Festival Lunch Circles

Festival Circles are small groups that meet during lunch on Friday and Saturday to discuss a topic of common interest. Each circle is composed of no more than 20 attendees and is led or co-led by other Festivalgoers (whose proposals were accepted this fall). 

This year, all Festival Lunch Circles will meet in Calvin's Knollcrest Dining Hall from noon-1:30 pm, where a full cafeteria-style service will be on offer. The fee to participate in a Circle is $30, which covers the cost of your lunch on both Friday and Saturday. Please note that due to food safety regulations, no outside food or drink is allowed in the dining hall.  

How do I Join a Festival Lunch Circle?

Pre-registration is required, and Circles are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Once a Circle has reached capacity, it will be closed. Please remember that you may only register for one Circle. Registration will remain open for available Lunch Circles through Friday, March 22, 2024.

Peruse the list of Festival Circles below. When you have selected a Circle, note its number and title and then click to register. 

1. All in the Family: Whose Story Is It?

Families can be tricky; writing about or collaborating with families can be even trickier. What and where are the ethical boundaries of recounting others’ stories, especially when those tales affect you? In this Festival Circle, we’ll discuss ways we, as poets and prose writers, have, with mixed success, written about or with family members—joys and sorrows alike—avoiding such pitfalls as sentimentality, hyperbole, or censure, while maintaining our own stories within the larger family drama.

Marjorie Maddox has published 14 collections of poetry—including Begin with a Question (Paraclete), and In the Museum of My Daughter’s Mind, a collaboration with her artist daughter. Find her work at www.marjoriemaddox.com.

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2. Church-Based Writing Groups: A How To

This circle is for individuals interested in creating or joining a faith-based writing group. The circle will highlight the benefits of being part of a writing community, including encouragement, accountability, fellowship, and support. Discussion will focus on different types and purposes of writing groups, as well as ways to seek out, begin, and maintain engagement in such a group.

Shone Rhyner is a mom, wife, driver education instructor, a lover of cats, books, nature, and cherry tomatoes. An extroverted introvert, she leads a church writing group and edits its annual booklet.

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3. Circle on Birth and Writing

This circle will pay close attention to themes of birth, beginning, and motherhood that weave through contemporary writing. In sometimes surprising ways these themes, which can seem a narrow concern of new moms, echo broadly through literature. Careful examination to the ways current writing does address human beginnings brings rewards, and careful conversation across this common experience--we all have been born--can generate new relationships and ideas.

Agnes Howard is a historian and mother of three who teaches humanities at Christ College, Valparaiso University. She is the author of Showing: What Pregnancy Tells Us about Being Human and co-convener of an online literary reading group about birth.

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4. Creative Writing in Response to Today's World

In this circle, editors and writers will together explore the impact that creative writing can have in the here and now. We will together explore the difference such writing can make amidst a world on fire, paying particular attention to the impact of creative writing on our shared communities and ourselves.

Zac Settle is the editor-in-chief of The Other Journal and the Curate at Grace Episcopal Church in the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee. His first book, On the Nature, Limits, Meaning, and End of Work, was published in 2023.

Kait Dugan is the Operations Manager and Theology Editor of The Other Journal. Kait is currently working on her first book in which she develops a constructive theological account of death in conversation with Pauline apocalypticism and liberation theologies. She lives in Philadelphia and is a pizza aficionado.

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5. Dialoging with Trauma: The Second Person POV

This circle will explore the use of the second person POV as a way of accessing traumatic memory, dialoging with it, and unlocking another side of memoir writing. Writers such as Claudia Rankine, Tom Gardner, Jamaica Kincaid, and Mark Richards will serve as our guides by demonstrating how the second person can create both distance and intimacy, urgency and comfort.

Aaron Brown is the author of Call Me Exile (SFASU Press, 2022) and Less Than What You Once Were (Unsolicited Press, 2022). Brown grew up in Chad and now lives in Texas, where he is an assistant professor of English at LeTourneau University.

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6. Different Types of Memoir (and How to Create Them)

A memoir is a story FROM a life, not a story OF a life, and there are different types of memoir. We will explore the seven most common kinds of memoir and discover which are more publishable than others for traditional royalty publishers and which are a better fit for self or indie-publishing. Discussion will center around the distinctives of each type of memoir.

Susy Flory is the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of 16 books and founder of Everything Memoir, an online educational community for those working on a memoir or personal story. Susy directs the West Coast Christian Writers Conference, and recently graduated with a masters in New Testament Studies from Northern Seminary and has begun her doctoral work there.

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7. Memoir with Humor, Grace, and Soul

Ready to tell your story? Learn how to draw in a reader with sound organization, deep truths, and a good bit of whimsy, too. This circle will cover how to conceive and structure a memoir, pair it with a larger story, discern ethical considerations about telling our own stories when they dovetail with those of others, and find gems of humor to help light our way.

Courtney Ellis is the author of five books, including Looking Up: A Birder's Guide to Hope Through Grief (IVP, March '24) and Present (Tyndale, '23). She is a pastor in the PCUSA, serving a church in southern California, as well as a former adjunct professor in writing composition at Wheaton College and Concordia University.

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FULL - Poetry (Reading, Writing, and Teaching) as a Spiritual Practice

Reading (and writing) poetry demands 'close reading,' akin to Lectio Divina and other kinds of biblical meditation. This circle will be a place to explore poetry and faith--including Festival poets and our own verse if applicable, as part of our prayer and meditation. Experiences with other usages can be shared, such as in teaching or parenting.

Lyle Mook is a retired pastor and hospital chaplain and part-time instructor in Philosophy and Ethics at the Univ of RI. He is married with four children and 12 adorable grandchildren. His love of poetry extends to 'deep dives' with poets Milosz, Levertov, Heaney, Longfellow, Cairns, Cording, Auden, the English Metaphysical and the Romantics.

This Circle is FULL.


9. Publishers Circle

Many publishing professionals work in parallel with others in the industry, with little opportunity to interact, share best practices, and draw strength from one another. This circle seeks to gather editors, publishers, literary agents, and other publishing practitioners to discuss the industry’s latest trends and to brainstorm innovative solutions to common obstacles.

Karen Neumair is a Senior Literary Agent and the Chief Operating Officer of Credo Communications, where she has connected authors with traditional publishers for nearly fifteen years.

Bob Hudson is a veteran publishing professional having spent 34 years as Editor-at-Large at HarperCollins Christian Publishing / Zondervan. He is the author of nearly a dozen books, as well as a frequent workshop leader and musical guest at the Festival.

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10. Reading and Writing Assertively

In these days when there's so much division, reading and writing thoughtfully and assertively (that is, neither passively nor aggressively) can help us discern how to balance such matters of faith and humanity as truth, justice, and empathy. But these divided times also provide much genuine risks to these endeavors. This circle will discuss the thorny questions about how to field the dangers of figuring out how to read and write with fierce kindness in this difficult era.

DS Leiter combined a PhD in Communication with a background as a former pastor's kid to found the Assertive Spirituality public scholarship project, which trains people across spiritualities to speak up against toxicity in the world and work toward creating a healthier world for us all.

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11. Reading and Writing with the Land

This circle will discuss the ways that place (and land in particular) influences our reading and writing. What difference does it make to read or write a work from a particular plot of ground or a particular location? How can our practices surrounding reading and writing attune us to the particular gifts that places offer to the practice of reading and writing?

Tiffany Eberle Kriner is associate professor of English at Wheaton College. She also farms 63 acres at Root and Sky Farm, raising pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, and an orchard. She is author of The Future of the Word: An Eschatology of Reading (Fortress, 2014) and In Thought, Word, and Seed: Reckonings from a Midwest Farm (Eerdmans, 2023).

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FULL - Silver Notebooks? Writers Emerging After 50

Emerging as a writer after age fifty presents challenges in addition to those faced by any writer. Not having followed a standard path to writing practice may mean--among other things--not having an MFA, finding it difficult to identify, locate and connect with writing peers, facing ageism, and experiencing generational discourse gaps in the quest for readers. But it may also present advantage--more life experience and reading history to bring to the work, more time and space for writing, less pressure to make a living. This circle would enable participants to share questions and advice about calling (is it really never too late?), community, and practice among writers emerging after 50.

Linda Mills Woolsey is a Professor Emerita of English and former Academic Dean who, in retirement, has rediscovered the joy of writing practice. Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals. She holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from Drew University, serves as a worship leader for St. John’s Episcopal Church, Wellsville, and lives with her husband in rural Western NY.

This Circle is FULL.


13. Slow Looking: Freeing the Mind to Observe

This Circle introduces participants to Corita Kent, an Immaculate Heart sister known as the "Pop Art Nun," who captured the imagination of the 60s and early 70s with her free-spirited designs (her iconic LOVE stamp is still sold by the U.S. post office). Sister Corita helped her students to see the world a new way—in small bite-size pieces. Her “finder,” a small cardboard frame, reshaped the everyday and brought minutia into perspective.

Jane Hertenstein is the author of over 90 published stories both macro and micro: fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre. She teaches a workshop on Flash Memoir and can be found blogging at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/

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14. Soul Care for Creatives

Enjoy a pocket of quiet, engage in spiritual practices, and find community that will nourish your creative life. In the midst of a conference with abundant information, stirred longings, and creative promptings, this circle invites participants to dwell in God’s presence and awaken to God’s attunement to them and their creative work. 

Nicole Mazzarella has taught creative writing for over twenty years at Wheaton College. Her award-winning debut novel This Heavy Silence was published due to a Calvin Festival Contest. Nicole’s short stories have appeared in various literary journals. 

Rev. Summer Joy Gross is an Anglican priest, retreat leader, and spiritual director. After a BA in English and a Masters of Divinity, she served a church in South Haven. Her forthcoming book is The Emmanuel Promise: Discovering the Security of a Life Held by God (Baker, 2024).

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15. Spirited: When Religion Haunts Your Faith

What do you do when your religion haunts your faith? This circle will discuss how--across Judaism, Christianity and Islam--there are strategies to write about, embrace, and even practice faith in community while rejecting and seeking to change the power dynamic that continues to marginalize and oppress in the name of religion.

Melanie P. Moore is the editor of Practicing Presence, The Abbey blog. A writer and editor in Austin, Texas, she previously founded and led Badgerdog Literary Publishing, and re-launched the literary journal American Short Fiction after acquiring it from the University of Texas Press in 2003. 

Dr. Hannah Gourgey is a Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute. She has academic publications in education, communication and cultural studies, and has recently embarked on more creative ventures including fiction (historical and women’s genres) and narrative non-fiction. She is fascinated by the intersection of science, history, spirituality and myth. 

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16. Stealing Time: Writing While Parenting

The demands of raising children often leaves little room or mental energy for writing. But parenting can also create great inspiration for writing. In this Festival Circle care-givers of children are invited to take time to reflect together on the challenges and benefits of writing while parenting. Writer and chaplain Melissa Kuipers will guide us through discussions, practices and exercises to help nurture our creativity while nurturing our children.

Melissa Kuipers has an MA in Creative Writing from University of Toronto. Her short story collection, The Whole Beautiful World, was published in 2017 with Brindle & Glass. In addition to writing, she serves as a college chaplain in Hamilton, ON, where she lives with her husband and two children.

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17. Teachers who Write, Writers who Teach

Teaching and writing are both creative disciplines that require our time, energy, and passion. While these passions can feed each other, they can also be difficult to sustain simultaneously. In this circle, we’ll discuss and process ways to grow our practices as teachers who are committed to not just modeling the writing process for our students, but truly living a writer’s life. Participants should expect to leave feeling energized and empowered to bring their creative energy to the classroom and their own pages.

Dana VanderLugt is the Literacy Consultant for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and author of Enemies in the Orchard: A World War 2 Novel in Verse. A former middle school English teacher, Dana has an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. 

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18. The Truth About Memoir

This circle will focus on readers' expectations when reading memoir as well as authors' responsibilities when writing memoir for a public audience. Discussion will be centered around the most common issues authors face when writing memoir, such as making decisions about setting, characters, and time, historical accuracy, and recreating dialog. 

Jane Griffioen is the author of London Street: A Memoir, published by Wipf and Stock in 2020, as well as poetry published in a variety of journals. She earned her BA at Calvin University with majors in theology and English. Born and raised in Grand Rapids, she and her husband live there still. She has two adult children.

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19. Using Literature in Preaching

Preachers know that good books and poetry enliven their craft. How do we bring good writing into our messages faithfully and effectively?

Alex Joyner is a writer and United Methodist pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the editor of the Heartlands website (alexjoyner.com) and author of books on spirituality and social justice published by Abingdon Press and the Englewood Review of Books. He has served churches and campus ministries in Virginia, Texas, and York, England.

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20. Using the Enneagram to Create and Develop Diverse Characters

Characters are the flesh and blood of our stories. Developing characters that are multi-dimensional and not cookie cutter versions is essential for good writing. The Enneagram is a great source for personal and spiritual growth and can be used to create unique and different characters. We will discuss how to use this tool to enhance our writing.

Patricia M. Robertson is an author, speaker and spiritual director. She has a Doctor of Ministry from Ecumenical Theological Seminary with an emphasis in spiritual direction, and over thirty-five years of ministry experience. She is a published author of non-fiction and fiction books, including the Dancing through Life series.

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21. We're All Creative: Finding, Growing, and Living Your Creativity

God has gifted all of us with creativity, but that creativity looks different for each of us. We'll dig into what's blocking our creativity, how to develop our creativity, and how to get started on that creative project that you've been dreaming about. A hands-on, laughter-filled nudge to get busy being creative in whatever form that takes.

Ann Byle is a freelance writer, book co-author, and author of the 2023 release Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens.  For Chicken Scratch, Ann learned to knit, draw chickens, play the ukulele, and decorate cakes. She is manager of three backyard chickens, one aloof cat, and one naughty dog.

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22. Writers Engaging Nature and Science

By discussing creative nonfiction writers who integrate the natural world into their work, this circle will encourage participants to use nature and scientific research to inspire their own writing. One session will focus on using nature metaphors to find deeper meaning in our personal narratives; the other session will offer insights into incorporating science storytelling into braided and lyric essays, including how and where to find unique stories, how to prune and connect those stories to the rest of the piece, and how to work with a fact-checker.

Cait West is a writer and editor with a degree in creative writing from Michigan State University. Her debut, Rift: A Memoir of Breaking Away from Christian Patriarchy, will be published by Eerdmans in April 2024.

Liz Charlotte Grant is an award-winning writer. Her Substack newsletter, The Empathy List, was twice nominated for a Webby Award for best independent email newsletter on the internet. Her first book, Knock at the Sky: Reading Genesis After Inerrancy, releases from Eerdmans in 2024.

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23. Writers of Color Embracing Our Writer Identities

The writing world can often overlook and dismiss the experiences people of color encounter as they build their writing lives. This reality may impact a writer of color’s journey embracing their creative identity. In this Festival Circle, writers of color will engage with questions of belonging, community, faith, struggle, opportunity, and more. Ultimately, this Circle seeks to create an honest space where writers of color can speak and receive words that will help sustain.

Patrice Gopo writes stories steeped in themes of place, belonging, and home. She is the author of two essay collections: Autumn Song (University of Nebraska Press American Lives Series) and All the Colors We Will See (a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection). Her debut picture book, All the Places We Call Home, is based on one of her essays. Please visit patricegopo.com to learn more.

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24. Writing Among Other Creative Passions

In this circle, we will appreciate creativity of all kinds and discuss the ways that various creative activities can boost writing power. We will also acknowledge the temptation for these other practices to become a distraction from writing (even an excuse to indulge writer's block!) and will explore ways to prioritize writing.

Laura Stormo is an editor and Testing Coordinator for Disability Services at Calvin. She recently completed Simply Create, a book of 102 craft projects. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband, two sons, and cat.

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25. Writing and Creating for Digital Platforms

Learn the basics of creating content for a website, video channel, and social media. Discuss the creative process for writing, producing and editing content for multi-media presentations on a variety of online outlets. Share strategies for developing a message and crafting material that can eventually be used in a book. Vince and Stacie will show you how to build a base following and online community around your area of interest and expertise.

Vince and Stacie Sadowski have a combined three decades of experience with backcountry camping, backpacking, canoeing, and kayaking. They are co-creators of Two Weeks in a Hammock, www.TwoWeeksinaHammock.com, an educational initiative to inspire regular folks to get out into nature. As two middle-aged people with average fitness levels and more time than money, they model an active lifestyle of adventure.

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26. Writing and Publishing as Women of Color

This circle seeks to provide a welcoming space for women of color to share their experiences of writing and publishing as racial and ethnic minorities. We will discuss challenges and issues that women of color face in their writing lives, offer space for attendees to share and ask questions, offer a list of resources, and share from our experience as authors who are women of color. 

Prasanta Verma, MBA MPH, is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who writes about identity, belonging, loneliness, health, and diaspora. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, and residing in the Midwest, she is the author of the book Beyond Ethnic Loneliness.

Dorena Williamson is the bestselling author of eight children’s books including ColorFullCrowned With Glory, and I Know Who I Am. In 1995 she co-planted a multiracial church in Nashville and her speaking ministry has expanded to stages and schools across the country. Dorena’s writing has been featured in publications such as Christianity Today, Crosswalk, and Barna, and she has joined the cast of the Slugs & Bugs show and the Wingfeather Saga. 

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FULL - Writing for Religious Nones, Exvangelicals, and the Spiritual Not Religious

According to studies by Pew and PRRI, the percentage of people in the US claiming religious affiliation has dropped significantly, while church attendance is also down. Whole aspects of US Christianity--racism, gender phobia, political coercion--have been exposed for their exploitativeness by recent documentaries and books. What's going on in publishing and other content platforms for this audience (hint: a lot); what are the prevailing themes; what are the readers looking for now; and how do you find your angle in writing for them? Religion and spirituality are still a part of our lives, but how do we lean into this sea change?

David Morris is the author of Lost Faith and Wandering Souls: A Psychology of Disillusionment, Mourning, and the Return of Hope. He is the publisher of Lake Drive Books and a literary agent at Hyponymous Consulting. David holds a PhD in psychology and religion and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Visit davidrmorris.me.

This circle is FULL.


28. Writing on Substack

Many writers and aspiring authors dread the thought of “building a platform,” but at the core of that phrase lies one of the deepest desires that leads us to write in the first place: sharing our words to connect with others. How can encouraging, entertaining, or educating an audience enrich our relationships with our readers, with our work, and with God? Are there ways to mutually support other writers, interact with readers, and practice a consistent discipline of sharing our work that are life-giving rather than draining? 

Lyndsey Medford lives with a rare autoimmune disorder in the American South and is the author of My Body and Other Crumbling Empires: Lessons for Healing in a World That is Sick. She writes and speaks about spirituality and justice in the ecosystems of our lives.

Sara Billups is a Seattle-based writer and cultural commentator. Her first book, Orphaned Believers (Baker, 2023) follows the journey of a generation raised in the 80s and 90s of evangelicalism. She writes Bitter Scroll on Substack. 

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29. Writing Singleness

Singleness affects Christians throughout life--and singles are increasingly leaving the church--yet much writing about singleness tends to focus on the experiences of younger women and widows. This circle will discuss different approaches to writing about singleness and how it intersects with faith. Facilitator Anna Broadway will share her experience writing about singleness through blogging, memoir, and a long-form journalism project that took her to 41 countries in 17 months. 

Anna Broadway is the author of Solo Planet (NavPress, 2024) and the blog Sexless in the City. Her writing has been featured in a variety of publications and she also contributed to the books Venus and Virtue, Disquiet Time, Talking Taboo, and Faith at the Edge. She holds an MA in religious studies from Arizona State University.

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Ready to join a Festival Lunch Circle?

Pre-registration is required and now open. Circles are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.  Please remember that you may only register for one Circle. Once a Circle has reached capacity, it will be closed.

Click here to be taken to the Festival Lunch Circle registration page.