Literary leverage

Few of the authors featured at the Strong Words reading series have literary agents, and you won’t see giant cardboard cutouts of any of them at the entrance to Chapters-at least not yet.

But they are a talented bunch. Local writers who don’t necessarily fit into the mainstream literary mould, they’ve found a home at the Gladstone Art Bar on the first Monday of every month.

The brainchild of local writers Matt Blair and Kate Carraway (who will be resigning as co-curator after February’s event), Strong Words was conceived because, as Blair demurely put it, “we knew a few talented writers who we thought deserved an audience.”

“I was definitely interested in providing a regular forum for writers in Toronto who weren’t really part of Toronto’s literary community yet,” said Carraway. “Especially writers who weren’t just doing fiction and poetry.” As the series grew over the past year and a half, a semiregular form developed. “The series evolved so that most readings featured one or two established, published writers and at least one writer who is new to readings, publishing, etc.”

The Jan. 2 instalment featured three disparate individuals, one of whom was co-curator Blair. His cheeky pieces included a series of messages from “Pluto’s Answering Machine,” and several letters to the editor of a magazine inventively titled Fat Guys in Astronaut Suits.

Following Blair was Moe Berg, a name that fans of 90s nerd rock will certainly be familiar with-he was frontman of The Pursuit of Happiness. Berg’s first book, The Green Room was published in 2000 by Gutter Press. Carraway refered to Berg’s appearance as “a booking pipe dream,” since Berg is one of the most high-profile writers to be featured in the series. The third reader of the evening was hilarious local comic and TV talking head Fraser Young, who read a collection of rants about assorted “people who suck,” much to the audience’s delight.

Strong Words seems to have found a winning formula for promoting indie writers in Toronto, as the healthy turnout to their one-year anniversary in June 2006 attested. The indie literati of the city were out in full force to see an enlarged instalment of the series.

Carraway (who does the booking) described his monthly programming process.

“I basically hunt them down. When I’m made aware of someone doing something that I think is interesting or hilarious or smart, I’ll usually try to book them.” Hopefully, Carraway’s successor will have a similar knack for finding emerging literary talent.

Strong Words’ next edition is Feb. 5 at the Gladstone Art Bar, featuring poet A. Rawlings, writer/poet/performer/micropublisher Sandra Alland, and writer/electronic music producer Gein Wong. PWYC.

Recent Strong Words readers have included:

Spencer Butt
An up-and-coming “slam poet,” Butt has read at several Strong Words instalments, including the one-year anniversary. His frenetic, nervous, rap-like poetry is hilarious and heartbreaking. Butt is a Toronto writer and also fronts local lit-core band The Secret Handsnakes.

George Elliott Clarke
Eminent poet, journalist, author, and U of T Professor, Clarke read at Strong Words’ anniversary bash at the Gladstone Ballroom. Matt Blair introduced Clarke as “the first grownup we’ve ever featured,” and Clarke went on to dazzle the audience with his jazzy, passionate poetry and clever humour.

Emily Pohl-Weary
Toronto-based zinester and writer, Pohl-Weary is the creator of indie mag Kiss Machine and many other projects. She is also a Strong Words regular, sharing poetry and short stories on such topics as “What I learned growing up in Parkdale.”

Fraser Young
A popular local comic and frequent guest on MuchMusic’s “Video on Trial,” Young made his Strong Words debut this January. Young’s hyper, snappy style of delivery animated his tales of “conflicts without resolution,” such as “Karaoke Chaos,” “Laundry Sorter” and “Mickey Dee’s,” all based on true events.

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