Monday, April 11, 2016

Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids

I'll be gone starting 4/13 to Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith and Writing. I cannot express at this blog how much this conference has meant to me through the years (held every 2 years). I believe I've been to all but one of the festivals. From the website:

The Festival of Faith and Writing began in 1990 as an exploration of the communities made and served by religious writing. Since its inception, the Festival has brought both new and established talent to speak about a variety of issues related to religion, faith, ethics, justice, writing, music, community, and more.

The Festival has welcomed to Calvin more than 13,000 attendees and hundreds of renowned speakers, including Maya Angelou, John Updike, Yann Martel, Elie Wiesel, Marilynne Robinson, Donald Hall, Eugene Peterson, Katherine Paterson, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Kate DiCamillo, Luci Shaw, and many more.

It is one of the most generous conferences I've been to in the sense of relationships. People I've met through the years (again only every other year) remember me, wave across rooms, or smile on their way to a session. We only recognize each other by face--and by the commonality of reading. Most of the participants are passionate readers. I can sit down anywhere and fall into a conversation with a complete stranger over books, what's on my nightstand. Before the conference I make an effort to read a few books from the major speakers. Which doubles my excitement to hear them talk about their work.

I'm particularly interested in hearing Chigozie Obioma talk about his novel, The Fishermen.
I thought it was the English and Americans who wrote tragedies--but come to find out, Nigerians have a history of telling sad stories.
And, lest one think this is a dour Calvinist funeral--think instead festival--there are sessions on: Christians who Drink Craft Beer: The Rise of Middle Space Artists and Audiences in Entertainment and Wine, the Slow Food Movement, and Spiritualit.

Spiritual writing mainly has to do with something more elemental, elusive than pedagogy or dogma. As a writer I'm always wondering how to reach the CENTER. The center of what I'm trying to say and the center of my reader, to make a cosmic connection of sorts. Can my soul touch your soul? This is not easy. It is not oversimplistic or trite or sappy writing, but often bare bones, revealing, broken. It asks far too many questions and expects far less answers (if any).

Many of the writers invited and celebrated have no affinity for religion, are, in fact, SURPRISED to be invited. The breadth of writers who speak is also diverse, coming from many traditions and backgrounds.

One last thing about FFW, is the access. I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself in a hallway or crossing a quad and falling into conversation with a writer whose work I admire (I see you Marilyn Nelson, Mark Richard, thank you Katherine Paterson, Jacqueline Woodson, wow Leila Aboulela) on and on. I once was at a cocktail party with John Updike and stumbled over making small talk. Come prepared to meet and mingle.

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