Things looked quiet Saturday morning but within an hour, the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan was bustling – full of writers, readers, editors, publishers, and the friendly students who responded to our questions about how to get around. I was there for the biennial Festival of Faith & Writing and this was my second time.
The word faith has many meanings depending on whom you ask; it is kind of like the words religion and spiritual. Faith implies a search for something deeper to define us, but also implies that as much as we search, some things that we profess to believe remain a mystery. I am okay with that. From name tags to tote bags, you saw the word “Reader” everywhere; reading is the heart of the Festival. Through writing, reading and discussion, we can come together to talk about the many issues in the world and in our private lives.
The writers were from various denominations and beliefs and much like through writing, they seek understanding, at times through their faith, and at other times, in spite of it. The focus was always on the writing, but a few authors addressed the process of finding an audience or getting published. Bob Hosack, executive editor with Baker Publishing, emphasized the importance of having a platform because writers are expected to bring an audience with them. As writers, we have heard that before, but for some in the room it confirmed the importance of building a community.
Over the three days, I listened to panels, started the day with poetry readings, and took time to jot down ideas for my own writing. There were more speakers and panels than I could possibly attend, but here are some of the highlights and quotes from the Festival:
Zadie Smith, novelist and essayist, spoke on creativity, saying “Creativity is more than finding the perfect product for the perfect audience.” Her book, Changing My Mind, is one of my favorite essay collections.
Poets Susanna Childress, Barbara Crooker, Tania Runyan, and Anya Silver graced the audience Friday morning by reading their poems on motherhood in all of its forms, and the connections between motherhood, faith and writing. Their readings took place in the College Chapel and it was a perfect setting for sharing the sacred and challenging bonds between mothers and their children.
Dani Shapiro asked an essential question, “Aren’t we all stumbling towards a faith that works for us?” and described her journey, from growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home to embracing Buddhism.
David Dark – “Maybe we already have an audience, a few people who are interested in what we have to say, and maybe that’s enough.”
I took notes, met many authors, had a meeting with an editor, browsed the exhibit hall, bought home books to read and share, and tried to immerse myself in discussions about writing. The writing life can be quiet and solitary, like the campus was at the beginning of each day, but at events like these we gather to share our love for writing.
Mark this date on your calendar, April 12-14, 2018, for the next gathering for the Festival of Faith & Writing.
Happy reading and writing!