Next week I’m attending the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. It’s a literary feast, with appetizers, main courses, and desserts all concocted from words. The theme is always this: where do your faith and your words intersect?
The plenaries have roughly 2,000 people in attendance. I’ve heard lectures by authors like John Updike, Salmon Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates, Katherine Paterson, Elie Wiesel, Annie Dillard, Yann Martel. This year’s big names are Wally Lamb, Eugene Peterson, Richard Rodriguez, Parker Palmer, Mary Karr. I’m looking forward to them all.
But honestly, my favorite lectures tend to be the smaller ones, with names that are new to me. I first heard of Lauren Winner here, and Thomas Lynch. I heard Don Miller read early drafts of Blue Like Jazz and Elizabeth Strout talk about Olive Kitteridge? before it won a Pulitzer. Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers gave a joint talk with her preacher-dad, Don, and Clyde Edgerton played his banjo. Bruce Cockburn told a few dozen of us about how he writes lyrics. Rob Bell discussed how and why he does church.
You can hear editors discuss the state of publishing. You can wander through the work of illustrators. You can workshop your fiction. You can attend a play or concert. You can learn about poetry, hymn writing, screen writing, travel writing. You can attend morning prayer services or evening open-mikes. You can buy books. You can meet with an editor or agent. You can hope for your lucky break. You can drown in powerful words.
The Festival happens every two years. At my first one, in 1998, I was so inspired that I decided to try to write something myself. Since then I have attended with various proposals in hand and an elevator speech on my lips. I have shopped two different novel manuscripts, in various stages of readiness. I have met with agents and editors and had lots of nibbles. Nothing has come to fruition. This year I have a nonfiction manuscript in hand and a smidgen of hope in my heart. I know I’ll hear other authors speak eloquently about their journeys. At the very least, I’ll come away with a nice long reading list.
I go to Festival of Faith & Writing because it replenishes the writer in me. What do you do to replenish the part of you that nobody, except you, would miss if it dried up?