Tag Archives: Festival of Faith and Writing



This week I plan to attend the writer’s conference: Festival of Faith and Writing held in Grand Rapids. For blog readers here is a peek at the some of the books I’m reading in preparation for the events of the conference.

As usual, wish I had done more prep reading …… but…..

Part of the fun of the conference is discovering and exploring new authors and their works. I confess among the authors included in this post, only Rahman is new to me. Earlier this year I read Salley Vickers novel “The Cleaner of Chartres” which I enjoyed. At the time I expected her to be at the conference. Now I do not see her listed on the schedule. I’m disappointed. That novel was my introduction to her writing. There will be new writers to discover, but as my mind runs over the schedule, I know I am also drawn to authors I have read or met before.

“More: Poems” by Barbara Crooker.
I met Barbara at the first conference I attended and somewhere along the way I purchased her poems. It’s likely I will have the opportunity to hear her again.

“Poets on the Psalms” Edited by Lynn Domina. Essays
Lynn Domina will appear in a session alongside Barbara. Attending their session may keep me in Grand Rapids an extra day.

“My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer” by Christian Wiman.
I’ll find a quiet place in the empty chapel or the library to read his work with concentration. I love the chapel at Calvin. It’s a beautiful room. I need both quiet time and concentration to process his writing.

“In the Light of What We Know: a novel by Zia Haider Rahman
I’m completely taken with this novel. It’s not an easy read, but I turn to it at every opportunity. So far (I’m not quite halfway through the story.) I see its interest as built on different views of the people with experiences in far-flung areas on our globe who participate in events that influence the lives of many people. It seems to address immigration to Europe and America from South Asia, the world financial markets, and class differences among its varied themes. Hearing this man speak is at the top of my agenda for the conference.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. Memoir
This book is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Her tales of growing up in South Georgia are filled with tenderness and humor. She also writes of the long leaf pine forests, capturing the beauty and the heart of those tall trees. In short, I love reading this book. Her writing is not new to me. I’m a fan. But I had never read this one. Feeling blessed that I soon hope to hear her speak.




An Interview with Festival Director Shelly LeMahieu Dunn

Am I correct in stating this is the 14th year of the conference?
The Festival started in 1990, albeit under a different name. It also didn’t happen in 1992 (I believe), but has happened every two years since then.

What brought you the most joy working on this year’s conference?
It’s often the small moments that bring us the most joy—a kind word spoken at the registration desk, a student volunteer eagerly assisting a technology-challenged attendee, a presenter expressing such joy at being able to talk about being both a writer and a Christian, an attendee receiving encouragement to continue writing, and on and on.

What surprised you the most about the conference this year?
Our greatest surprise, always, is simply that we’re able to pull it off. To make even just one Festival session happen requires not only a room and a speaker and a microphone, but an audience and a tech crew and a building services crew and a student host and a session introducer. Multiply that by over one hundred sessions, and it’s clear just how much the Festival depends on a large number of people doing their jobs exceptionally well. And we’re grateful for each one of them.

What was the most serendipitous experience?
I’m not sure we’ll know the answer to this question for a while. We know that the Festival facilitates the kinds of connections that lead to new projects and ideas and partnerships. The ripples will extend for some time, probably in directions that we can’t even fathom yet. So yes, I imagine that there were lots of serendipitous experiences happening all around us, and I hope we get to see the fruit of those experiences down the road.

What are you most proud of pertaining to this year’s conference.
I am always most proud of our group of student volunteers (or, as Anne Lamott calls them, “caseworkers”). They are forty-six of the most gracious, capable, hard-working, hospitable people on this campus, and we could not run the Festival without them.

Note from Paulette:
I sincerely thank Shelly LeMahieu Dunn for giving us an inside perspective of this engaging conference, and for her time and thoughtfulness. I know many of us look forward to the next Festival of Faith and Writing even as this one is wrapping up.



Each of us is compelled to read and write for a variety of reasons. This was a general theme at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a unique experience to be on a campus full of readers and writers, to be in a place where reading and writing are at the heart of the experience. So readers and writers out there in blogland––that’s each of you in your own way–– here are some highlights. More information on each of these writers will be posted on upcoming pages of this blog.


I sat in the front row at an interview with Marilyn Nelson. Her poetry has sustained me as an educator, a person and a writer for a lot of years. She brings so much history and emotion to any reader, young, old, and in between. She talked of her experiences writing three of her books, she talked about the sonnet form and more.

See more about Marilyn Nelson on the Reading Page. Use the menu at the top of the page.


What could be more exciting than listening to the writer and co-producer of The Good Wife, one of the most popular shows on television? Luke Schelhaas is an Iowa native and a small college graduate. He talked of life in Hollywood and what he actually does all day as a writer on a top TV show. The process of writing for a TV show has its own cachet and its own nitty-gritty.

More about Luke Schelhaas on the Writing Page. Click on Writing in the menu at the top of the page.


The conference always holds at least one surprise. This time it was the outstanding talk by Pam Munoz Ryan. She writes for children and young adult readers. If only she could talk to readers and writers in every school in America. She has so much to say, and she says it in a gentle and entertaining way. Her books are well known to many of you, but somehow, I had not had the pleasure. Listening to her, I learned something about becoming and belonging. I expect to learn more as I read her work.

Our shared passion for encounters with language continues. We read and write to learn, and to find out what we need and want to learn. We take time to think about words and the power to use them to create something new. Hold onto your hats, the joyride is a whirl of questions, creations, laughter, and meditation. It ends in the fascination of finding a terrific new story, or rediscovering one you want to visit again.

Oh, and among others, I bought a beautiful paperback Penguin Classics edition of Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, something I’ve been promising to do for a long time. It’s a book that won the Nobel Prize and has never been out of print since its birth in the 1920’s. How I first found this book, and how much I love it is a story for another time.




“Bird cries seem to claw at the bright summer sky.”

This gem of a sentence is the first line in an article titled “Norway’s Otherworldly Coast” by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the November issue of National Geographic. On the lead page another necklace of words sparkles, “Journey to the heart of Norway Follow the water.” In this article the reader travels the most northern Norwegian coastline. It feels like another world. Islands, ice, water as deep as 4000 feet, and snow-covered heights encroach on the space of one another. But there are also harbors, boats of every kind, and business to be conducted by the people who ply these Norwegian waters.

Any chance to read the writing of Verlyn Klinkenborg is a chance not to be missed.

I have recently learned of his latest book Several Short Sentences About Writing. I ordered it immediately and cannot wait to spend time with it. Someone called it “best book on writing – ever.” I have been reading his work for some time. He is a non-fiction author and newspaper editor. His work appears on the editorial page of the New York Times as well as in other publications. He writes of rural settings and the natural world. He has written often of his farm in upstate New York. His words, his sentences, and the way he strings them together transport the reader into his world.

I also recently learned that he will appear as one of the featured authors at the Spring 2014 Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, MI. I have attended this conference often and expect to be there next spring. I look forward to hearing him speak, and perhaps, I’ll have a chance to meet him.

I hope you will meet him, too. The newest issue of National Geographic is a great place to start. I’m sure you will enjoy his writing and the photographs of the Norwegian Coast.

For more information try these links:

www.festival.calvin.edu and follow Festival of Faith and Writing on Facebook
www.amazon.com (for information about his many books)



Here’s a shout out for Festival of Faith and Writing 2014 to be held April 10-12, 2014 in Grand Rapids, MI. The organizers of this wonderful writing conference have recently announced Janisse Ray, writer, naturalist and environmental activist, as an addition to the roster of speakers. http://festival.calvin.edu/

I am a huge fan and cannot wait to meet her in person. I first encountered her writing in a book entitled Between Two Rivers: Stories From the Red Hills to the Gulf. The essays in this book (by Janisse and others) made me fall in love with the terrain of the Red Hills area of North Florida and it’s flora and fauna. My husband and I have explored many of the places written about in this interesting book.

I am now reading her most recent book, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food. I learn about seed saving and some of the people who lead this revolution with their fingers in the dirt. She discusses issues of food safety, food politics, plant sex and much more. Nearly every essay is a story about real people, and she makes the words on the page sing their reality for all of us. Her writing is filled with energy and fun.

I believe available, sustainable, nutritious food is worth caring about. I want to learn more.

Janisse Ray has published a number of books. Over the past few years I have purchased several at Downtown Books in Apalachicola, Florida. This cozy little shop is a favorite of mine. http://downtownbooksandpurl.com

Janise is the author of Drifting Into Darien. A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River. She is a native of southern Georgia. When I read this book, I journeyed down the river with Janisse and her friends. I saw the area through her eyes.

Her book of poetry, A House of Branches, holds a place of honor on my desk. Her poems transport me into the natural world. They speak enjoyment, inspiration and beauty. Hers is a language I want to learn.

She has written other books. You will want to discover her writing for yourself. Her words and ideas have added a new dimension to the joy I find in reading and writing about specific places. She is an inspiration and a model for me. I am grateful and excited to live the hope that I will meet her next year.

Here is her link. janisseray.weebly.com