taking stock of upcoming events in the wider community. And my apology to all of those overlooked.
Grimsby, as many of you may well know, hosts a long-running and top-notch author series at the public library. They bring in great writers, charge a real but fair price, and regularly sell out. Their next event is January 9 with local humourist William Thomas and the winner of the 2016 Toronto Book Award, novelist Cordelia Strube (links at the end).
That little city also plays host to the Wayzgoose Bookart Fair, 38 years young, where book art people dazzle huge crowds with gorgeous, intricate objects. Printers, printmakers, paper makers, hand bookbinders, and other literary-oriented artisans gather at the public art gallery to demonstrate their trades. The annual event, which takes place this April 29, brings out the often overlooked side of writing, the book object itself. Every one at the Wayzgoose is a treasure, even before a single word is inscribed.
Port Colborne, meanwhile, is now halfway through the 23rd season of the widely acclaimed Canadian Authors Series. I had the chance to attend their last event and couldn’t believe the professionalism and enthusiasm. They treat our literary stars as, well, stars, and the community comes out in force. The authors respond in kind with dynamite performances. Gary Barwin, for instance, brought a saxophone and had the audience clapping along to klezmer jazz in support of his novel Yiddish for Pirates. When Paul Quarrington read, he brought an entire band. When Clara Hughes read, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
There is a reason the series has endured for 23 years: the best authors in the country want to perform before the enthusiastic, intelligent, and book-buying audiences of our south coast. Writers, like modest rock stars, get green rooms with flowers and refreshments in Port Colborne. Oddly, though a little older, the audiences there are also better looking than literary audiences in St. Catharines. They listened, they clapped, they asked questions. They even demanded to know who I was. Flattery will get you in a column.
I asked the organizer Elizabeth Madronich (commonly, affectionately known by regulars at the series as ‘Putzy’) how she got involved in the series, and where she sees it heading. She had been volunteering for the series for fifteen years, organizing wine tastings and pairings, when the original host William Thomas retired to focus on his writing.
She said, “With the support of an amazing team of volunteers and several generous sponsors, I stepped in to keep the series going.”
Their next featured author is St. Catharines’ own Craig Davidson, a fierce and gritty author of the travails of toxic masculinity. His book Rust and Bones was adapted as a feature-length Hollywood film (7.5/10 on IMDB), starring Marion Cotillard. It premiered at Cannes and was nominated for two Golden Globes. His book Cataract City was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. His most recent book is a memoire called Precious Cargo about his year driving a school bus for children with special needs. He reads on February 23rd. Go.
And while you are in Port for Davidson, definitely pause at the Alphabet Book Shop on Main Street. It is the best bookstore in the region, delightfully well-organized and well-curated. While you are there, though, don’t forget to ask to see their collection of chapbooks and literary ephemera. Just as the most interesting things happen in the far corners of the region, the most interesting things in literature happen in the far corners of the trade. Alphabet Book Shop collects those very things.