Festival Circles

We hope the 2022 Festival of Faith & Writing will once again include Festival Circles, small groups that meet to discuss a topic of common interest. Each circle is composed of no more than 20 attendees and is led by a Festival participant. Circles meet two times during the Festival.

As we are still navigating the challenges of COVID-19 & planning a safe event on a university campus, we hope to share an update about Festival Circles in Fall 2021. Our goal is to welcome the Circles that were originally planned for our 30th anniversary gathering, which included topics like motherhood and writing; trauma-informed writing; religion, doubt, and uncertainty; and more. Once we are able to communicate with slated leaders & attendees, we will post Circle descriptions & meeting times to this page.

For examples of Festival Circles, browse past programs from the Festival of Faith & Writing on our History page.

Rural / Remote / Isolated Writers

Writing is a solitary act, and rural or small town or remote worker life can be beneficial to this act. Yet writing from and about geographically isolated places can pose special challenges, especially as urbanization draws resources to city centers. Still, we need rural and remote voices more than ever, so let’s discuss how we are building, or would like to build, professional networks and non-internet writing lives in the far off places.

Anna Anderson is an SPU MFA candidate and former Fulbright fellow. She lives on a farm near the Mississippi in Eastern Iowa.
Matt Miller teaches writing at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, a school commissioned to serve the rural Ozarks. Matt's writing on rural and environmental issues has appeared in Comment and Front Porch Republic, among others.

Cause & Effect: Storytelling for Change

Our stories may connect us to a cause such as education, justice, or humanitarian work. We recognize the power of words to influence change in the place where our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide,” as Frederick Buechner describes it. But we must be aware:
• As we address concerns such as poverty or trauma, how do we represent human needs with dignity and humility? And without objectifying the very people we seek to understand and befriend?
• When might our good intentions generate short-term attention without the long-term results that come with community leadership and systems for sustainability? And how might we use our words to create a lasting beneficial effect for the people and the cause we serve?

Karen Barrows is a spiritual director and speaking coach who transitioned from a 20-year corporate sales career to ministry and nonprofit work. She serves with Compassion International USA and leads international trips to encourage learning about faith and community development.
Rebecca Johnson is a communications consultant and leadership development coach who has worked with changemakers in more than 70 nonprofit organizations. You can connect with her and join her email newsletter about work-life values at www.Story.Solutions.

Crossing Academic Boundaries in Reading Groups

We will talk about how to facilitate and flourish in reading groups or book clubs that are formed within academia but which reach across categories that usually divide the academy: undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and staff. We will also consider the challenge and opportunity of reading groups that also reach outside of the academy to include people unaffiliated or only loosely affiliated with the academy. What are the benefits of recreational book groups formed in an academic context? What are the challenges such groups face to membership and consistent participation?

Bethany Besteman is a PhD candidate at the Catholic University of America and a writing tutor at the United States Naval Academy. Bethany is the secretary and web/social media manager of Contemporary Catholic Writers, a reading and discussion group based out of Catholic University of America.
Jessica Schnepp is a PhD candidate at The Catholic University of America where she is writing a dissertation on grotesque narrative structure in the novels of Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Anthony Burgess, and Evelyn Waugh. Jessica founded the CUA Contemporary Catholic Writers Group (CCW).

Visual Storytelling

This circle is for writers/storytellers/photographers/creatives who either love (or want to love) the ways that photography and their senses can enhance their writing life. We will learn to see in new ways, tell stories in deeper ways, and find friends to encourage us along the way. Circle participants are welcome to bring questions about telling their story better through images, share ways that visual storytelling has inspired their writing, and/or also share words and images with the group to encourage others. This group will find a balance between being authentically deep and lightheartedly fun. Laughter is required.

Christen Bordenkircher’s professional photography background for over a decade has intersected with her love of people and their stories. Her photography has supported and complimented her work in nonprofit leadership since 2005. Christen has experience in storytelling for nonprofits and individuals in California, Turkey and most recently, Michigan.

Writing Poetry with the Book of Nature

What has poetry to do with ecology? How might poetry contribute to social and ecological discussions? Come and find out about the Poetry and Ecology Project, and maybe get inspired to start your own. We will read some contemporary poems on issues like Food, Water, Trees, Birds, and Degraded Land, and then each participants will draft a poem of their own, to share with the group. Who knows where this may lead!

Deborah Bowen has been working in the last three years with student researchers to produce the leaflets of the Poetry and Ecology Project, which have been presented to local libraries, schools, environmental groups, etc. Deborah recently retired as Chair of English at Redeemer University College in Ontario, but she still teaches several courses, including Environmental Literature, and she loves getting people writing creatively!

The Intersection of Writing and Motherhood

This Festival Circle will provide participants with an open, welcoming space to discuss the intersection of faith, motherhood, and creative work. This Circle is a space for all mothers (including foster, adoptive, and those who struggle with infertility) to gather without judgment. This community of mothers believes at our core that having children doesn't have to be at odds with the writing life—but acknowledges that sometimes this truth is tough to remember in our daily lives. We will share encouragement, advice, and support for balancing writing with the vocation of motherhood.

Ashley Brooks is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist, and mom to three. When she's not busy writing or wiping jelly from her children's faces, you can find her cohosting the Chasing Creative podcast.
Ashlee Cowles is the author of the award-winning novel, Beneath Wandering Stars, and its sequel, Below Northern Lights. She interviews mother writers and artists, and blogs about motherhood as creative magic, at TheMostCreativeThing.com.

Faithfully Funny

To kick off the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9-11, Lorne Michaels asked the mayor of New York, “Can we be funny?” And the mayor joked back, “Why start now?” On that episode, the cast of SNL used their position as New Yorkers to give a country frozen with grief permission to laugh. Our laughter that night helped us collectively heal and brought us together as a nation. Humor helps us process hard things, loosens us up as we wrestle with faith, and lends empathy to our storytelling. Laughter makes us brave. In this circle we’ll discuss writing humorously about faith and life and consider how we battle cynicism and balance edginess with hope. Madeleine L’Engle said, “The only way to deal with something deadly serious is to treat it a little lightly.” So as we approach our writing and faith, how do we lighten up?

Melanie Dale is the author of four books -- Women Are Scary, It’s Not Fair, Infreakinfertility, and the forthcoming Calm the H*ck Down (Simon & Schuster 2020). She hosts the podcast Lighten Up with Melanie Dale.

Reading to Write

What happens when the Festival is over and we return to our daily habits of reading and writing? In this circle, participants will use their experience at the Festival to energize their future practice. We will develop writing prompts from the readings, reflect on lessons from the keynotes, and design a series of individualized writing goals, a roadmap for productive work in the weeks and months to come.

Matt Forsythe teaches creative writing in the English Department of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Mid-American Review, Fiction Southeast, The Pinch, and other journals.

Walker, Writer, Witness

Walking: It pulls us from our chairs and engages our creativity in unique ways, but it also slows us to a pace that, particularly for writers of place and ecology, forms us into more faithful witnesses to the world. In this circle, we will explore both Calvin’s Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens and how the physical act of walking makes us stronger writers of witness. We’ll discuss ways to incorporate walking into our writerly lives, learn the particularities of a new place (and why they matter), and write what we discover along the path. Come walk with us!

Kendra Langdon Juskus’s poetry has appeared in Stone Canoe, RHINO, The Christian Century, Rock & Sling, Literary Mama, Ruminate, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and the collection City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness (UChicago Press, 2015). She is a poetry editor at BOAAT and winner of the 2019 Bea Gonzalez Prize for Poetry from Stone Canoe. A freelance writer and editor, she lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her family.
Kristin Brace’s manuscript Toward the Wild Abundance received the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Michigan State University Press, 2019). Other books include Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin and Each Darkness Inside (Finishing Line Press, 2018 and 2019). Brace earned an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals. She makes her home in West Michigan with her husband, the entrepreneur and inventor Neal Brace. Find her online at kristinbrace.com.

From the Praise to the Page: What Contemporary Poetry Can Teach us About Faith and Culture

Through an examination of select works of some of the poets featured at the Festival (Kaveh Akbar, Nikki Grimes, and Christian Wiman, to name a few), this Festival Circle endeavors to explore the ways in which poetry facilitates expressions of faith and culture. How does this medium allow us to have complicated, yet fruitful discussions around facets of identity (race, age, gender, economic class, geographic location, etc) and their relationship to religion? Our goal is to read and think through the images rendered and stories narrated by these poets, while interrogating our own experience of the poetry at hand. We are interested in thinking deeply about what we can learn from these poets and which of their tools we can use in navigating our understandings of our own respective faith and personhood.

Yalie Kamara is a Sierra Leonean-American writer, doctoral student, and a native of Oakland, California. She’s the author of A Brief Biography of My Name, which was included in New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano) and When The Living Sing.
Kierra Newman is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and serves on the Ministry team of Bethel Cincinnati Church. She has lived in and worked in France and is interested in Christian ministry for women and social justice initiatives that support underserved communities.

Orthodox Spirituality and Literary Practice

How do/how can Eastern Orthodox rhythms of prayer and community function in an artist's life, and how can they affect an artist's vision--especially when the dialogue around art and its creation is often overwhelmingly informed by Western critical and ideological approaches? Are there distinctively Orthodox approaches that guide artistic work, or are there perspectives to be avoided? Finally, given the communal rather than individualistic approach of Orthodox spirituality, how can artists support one another in the quest to produce work of artistic excellence that can speak to, while interrogating, the general artistic precepts of the literary marketplace.

Caroline Langston is a regular contributor to Image Journal's "Good Letters" blog, has been a commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered," and her work has been anthologized in the Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies. She is finishing a spiritual memoir about life across the American cultural divide.

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 pastor's kid to found the Assertive Spirituality project, which trains people across spiritualities to speak up against toxic crap in the world toward a healthier world for us all.

All in the Family: Whose Story Is It?

Families can be tricky; writing about families can be even trickier. What and where are the ethical boundaries of recounting others’ stories, especially when those tales affect you? When you add in physical disabilities, emotional challenges, and mental illness, that full can of worms becomes even more crowded. In this Festival Circle, we’ll discuss ways we, as poets and prose writers, have, with mixed success, written about family—joys and sorrows alike—avoiding such pitfalls as sentimentality, hyperbole, or censure, while maintaining our own stories within the larger family drama. To facilitate discussion, participants may be encouraged to bring one poem/one page of prose—written by themselves or someone else—on the above topic.

Winner of the 2019 Foley Poetry Prize, assistant editor of Presence, and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox, www.marjoriemaddox.com, has published 12 collections of poetry, including True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series), Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize), and Begin with a Question (forthcoming, Paraclete, 2021); the short story collection What She Was Saying; 4 children’s books, including A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry and Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises; the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); and over 550 poems; stories; and creative nonfiction, pedagogical, or scholarly essays in journals and anthologies.

Telling Other People's Stories

When telling the story of a church or a mission project, writers find ourselves telling other people's stories. How do we engage this practice ethically, compassionately, and faithfully? What can we do to be sure the people we meet retain ownership of their story?

Elizabeth Mae Magill is the author of Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers, and is a pastor, writer, and workshop leader in Massachusetts.

Psalms: Poetry as Prayer

We'll look at a few selected Psalms of David as well as a few poets who have written works inspired by Psalms, such as Scott Cairns' Idiot Psalms. The focus will be the spiritual practice of writing prayers down, and circle participants will be given time and encouragement to write their own "Psalms" and share them if desired.

Alexandria Maxwell is a poet and writer from Warroad, Minnesota. She lives out of a twenty-four-foot camper with her family, and is publishing a chapbook of poetry about life on the road.

Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: Art, Empathy, and the Religious Imagination

In his 1940 novel, The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene’s whiskey priest concludes that “hate was just a failure of imagination.” Like so many other prophetic artists, Greene shows us that in order to love, we must be able to effectively imagine the lives of others. We must, however, learn how to imagine both truthfully and compassionately because the imagination can be used both for dehumanization and rehumanization. In this circles, we will discuss the ways in which engaging the arts that provide us with opportunities to expand, rather than constrict, our imaginations for the sake of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Mary McCampbell is Associate Professor of Humanities at Lee University where she teaches contemporary fiction, film and philosophy, and cultural studies. Along with academic publications, she has published in Image Journal, Relevant, Christianity Today, and elsewhere. Her book, Postmodern Prophetic: The Religious Impulse in Contemporary Fiction, is forthcoming.

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 served for the last decade connecting deserving authors with traditional publishers.
Bob Hudson is a veteran publishing professional having spent 34 years as Editor-at-Large at HarperCollins Christian Publishing / Zondervan. He is also the author of seven books, including The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, 4th Ed. (2016, Zondervan) and the forthcoming The Poet and the Fly (2020, Fortress). He is a frequent workshop leader and musical guest at the Festival.

Sticks, Strings, and Stories

If you carry a project bag or socks-in-progress to every workshop and lecture, this group is for you. Let's discuss how reading and listening inspires our own creativity and share project ideas and progress throughout the Festival.

Tami Parks is a creative entrepreneur and amateur fashion historian from Holland, Michigan. An avid knitter, she finds inspiration in words, nature, and art.

Disorders, Diagnoses, Labels, and Love: Writing About Mental Illness

We will explore what it means to write, in any genre, about mental illness - whether one's personal experience, the experience of a friend or family member, or those who work in the care of individuals with mental illness. Here, we will define the term broadly to include anyone who has been affected by depression, anxiety, personality disorders, addictions, bipolar disorder, or psychosis, and as a group discuss how individual experiences and narratives can be translated to the written word. We recognize that these topics can be especially challenging to write about, and so we will create space to talk about how writing about it can be both challenging and liberating.

Dr. Brent Schnipke is a psychiatry resident training at Wright State University in Dayton, OH with passions for reading, writing, and teaching. He is a writer and editor and has written essays, poems, and book reviews at the intersection of medicine, mental health, and creative writing. When not practicing psychiatry or writing, he can be found in a local coffee shop or playing soccer with his 2-year-old son.
Morgan Alexander is an M.D. student at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine in Ohio. Morgan aspires to practice psychiatry and hopes to do her part to celebrate and empower those living with mental health challenges. She likes crafting narrative essays, she loves reading Mary Oliver poems, and her favorite writer is Rumi. In addition to equitable healthcare and heartfelt literature, she values optimism, vulnerability, good coffee, and travel.

Hymn Writing

Participants will sing (or read) and discuss hymns composed by the group's members. The Circle leader will collect the hymns in advance to make copies for our Circle. A piano will be available to accompany hymns for which music exists.

Rhonda Seamons has worked at a private religious institution for more than 25 years. She has taught courses in writing, religion, language, and education.

Don't Quit Your Day Job: Writing Strategies from 5 to 9 When You Have a 9 to 5

How did Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams find time to write while juggling careers as a successful insurance company exec and head of pediatrics at a hospital respectively? More importantly, how can we do the same while holding down our nine-to-five jobs? This circle will share strategies and offer encouragement for writing creatively when we don’t make our living from creative writing.

Bill Stadick has worked for three decades as an advertising creative director, and his poems have appeared in Relief, The Christian Century, Barren, First Things, and other journals. He’s a featured poet in In a Strange Land: Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets (Poiema Poetry Series, 2019) and has a chapbook forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

At the Edge of (Be)longing

A circle for those writing at the edges of faith, spiritual tradition, doubt, or uncertainty. What happens when our writing questions tradition, challenges authority, or seeks something beyond the accepted stories? What is ours to tell, and how do we claim it more wholeheartedly in our creative practice? Through prompts and reflection, we’ll meet these questions as a rich space of creative tension—a space of possibilities, creative longings, and deeper listening. Writers of any tradition or spiritual path are welcomed, including those between paths or who choose not to identify with one.

Emily Stoddard is a poet and writer in Michigan whose work appears or is forthcoming in Tupelo Quarterly, America, Ruminate, EcoTheo Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Radar, New Poetry from the Midwest, Whitefish Review, and elsewhere. As a leader of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method, she founded Voice & Vessel, a studio that supports fellow writers.

LGBTQ People of Faith

This circle will provide the chance for attendees to meet and discuss their experience, struggles, and joys--as well as the intersections of faith, writing, and queerness. It is a chance to make friends and think about how our identities present good challenges in our lives of creating, thinking, and relating, as well as discuss how to create representations of LGBTQ people of faith within literature.

Megan Twietmeyer is a high school English teacher and a social work grad student. Megan is also a bisexual Christian.
Brad Aaron Modlin's Christianity and gayness have often found their way into poetry, fiction, and nonfiction--sometimes uninvited. Brad is the Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at University of Nebraska, Kearney.

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 this Circle feeling understood, energized, and empowered to bring their energy to the classroom and their own pages.

Dana VanderLugt is a teacher and instructional coach pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. She blogs at stumblingtowardgrace.com and her work has been published in Longridge Review, Ruminate, The Reformed Journal, and The Twelve Blog.

The Art of {Writing About} Eating

In this circle for food writers (and aspiring ones!), we'll discuss how to write about food, eating, creation, and bodies—and how they relate to one another. We'll also look at examples of food writing that work well, and a few that fall flat.

Kendall Vanderslice is a baker and writer covering the intersection of food and faith. Kendall holds an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University, an MTS from Duke Divinity, and is the author of We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God.

Weaving Faith in Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

This circle is for writers, particularly of science fiction and fantasy who are looking for ways to weave their faith into their fiction without coming across as proselytizing. We will discuss how faith is portrayed in popular works such as American Gods and The Good Place, and how to apply those techniques in our own works.

LaShawn Wanak is an African American science fiction and fantasy writer whose works have been published in Tor.com and other markets. LaShawn's novelette Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good appears in THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY 2019 Anthology, published in October 2018.
Susi Jensen is a Stanford University grad raised up in the Stanford Creative Writing Program. Her website is https://allscifiallthetime.com/.

Writing and Death

As humans we share the reality of our eventual mortality. Before our own deaths, however, we are all but guaranteed to experience the deaths of those we care about. Can writing help us face our own mortality, or the deaths of those we love? In this circle, let's explore the possible gifts that writing and honest attention to mortality may offer one another.

Bethany Winn is a 2001 Calvin graduate with an English degree who took a meandering path toward ministry. A 2018 graduate of the Chicago Theological Seminary, Bethany is now an ordained minister and hospice chaplain who spends her days in the company of those acutely aware of mortality.

The Pastor as Reader

Pastors are trained to be people of the Word and people of words. How do we use what we read – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, lyrics – as fodder for leading people into deeper spiritual awareness and understanding? What has been life-giving in our reading practices? And how do we turn that into liturgy for the people? These are questions, as well as the material we glean from the Festival, that will guide our conversations.

Elizabeth Winslea is a pastor in the Pacific Northwest who has served for over 20 years both the university – as a chaplain – and the local church – as pastoral staff. In all of the positions, Elizabeth has been an avid reader and valued how the written word – in poetry and prose – can help the spiritual seeker to gain deeper insight and point to experiences of the Divine.

Festival Circles are small groups of 12–15 people that meet two times during the Festival to discuss a topic of common interest. The circles run from 6–7 pm on Thursday and 12:45–1:45 pm on Saturday. Space is limited in each Festival Circle and pre-registration is encouraged and now open. The slate of 2018 Festival Circles is listed below. Note: Festival Circle participants are highly encouraged to to pre-purchase a boxed meal and bring it with them to their Festival Circle, though limited grab-and-go meals will also be available on campus.

2018 Festival Circles


Raising children and raising words are equally important vocations—but how do we balance the two? How do the two identities feed one another and make us deeper, stronger people? In this circle, we'll converse about the relationship between writing and parenting, and how to do both at the expense of neither.

Ashley Abramson is a hybrid stay-at-home mom/writer in Minneapolis who writes for clients and online publications between kids’ naps. Kate Watson is also a writer/mom and together with Ashley leads writers in conversation about freelancing in a Slack channel dedicated to the topic. Collectively, they’ve written for publications including Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, The Curator, Paste, Relevant, and Refinery29.


Partisanship in both churches and the public square has eroded the language we need in order discern, plan, heal, and reflect together. Writers can help: it is our work to keep unpacking, defining, retrieving root meanings, and recontextualizing words in ways that restore their usability as instruments of clarity and compassion. It's timelyeven urgentto work together on strategies of word stewardship that help preserve common ground in public discourse. We can all be helped in that effort by hearing from thoughtful wordsmiths how particularly “loaded” words are heard and felt, and how each of us finds ways to use or avoid words that have been claimed in the service of very particular agendas. This circle will focus on specific words, many of them quite ordinary “justice,” “rights,” “biblical,” “corporate,” “family,” that have become “loaded,” in recent public discourse.

Marilyn McEntyre has written fifteen books, including Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. Her most recent books are Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice and Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Minds and Open Our Hearts.


In his book
Reading for Preaching, Neal Plantinga makes the case for preachers to engage in “a program of general reading” in order to glean illustrations, enrich language use, develop empathy, and gain wisdom. The Festival is the perfect event for encouraging such reading, and in this circle we’ll think together about both how reading enriches our particular vocation of writing sermons and what we’re learning at the Festival. This circle is open to active and retired preachers and seminarians.

Rebecca Jordan Heys is the pastor of Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Many of us are looking to write memories—either in the form of literary memoir or simply to record family history. This circle will help writers isolate or freeze-frame a moment and then distill it onto paper in small, bite-size pieces.

Jane Hertenstein is the author of close to 80 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative nonfiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. She has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, and Frostwriting. She blogs at Memoirous.


Reproductive loss and grief present unique challenges: once you get on the “wrong” side of the narrative, happy stories of birth and babies can seem relentless and ever-present. This type of loss also presents unique challenges to writers: how do you craft your story without letting the event itself overshadow your telling of it? How do you tell your story to a culture that would rather not hear how many things can go wrong with a pregnancy? How do you tell your story so that people want to read it, rather than pass over it because it’s too “sad”? This circle will be co-facilitated by a poet and an essayist, so that we can explore the ways that different genres can tell different types of stories, as well accomplish the crucial work of telling stories that need to be told.

Jessica Baldanzi is an associate professor of English at Goshen College where she teaches creative writing with a focus on memoir, comics, and graphic novels, as well as American literature, critical theory, gender studies, and composition. She’s published and performed both traditional and more experimental essays about the stillbirth of her son Christopher. Susanna Childress is the author of two books of poetry, and also writes fiction and creative nonfiction. She is also one-half of the band Ordinary Neighbors, whose full-length album is based on her writing. She lives and teaches in Holland, MI.


If resonant writing stems from a rich inner life, how can writers cultivate and protect this in our digital, constant-content culture? This circle will explore how writers can edit their input sources to enrich their creative life, pilot through the tensions of growing your platform while growing your craft, and practice soul care in a screen culture. Writers deeply feel the tensions of craft vs. platform, and the pressures of “keeping up” in the digital content stream which conversely leads to creative burn-out. This circle will provide opportunity to compare notes, swap ideas and practices, and encourage writers who want to produce soulful work with staying power.

Stephanie Smith is an acquisitions editor at Zondervan, seminarian at Western Theological Seminary, and aficionado of lipstick, liturgy, and em-dashes. You can connect with her and join her email newsletter for writers at www.slantletter.com.


Writing memoir can be a daunting, soul-transforming task. For the Christian writer, the work of digging into one’s past, filtering through faded and vivid memories, choosing to sit in both heartache and joy, deciding which stories merit inclusion—each of these steps requires grit, grace, and wisdom from above. To subject one’s story to the critical eyes of an editor and to humble oneself enough to accept change is like burning down the forest to promote new growth. This circle will discuss the discipline of slowing down to see God at work, and what it looks like to write into our doubts and step away with more faith.

Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging. She has had more than 100 articles published in over 20 publications, and enjoys hosting Five Minute Friday, an online Christian writing community.


Once you’ve completed an apprenticeship you become a plumber, once you pass the bar exam you are a lawyer, but how do you become a poet? Getting an MFA is an obvious route, but it doesn't guarantee the destination; many of today's best poets did not complete a graduate degree. This circle will discuss what success as a poet looks like, the various paths to get there, and the pros and cons of different routes.

D.S. Martin is poet-in-residence at McMaster Divinity College, the series editor for the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books, and the editor of two recent poetry anthologies—The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse. His newest poetry collection is & (ampersand).


This circle will facilitate discussion among middle and high school teachers attending the Festival of Faith & Writing who also are also themselves creative writers. Reflection will center around our own growth as writers, alongside our development as writing instructors. The goal is to connect the experiences of secondary English teachers attending the festival, and to deepen the connections between growing and working as writers and as teachers of writing.

Mary Juzwik is a scholar and writer working in the departments of teacher education and English at Michigan State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in writing, literature, and English Education.


Led by two women with PhDs who have traded the classroom for writing general market books, this circle will help writers engage their work as whole people—both heart and mind. This circle will explore how writers can act as compassionate critics (regardless of their degree); techniques that allow writers to engage critically as well as graciously, including ways to “warm up” writing; and how to use research well in your writing.

Ashley Hales is a pastor’s wife, mom to four, and the author of the forthcoming book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs. Christie Purifoy traded her classroom for a Pennsylvania farmhouse, and is mother to four; she’s authored Roots & Sky and the forthcoming Placemakers.


This circle is for misfits: fantasists drawn to crime fiction, novel writing musicians, and other serious weirdos who face the challenge of trying to write the wacky bits of their own offbeat lives, including writers of faith whose work is too religious for secular readers and too the secular for religious readers. Writers who bend (or seek to transcend) genres often face two main questions:  How can I describe this story? And who will publish and read it? This circle will provide a space for writers working on hard-to-classify, genre-bending fiction space to explore answers to these questions with like-minded writers. We’ll also work on concise and compelling pitches, discuss comparable works, and reflect on insights and challenges raised in other Festival sessions.

Samuel Martin is the author of the novel A Blessed Snarl, nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the story collection This Ramshackle Tabernacle, and other work featured in Image, Relief, and The Belmont Review. He teaches creative writing at Northwestern College. Luke Hawley is the author of The Northwoods Hymnal, which won the Nebraska Book Award. He’s also a singer-songwriter and front-man for the Feedback-Folk band The Ruralists. He teaches creative writing at Dordt College.


As writers, how do we choose our subject matter? How do we find a life-giving project? How do we continue to choose that project, day by day, even as challenges and demands confront us and our work? Together, we will explore methods for claiming and maintaining a creative focus, as well as techniques for dealing with change, should a work-in-progress need to evolve.

Karen Schreck is the author of the historical novels Broken Ground and Sing for Me, as well as two novels for young adults and a book for children. Her short stories, essays, and interviews have been published in various journals, including Consequence, Hypertext, Belt, The Rumpus, and Image, and have received various awards, including a Pushcart Prize.


In this circle group, we will discuss slow writing—what it is, where we see it, and the role it plays in our current cultural moment. Using thoughts gleaned from the Festival's speakers and sessions, we will explore what might emerge if we approach the craft of writing with an insistent slowness. Annie Dillard wrote, “Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength.” Slow writing is certainly not the only act of resistance to the onslaught of words we give and receive, but it marks a good place to start.

Elizabeth Dark is the associate director of programs at the Kenyon Review. Her essays have been published in journals including Ruminate, Curator, Blue Bear Review, and Riverteeth.