This past weekend I volunteered at the Grit Lit Festival, a local literary festival that celebrates Canadian authors. I’d gone for fun for a few years and absolutely loved listening to authors discuss and speak about their works and other issues, and obviously finding (and buying) new books to read. So after getting some emails earlier in the year calling for volunteers I finally decided to join in! After all I love books, want to be an author someday (maybe even be an author at Grit Lit one day, fingers crossed!), and want to pursue a career in publishing so it only made sense that if I was going to go to the festival for fun anyways I might as well volunteer at it.
And honestly, it was an amazing weekend volunteering with them and I hope to do it again. The Grit Lit team was so kind and amazing during my first time volunteering and I loved seeing how much work goes into putting on this awesome festival every year (hooray for fifteen years!). I ended up doing a variety of jobs during my weekend of volunteering which included helping in the hospitality suite where I made sure authors signed in, got their welcome packages, and were given any food and drink that we had available in the suite. I also ended up “author wrangling” where I had to make sure authors for the panels I was scheduled at were all at their panels at the right time, all of which were so lovely to meet and speak to. And then of course tear down on the last day which involved packing up food and wine (so much wine) and taking down any signs of Grit Lit from the hotel where we were until next year.
Helping with Grit Lit gave me such more respect for literary festivals and especially Canadian literature. By volunteering I was able to be a part of this literary scene in a way I never thought I could before, and it made me think a lot about how Canada views Canadian literature and its authors.
On one of my volunteer shifts I was speaking to an author about something I’d been thinking about with Canadian writers and literature for a long time: that Canada doesn’t celebrate our own work as much as it should. Think back to when you were in elementary and high school and think about the books you read (if you read them, and I really hope you did) who wrote them? What were the stories about? What do you remember about them?
What I realized after going to university and taking a Canadian literature class and from attending Grit Lit is that a lot of the books I was assigned to read were by American or British authors and largely didn’t concern themselves with Canada. Now some students may have been luckier than me, they may have had to read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood but for me neither of those were assigned! Another concerning things I realized about the books I’d read in elementary and high school were also by predominately white authors. And why is it that Canadian schools and Canadians themselves concern themselves so much with American and British literature instead of the wide array we have? And why when we do focus on Canadian literature is it only through white writers like L.M. Montgomery and Margaret Atwood?
Here’s a fun game, off the top of your head name five Canadian authors not including Margaret Atwood or L.M. Montgomery. Now name five more. Now name five more Canadian authors who aren’t white. How many did you name? Did you make it to five? Ten? How many diverse authors could you name? Don’t feel too bad if you couldn’t think of any, I was the same way and it’s part of the reason I’ve started making Canadian literature more prominent in the books I read.
It wasn’t until my Canadian Literature, Indigenous Literature, Women Writer’s classes in university and Grit Lit where I was introduced to the diversity of Canada’s writers. A few years back I attended the festival for the first time and truthfully I didn’t know many of the authors listed, but I went because I wanted to learn and know about more Canadian authors whose work I’d never read before and to see how diverse our country’s literary scene really is.
The Grit Lit Festival has run for fifteen years in Hamilton and hopefully it will run for fifteen and many more. It is such a valid, important, and important literary festival in this city that introduces Hamiltonians to local authors, books that are set in their city, and an immense array of diverse Canadian authors. It just proves that Canadians do have stories to tell and are stories are just as valid as those the States or the U.K. have to tell, you just have to be ready to read them.