The Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing marked its silver anniversary April 14-16 with more than 2,000 attending the biennial event in Grand Rapids, Mich. The FFW had 57 featured speakers, more than 100 panelists, and upwards of 125 sessions that included workshops, keynote addresses, poetry readings, and film and music events.
With attendees from 42 states and six countries, the biannual festival has become an important stop on the event circuit for religion publishers in terms of sales and reach. Representatives from religion book and magazine publishers—from major publishing houses such as Baker Publishing Group and Zondervan to smaller houses like Discovery House and Herald Press—had a presence and showcased authors at the conference. Literary magazines had a presence as well, including Englewood Review of Books and Image Journal.
Other exhibitors included Christian Century, Books & Culture, Eerdmans Publishing Company, and Ave Maria Press. Baker Publishing Group highlighted novelist Jane Kirkpatrick and her book The Memory Weaver, and Kregel Publications featured novelist Susie Finkbeiner and her A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl. Close to 60 authors signed their books throughout the three-day conference.
Calvin College is Christian, but the list of keynote speakers was ecumenical, including authors Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, Zadie Smith, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Workshop speakers included Man Booker Prize nominee Chigozie Obioma; bloggers-turned-authors Amy Julia Becker, Addie Zierman, and Preston Yancey; Edgar Award winner Andrew Clements; Laura Ingalls Wilder Medalist Ashley Bryan; and a host of others.
“What makes the Festival special is the mix of things that happen here,” said Lisa Ann Cockrel, who was managing editor of Brazos Press before becoming the festival’s director this year. “You can go to a workshop on screenwriting and then attend a George Saunders interview and then listen to Scott Cairns read his poetry all in one afternoon. The festival is a big party for people who love books and storytelling.”
New this year at the festival was the Party at the Prince—a meet-and-greet held at Calvin’s Prince Conference Center—hosted by Zondervan author Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, Bread & Wine), which included book signings and giveaways and guest dog The Real Pug Oliver, who accompanied owner Alison Hodgson, author of the April Zondervan release The Pug List: A Ridiculous Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything and How They All Found Their Way Home.
Workshop topics ranged across the spectrum—with an emphasis on poets and poetry, YA authors and writing, memoir and blogging. Keynote speaker Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver and author of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint (Jericho Books, 2013) and Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People (Convergent Books, 2015), had the audience laughing and crying at the festival finale, ending with a blessing for the thousands who attended.