Jane Eaton Hamilton

"never try to grab a falling knife" Leslie Greentree

Benedict Cumberbatch reads letter, Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse


Eva Hesse

Gish Jen said we must watch and heed. As I listened to the first part, I wondered if ever I’d had such a loss of control, if I’d ever made art, whether written or visual, with the untormented mind.

If you are a creative person, please listen. You won’t regret the time.

Benedict Cumberbatch



Poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly has died


Brigit Pegeen Kelly

I was sorry to hear that poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly has died. Her work will stay with me, and her poem “Song” will always shatter me.


Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Mayday Magazine


photography by: Kelli Connell

So pleased to be part of a group of LGBT writers in this issue of Mayday Magazine edited by Chase Dimock and Amy King. My story “Territory” won the This Magazine Fiction Prize in Canada in 1998, and later appeared in my short fiction collection HUNGER (2002). So many wonderful literary artists to check out.

Mayday Magazine LGBT issue


National Coming Out Day

JEH nude 2016

painting Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

It’s National Coming Out day. If you’re feel safe and protected enough in your circumstances to do so, I hope you’ll join us as out and proud people! It can be uplifting, unnerving, relieving, and thrilling to take that step.

Many, many of my short stories are queer, as are many, many of my poems and my novel WEEKEND. Here are some of my short fictions specifically about coming out:

Smiley, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, not yet collected: A young man in Cape Town works up his courage to tell his mother he’s trans.

Hunger, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A young runaway tries to escape the clutches of her older Vancouver lover.

Territory, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A woman leaves her husband for another woman.

Kiss Me or Something by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A butch partners tries to get pregnant with her sometimes-straight woman partner.

I hope you’ll help me identify more short stories by other authors which celebrate coming out by responding to this post!

Here are the responses so far:

“Angel” by Elise Levine

“This is What You Get” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“Ashes” by Nancy Jo Cullen

“From the Gloria Stories” by Rocky Gamez

“No Bikini” by Ivan Coyote

“My Marriage to Vengeance,” by David Leavitt

“Brokeback Mountain,” by Annie Proulx

“Smiley” by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Her Thighs” by Dorothy Allison

“Fisherman” by Nalo Hopkinson

“Am I Blue” by Bruce Coville

“A Dad Called Mom” by Anne Fleming

“Skin” by Racquel Goodison

“Aye and Gomorrah” by Samuel Delaney



International Day of the Girl


Over at LitHub, Kait Heacock has compiled ten stories about girls I know you’ll want to read for those only-a-story-will-do moments in life. On a train, in the bath, in the coffee shop. Read Naja Marie Aidt, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Clarice Lispector and Helen Oyeyemi.

Lit Hub


Junot Díaz in conversation

I urge you to read this conversation VOX has with Junot Díaz:


“We’re in a period of rabid privatization, and a period where it seems that people believe all specific and social functions, and all specific and social spaces and institutes, should be run like corporations, and that there are no such things as common goods; everything is a site of profit extraction. Given that context, for me, that’s where we’ve got to begin these questions: by sketching out the forces — political, economic, and social — which are distorting our ability to have a reasonable conversation.

“In a universe where everything is governed by the logic of market, that’s not a conversation about the importance of the humanities. It’s already so prejudiced that you can’t even have a fair hearing. That’s primarily what’s happening when we attempt to think in a future-looking way about the humanities, is that the idiom of the culture is so prejudiced against life-specific values, like social and common good. And without those, the appeal that we make about the humanities — it’s not that they don’t even land; there’s no space, in a society that’s entirely market-driven, to have a reasonable creative discussion about where the humanities are.”


Voluble Orlando

Over at Voluble, a Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) channel, there’s a new project in the works. Home movies filmed at queer bars run alongside LGBTQ artists in a feature called The Joy of Coloring.


“On June 12, 2016 a man entered PULSE, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida and used a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol to murder 49 people and wound 53 others. The club was hosting Latin Night. The vast majority of victims were Puerto Rican and Latin@. This was the largest massacre of LGBTQ people in U.S. history. It continues a seemingly relentless wave of gun violence in the U.S. It is part of a tapestry of year that included significant legislation against LGBTQ people in the United States of America.

My original impulse was to immediately “do something”. I asked people on Facebook to find their nearest gay bar and go read a poem in front of it. We got these gorgeous homemade films. I didn’t ask folks to identify whether they were LGBTQ or not. I think everyone should know where their nearest gay bar is.” –-Gabrielle Calvocoressi from the introduction to the project

The night of the slaughter of Latin@ and Puerto Ricans at Pulse, Vancouver held a vigil at the Art Gallery. Afterwards, my friend Donna Dykeman and I stood in front of The Fountainhead and I read an excerpt from GOING SANTA FE, a chapbook of mine published in 1997–nearly twenty years ago–while she filmed me. It was very dark and noisy on the street and we only had my iPhone. I was crying while I read. Standing outside a bar, a bar like Pulse, a bar that could have been Pulse, drove home the horror. Like everyone else, I longed for us to be able to lift the victims into our arms and breathe their lives back into them. Now all I can do is look at their photographs and speak the victims’ names again and again and again.

Never forget. Never forget. Never forget.

Best American Essays 2016 notable essay

When good comes out of bad… I never think I’m very good at non-fiction (as a cross-genre writer, I consider it my weakness), so this is doubly an honour.


George Saunders


On story writing:

“…it’s actually your own discontent with it that in some slow, mysterious way urges it to higher ground.”

On love and story writing:

“…you come back to [your partner] day after day and you try to intuit their real expansiveness.”

On Story


Book review: Agony and ecstasy apparent in new novel Weekend

Tom Sandburn’s review of WEEKEND in the Vancouver Sun. From June 2016.


“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Tolstoy tells his readers at the beginning of Anna Karenina.  Like most successful epigrams, this line is pungent, compelling and memorable. Also, like many such quips, it could work just as well turned inside out, as a declaration that all unhappy families have broad stroke elements in common.

While award-winning Vancouver poet, short story writer and novelist Jane Eaton Hamilton’s new book, Weekend is, by, the author’s own account, inspired by Raymond Carver’s grim 1981 meditation on love among the ruins “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” it can also be read as a reflection on Tolstoy’s formulation about happy and unhappy families. But however the erudite reader wants to compare it to earlier fiction, Weekend itself is a tour de force, an account of two same-sex couples in crisis, a tender meditation on the nature of love, desire, betrayal, mortality and reconciliation.

2016 Handout: Book cover of Weekend by Jane Eaton Hamilton. To go with review on Tracy Sherlock books pages. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Book cover of Weekend by Jane Eaton Hamilton

It also is notably successful in rendering the complex realities of sex, a challenge that defeats most writers who attempt it. Not many readers these days will be shocked or offended by the book’s sexual frankness, but some will wince at the way Hamilton breaks another taboo. Her enthusiastically sexual characters are in mid life (one is turning 50 as the weekend occurs) and come to their erotic experiences with all the baggage that status implies. In a culture that disdains the old, particularly older women, as sexless, these moments of powerful erotic realism are genuinely transgressive and wonderfully done.

While I describe the main characters as same sex-couples, the reality is somewhat more complex, as one of the characters is considering a gender transition. The fact that this character prefers the de-gendered singular pronouns “they” and “their” will take a bit of getting used to for some readers, but the calm, matter of fact way in which Hamilton portrays trans issues and the new verbal etiquette they imply is one of the book’s many strengths.

Unlike the gay novels of my youth, which tended to focus univocally on the coming out narrative, this book takes all that for granted and turns its attention to what happens after one has come out, won the right to marry and moved into what the public intellectual Stan Persky calls a “post gay” reality. Often enough, Hamilton suggests, this post liberation reality, while obviously a huge improvement on the fever swamps of homophobia and oppression that preceded it, is full of ordinary human heartbreak and betrayal, sorrow, tedium and flawed, triumphant love.

That recognition, and the lapidary prose Hamilton uses to embody and dramatize it make Weekend a remarkable, intricate and mature work of art. And Hamilton can reflect on these matters from the perspective of one of liberation’s veteran warriors. According to the University of Toronto’s Poetry Online, Hamilton “came out in 1982. She was a litigant in Canada’s same-sex marriage case from 2000-2003, and then maintained an website called queermarriage for the next several years to aid couples coming to B.C. from other countries with queer-friendly resources.”

Most of the novel’s action takes place over a weekend at two lake island homes in Ontario cottage country, giving the book a tight temporal and geographic focus, almost Aristotelian in its unity, a unity that is only partly diffused by the book’s coda, which takes the four lovers past the weekend, back to the city and on into new domestic and medical complications.

The couples are Elliot and Joe, two women who are celebrating the recent birth of their daughter Scout, and Ajax and Logan, who have come to the lake for Logan to propose marriage to Ajax. In the course of the weekend the couples are both disrupted, one by abandonment, one by a health crisis.

While in summary this may sound like the stuff of queer soap opera, in Hamilton’s deft, spare treatment, there is no melodrama. Sex is portrayed in a compelling, original fashion, and the trials and rigours of dealing with a new baby are portrayed with sensual detail and emotional depth. Hamilton’s rendering of her character’s heart crisis and of the years of impaired functioning, pain and body shame that preceded it benefits from the same sensual precision and closely observed detail that illuminate her sex scenes. All her characters are nuanced, complex and believable creations. This is the real world of imperfect adults, captured and rendered with compassion, wit and intelligence.

Much of this is accomplished by Hamilton’s exemplary use of free indirect discourse, that challenging but supple device that allows a third person account to reflect the first person inner life of the character. This approach, pioneered by Jane Austen, is a powerful one, allowing layers of double perspective and irony to be rendered in careful, minimalist fashion.

This is a remarkable book. Little wonder that Hamilton has been recognized so often for her narrative skills- by the Guardian’s Best Book of the Year List, the BC Book Prizes, the VanCity Award, CBC Literary Awards and many other prizes. If you have not yet discovered this important Canadian voice, Weekend is your opportunity.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.



The Shirley Jackson revival


I was a lucky young reader to stumble headlong into the works of Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”). Now there’s something of an awakened interest in her, with Ruth Franklin’s new biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, and I’m glad.

Here’s Jane Hu at the New Republic to tell you about it.

I Stand With Pride Uganda

Folks, it’s hard times in Uganda. Wishing people courage and strength in the face of adversity.


50 books by Canadian women of colour

What a celebration! The good folks at Room Magazine have put out a wonderful list of books for all tastes and styles. Much better fare than last night’s debate! Full of energy and humanity and hope. Full of talent and skill. Full of familiar names and books, and new-to-you names and books. Happy reading!


Room Magazine

Pam Houston: Dedicate Your Non-Trump Vote

Don’ t miss these poignant, important pleas to US voters…

Pam Houston


Pam Houston’s writing is my weakness…

Eden Robinson: The Saturday Rumpus interview

Woo hoo! Eden Robinson is back with SON OF A TRICKSTER in February, and in the meantime, we have Helga Schimkat’s interview with her today…

I was just speaking last night about hyenas and “selective empathy” and remarking that humans employ it just as animals do. We have our deep outcasts, our violence, our factory farming and Eden speaks of that here.



The Rumpus

Sharon Olds

Alexandra Schwartz, writing in the New Yorker, about Sharon Olds and her new book, “Odes.”


“In some six dozen poems, Olds sings in praise of things that are not often considered worthy of appreciation—tampons, stretch marks, fat, composting toilets, douche bags, menstrual blood—and reconsiders others that are.”

Sharon Olds Sings the Body Electric


Because it was this brain…


My favourite writer to listen to is Joyce Carol Oates and it is precisely for her questing brain. Here is Joan Frank discussing Oate’s SOUL AT THE WHITE HEAT at the San Francisco Chronicle:

Soul at the White Heat

Soul at the White Heat

Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life

By Joyce Carol Oates

(Harper; 390 pages; $27.99)


Best American Essays Notable


Thrilled to have an essay chosen as one of the notable essays of the year in Best American Essays 2016, ed Jonathan Franzen. I rarely write non-fiction so it’s a doubly pleasing honour for me. I once had a story chosen as a notable story in Best American Short Stories, and a poem will come out this year in Best Canadian Poetry, so the cross-genre’ing pleases me. Now, the substantial pleasure of reading these celebrated essays!

Never Say I Didn’t Bring You Flowers, Full Grown People, ed Jennifer Niesslein

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