The 15th Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing, which took place in Grand Rapids, Mich. from April 12-14, attracted 1,951 attendees plus speakers, publishers, and literary agents and served as a place to discover new books, meet with authors, and hear from a wide range of voices. According to festival director Lisa Ann Cockrel, this year’s discussion panels and main speakers were a way to “mix it up” at the biennial event that started in 1990.
“We wanted to think carefully and be intentional about diversifying attendees, and be intentional about having people of color on our roster,” Cockrel told PW. “We’re continuing to work on being a place where you’ll hear voices you wouldn’t hear in our algorithm-driven world.”
Despite inclement weather, which caused schedule changes and flight cancellations, this year’s Festival of Faith & Writing offered nearly 200 events—concerts, yoga sessions, and panels such as The Risks on Writing on Race—and the Obligation to Continue, Sentiment without Sentimentality: Women Writers Who Won’t Stay in Their (Inspirational) Lane, Writing Honestly about Race (When Your Audience Is Primarily White), and Still Evangelical in the Age of #MeToo?
There were 58 featured speakers, 138 panelists, and 47 exhibitors from 13 countries and 46 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Speakers included bestselling author Jen Hatmaker, poets Oliver de la Paz and Pádraig Ó Tuama, Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge, novelist Edwidge Danticat, environmental activist Bill McKibben, and more.
“I commend the committee for inviting a wide range of speakers, trusting the attendees to be grown up enough to listen to diverse points of view and think for themselves,” Hatmaker wrote on Instagram following the festival. “I love when faith spaces don’t homogenize their lineup.”
Larger publishers were in attendance, using the festival as a place to meet with authors and aspiring writers. For Ethan McCarthy, assistant editor at InterVarsity Press (IVP), the event “is open wide to a diversity of ideas and perspectives, many within Christianity and sometimes outside Christianity,” he told PW. “I’m planting seeds via relationships, which may or may not grow into books.”
Annette Bourland, senior v-p and group publisher at HarperCollins Christian Publishing/Zondervan, praised the “eclectic crowd” of writers ranging from novice to international bestsellers at the conference. Representing HarperCollins’ BLINK imprint, author Kwame Alexander (Rebound, Apr.) opened the festival as a keynote speaker. His speech was titled Saying Yes to the Writerly Life and focused on his writing journey.
Smaller publishers also benefited from the festival. First time exhibitor Herald Press, which publishes books in the Anabaptist tradition, found a ready audience, according to Valerie Weaver-Zercher, acquisitions editor. “There is great visibility for a small house at the festival, in terms of potential authors and people in general buying books,” said Weaver-Zercher.
Literary agents like Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Management used the event to meet both potential and current clients. “There are deep conversations about important things here, [such as race and women’s issues],” said Gardner. “I’m learning about the kinds of conversations that I may want to amplify in the publishing world.”
The next Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing is scheduled for April 16-18, 2020.