Recap: Festival of Faith & Writing

By April 22, 2012Writing

Every other
year in Grand Rapids the Festival of Faith and Writing comes to Calvin College. (That’s Calvin as in John, not Klein or the cartoon
character.) I’ve wanted to attend for more than a decade, and this year it
finally happened. My writer
friends Diane McDougall (roommate) and Heather Goodman, with whom I took a press junket to
Israel, are here, as well as my former teaching assistant, Kelli Sallman. 

Because I
teach a class on Wednesday nights, I missed the Thursday morning events,
which included a keynote by Gary Schmidt. But when I went to board my flight Thursday,
I found I was on the same plane with my friend Mary DeMuth. So she’s here too.
Before going
to the Calvin Campus, I had arranged to visit my publisher at Kregel
headquarters here. Since they’ve sold 200,000+ copies of Glahn/Cutrer
books, I figured it was high time I stopped in. But alas, that never happened.
Budget lost my car reservation, and when they eventually did find me in the
system, they had me down for March 30–31. I objected to the “new price” to get a car for the dates I’m actually here, so I stepped outside and called headquarters to get
a better deal. When
I finally left the airport, I had
five minutes to make a 25-minute drive. Clearly, I’d be late, but at least I’d
get there. Or so I thought. The vehicle was stuck in overdrive, and by the time I made it to the highway, I could smell the engine. Though sorely tempted to take it drag-racing, I returned
the car.  When we finally got all the paperwork handled a second time, I had completely missed my appointment. Did I mention it
was raining?
After finding
Calvin’s campus and registering, I wandered around looking for my first
workshop and discovered the place has two
structures bearing the name Spoelhof. I parked outside the wrong
one, so I trudged through the rain till I found the building where Hugh Cook was talking about
fiction. Sadly, because I slid into the back of the room and the acoustics were bad where I sat, I heard almost nothing.
Just about the time I was ready to adopt for myself the name “Eeyore,” I attended a packed-out workshop with Francisco X. Stork (Marcello in the Real World)
called “Teaching without Teaching.” He was brilliant and witty and told
fantastic stories. Stork won the 2010 National Book Award for young people’s literature, and as we
say in Texas, Boy, howdy! Could he ever win awards for being an engaging speaker.  
I met with a small group to talk about “Writing for Social Justice.” Someone there noted
how much music has been linked to justice movements—spirituals and Bob Dylan
and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Rise up, lyric writers! And we discussed the
importance of speaking out on behalf of “others.” That is, the able-bodied on
behalf of those with physical limitations; the free on behalf of the enslaved;
the empowered sex in any context on behalf of the “other”; the majority race on
behalf of minorities.
night’s keynote was “Reading
Between the Lines” with Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. He told lots of great Jewish-culture
stories in a talk that was about as linear as his book.  
A bunch of us
went out that night, and I finally got to meet Ed Cyzewski, who has
featured me on his blog. (He devotes every Friday to a women-in-ministry
series—an  example of someone speaking out on behalf of others.) We brought
the gang back to our hotel lobby and continued till after midnight, fellow bloggers of all ages finally getting to meet e-friends face-to-face.
That was just
Thursday. Yesterday I had a longer conversation with Ed over box lunches, and dinner
at a Persian restaurant with Diane and Heather. Though it poured most of the
day yesterday, we had gorgeous weather today, and I enjoyed all the tulips in bloom. Okay, enough about friends, weather, and food. Here’s a list of the additional workshops/keynotes—fabulous mind-stretching, soul-feeding stuff—I attended over
the past two days:
The Word Needs Flesh: Sex and Faith in
Contemporary Writing
John Estes (Kingdom Come), Amy Frykholm (See Me Naked)
The Theory and Practice of Trust: Writing
as Prayer
Luis Alberto
Urrea (Devil’s Highway)
Divine Madness: Debra Dean (Madonnas
of Leningrad
) and Luis Alberto Urrea (The
Devil’s Highway
) in Conversation
The Art of the Story
David Diaz,
Daniel Nayeri, Gary Schmidt
(Artist, editor,
and author of a forthcoming Clarion picture book)
Casting Out Fear – keynote
Robinson (Gilead)
Why Read Classics?
Elda Rotor
(Penguin classics editor)
Truth Finds a Way
River Jordan (Praying for Strangers)
An Interview with Shane Claiborne (Irresistible
An Interview with Clare Vanderpool (2011 Newberry medal for first novel, Moon Over Manifest)
The Magic and Craft of Fiction – keynote
Ngozi Adichie (Purple Hibiscus)
In the days
ahead I may tell you more about the conversations I had with some of these people. For example, Ms. Adichie seemed quite interested that my friends at DTS are reading Purple Hibiscus; Mr. Claiborne gave me his email address so I can tell him more about how one of his books changed my nephew’s life; and Ms. Vanderpool answered a question for me about how to make fiction characters lovable. 

I also hope to share nuggets from the pages of great notes I took—such as Claiborne’s tongue-in-cheek statement about singleness: “Just think of what Mother Teresa could have become if only she could have married.”

But for now I’ll say this: Ms. Adichie’s
words tonight in her keynote sum up well my own thoughts about the conference: “It’s nice to be in a place where faith is talked about without
being dismissed.” Like her, I am grateful to make a living doing what I

Join the discussion One Comment

  • ed cyzewski says:

    I was so sorry to have missed Adichie's lecture. My wife just read her latest book, so I was very interested in it. The highlight of my weekend was sitting down next to you at the River Jordan talk and someone grabbed my shin… of course it was YOU! Ha! Couldn't believe I sat down right next to you. I learned so much from her during that talk. Still processing my notes!

    Looking forward to the next time we cross paths. Oh, and the story for tomorrow's women in ministry series is incredible. Can't wait until it goes live!

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