2010 Festival Review

William Craft greets the Festival audience Friday night

2010 Festival Overview

The excitement was palpable as 177 people gathered on Luther College’s campus October 29-31, 2010, for the second triennial Lutheran Festival of Writing.  It was a grand weekend, and people attending commented on the marvelous program and the supportive atmosphere, with writers and readers mingling freely and trading tips and talk.  At the opening plenary, Luther's Vice-President and Dean for Academic Affairs William Craft welcomed participants and set the tone, reciting Richard Wilbur's poem "The Writer."  Director Carol Gilbertson introduced the weekend's theme and the dance "Vibrant Acts of Reading."  The Luther English Department hosted throughout the weekend, and all the sessions were introduced by English faculty members and students. 

For a full program schedule of the 2010 Festival, click here.

We appreciate the suggestions we received from participants, which we are already including in our thinking as we plan the 2013 Festival.  Scattered throughout this review are positive comments by presenters and attendees, suggesting why people will keep coming to these festivals--to see their comments, just click on the “more” that follows the last sentence. The page that comes up includes photos which you can click on and enlarge.  See comments from participants.

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Amanda Hamp dances "Vibrant Acts of Reading"

Vibrant Acts of Reading

The festival opened with a moving performance of “Vibrant Acts of Reading,” a dance commissioned for the festival, choreographed by Luther Dance faculty member Amanda Hamp.  The dance was performed by Hamp and Luther grad Rose Milligan (’10) and accompanied by Luther music faculty and students—soprano soloist Rachel Ware, with eight cellists, including Eric Kutz, cello, and seven student cellists, directed by Richard Tirk.  The group performed the haunting Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5:  Aria, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.  See comments from participants.

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Poet Robert Cording

Cording Keynote

“The Longest Day:  The In-Betweenness of Art” was the opening keynote speech by poet Robert Cording, Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at College of the Holy Cross.  Cording, the author of six poetry collections, read his poems and then talked about how the artful words of poems help us understand our human predicament, perpetually suspended between despair and hope, death and life, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Cording writes with deep sensitivity about seeing beauty in unexpected places, with many of his poems focusing on spiritual questioning.  In a poem about a mother grieving the death of her thirteen-year-old son, Cording writes, “Pray for me, she said, and Lord I try. / I have no eye for eternity.  I know / only this world, where May’s light lengthens / into June’s long days, and someone I love / keeps discovering that grief is a season / that leads nowhere.”  Read a brief bio and samples of Cording's work here.  See comments from participants.

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Novelist Rene Steinke delivers keynote address on her novel "Holy Skirts"

Steinke Keynote

Novelist Rene Steinke, of Fairleigh Dickinson University, gave the second keynote address Saturday afternoon, “The Beautiful Strange:  Writing a Novel.”  A National Book Award Finalist, Steinke showed photos of the flamboyant central character of her novel, Holy Skirts, talked about the process of researching and writing a historical novel, and read some excerpts.  The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who lived in the avant-garde art world of early twentieth-century Paris and New York, was a poet, artist, fashionista, and proto-punk-rocker notorious for her eccentric behavior and self-styling.  In 1917 she appeared in public wearing only a skirt and a brassiere fashioned out of tomato cans; at another event, she wore a bustled skirt ornamented with a working taillight.  Though Steinke’s Baroness may seem an odd subject for a Lutheran festival, Steinke sees her as a spiritual seeker.  ”Holy Skirts is the title of one of my favorite poems by the Baroness,” said Steinke in a recent interview (www.harpercollins.com).  “As for the ‘holy’ part, the Baroness was not religious in any traditional way, but she also wasn’t an easy atheist—God often shows up in her writing.  In her discussions of art and sex, she suggests a kind of sanctity to these things.”  Read a brief bio and a sample of Steinke's work here.  See comments from participants.

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Vibrancies readers Jill Alexander Essbaum, Patrick Hicks, and Carol Gilbertson discuss their work


Saturday evening’s keynote was “Vibrancies,” eight poets and fiction writers reading excerpts of their work.  Gary Fincke, a widely-published writer in all genres, read poems ; Jill Alexander Essbaum read some hard-hitting recent religio-erotic poems; Patrick Hicks read poems about the city of London; Paul Shepherd read from his novel manuscript, which continues the characters from his powerful novel More Like Not Running Away; Lauri Anderson read stories about Finnish-American family life, including portraits of his father; poet and novelist Robert Schultz--who has written poems based on the artist Bin Danh’s images taking Khmer Rouge photos of captured Cambodians and superimposed them on green leaves, using a photo-development process of photosynthesis--read from his recent poems; Carol Gilbertson read recent poems exploring how the physical body registers our emotional and spiritual lives; and Amy Weldon read excerpts of her manuscript historical novel, Eldorado, Iowa, exploring nineteenth-century small-town Iowa life.  For brief bios of participants and samples of their work, click here.  See comments from participants.

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Festival Particpants listen to panel discussion

Panel Discussions

The festival included panel discussions about how writing can embody idea and belief (Art, Idea, and Belief), how writers attempt to authenticate their portrayal of past eras and figures (The Past Is a Foreign Country), and how writers work to capture place in their writing (A Sense of Place), and a panel of editors and publishers discussing publication issues, possibilities, and tips (Thoughts on Editing and Publishing). One session focused on the national Lutheran Writers and Lutheran Readers Projects, with attendees bringing their suggestions on how to extend the festival community on the web, as well as how to offer other in-person programs throughout the year.  LWP leader Paul Shepherd and LRP leader Mark Mustian chaired.  For a full description of each panel's content, please click here.  See comments from participants about the panels. 

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Novelist Mark Mustian

Readings of Prose

As well as the Saturday night reading, the program offered five opportunities to hear pairs of writers reading their work in 70-minute sessions.  Featured among the presenters reading their work were Walter Wangerin, Jr., the renowned religious writer and speaker from Valparaiso University, together with Luther College’s Nancy K. Barry, reading a new personal essay; Minneapolis writer David Oppegaard, reading fantasy fiction, paired with Florida novelist Mark Mustian, whose recent novel, The Gendarme, about a Turkish soldier reliving his role in the 1915 Armenian genocide, was recently reviewed by The New York Times.  And Luther College’s David Faldet read from his recent book, Oneota Flow, about Northeast Iowa, the Upper Iowa River, and the local population through its history, including his own personal history; Faldet was paired with Thomas Maltman, a Minneapolis writer whose first novel, The Night Birds, won several literary awards.  Read bios and samples of writers' works here.  See comments from participants.

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Poet Katy Giebenhain reads her poems

Readings of Poetry

The festival featured many poets this year.  Gustavus Adolphus College’s Philip Bryant and Augsburg College’s Cass Dalglish read poems that play with the rhythms and nuances of jazz, Bryant’s with contemporary jazz and Dalglish’s with ancient Sumerian cuneiform signs.  Hymnwriter and poet Gracia Grindal read poems along with Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner, poetry editor of The Christian Century.  Barbara Crooker, a well-published poet who specializes in ekphrastic poetry (poems about another art form), was paired with Wisconsin poet John Graber, whose collection Thanksgiving Dawn was published as a result of contacts made at the 2007 Festival.  Susanna Childress, a former Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University, read recent work as well as poems from her prize-winning collection, Jagged with Love; her reading partner was Katy Giebenhain, a poet and the editor of the Poetry + Theology rubric for Seminary Ridge Review.  Diane LeBlanc, director of the writing program at St. Olaf College and author of the award-winning chapbook, Dancer with Good Sow, read poems along with Vince Wixon, a Luther College graduate and Oregonian who has published three books of poems.  Mary Crockett Hill, editor of The Roanoke Review, read her award-winning poems alongside Steven Schroeder, a widely-published writer who teaches both at the University of Chicago and at Shenzhen University in China.  Cary Waterman, of Augsburg College, and Joe Wilkins, of Waldorf, each read from their forthcoming collections—Cary read from The Memory Palace, and Joe read from Killing the Murnion Dogs.  Read brief bios and samples of these writers' work here.  See comments from participants. 

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English honorary society (Sigma Tau Delta) members who hosted the Festival Open Mic

Student Participation

Seventy-eight students attended the festival.  Luther English majors introduced presenters, read a poem at the Sunday worship, and hosted an Open Mic, where 17 attendees—students and others--read their own work to a supportive late-night crowd.  Visiting students came from Valparaiso University and Augsburg and Waldorf Colleges. 

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One presenter autographs his book

Book Sales and Signings

One popular locale at the festival was the Luther Book Shop, which had a special table brimming with over sixty books by presenters and attendees, as well as tables set up for mass book signings.  Attendees flocked the festival table to buy presenters’ books and have them signed at one of the several book-signing sessions, one of which was hosted by the Book Shop just before the Saturday banquet and included a reception in the store.

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Pastor Norene Smith preaching

Festival Reformation Day Worship

The festival concluded with a celebratory Reformation Day worship service, including an invitation to everyone to join our communal feast of Eucharist. Former Luther College Campus Pastor Norene Smith preached about the radical freedom God extends to believers, which is emphasized in Lutheran theology, and she invited us to extend that freedom in the Church’s inclusive hospitality.  A Luther English major, Lauren Haefemeyer, read Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Proof.”  Luther’s Cantorei choir sang an anthem, and a brass ensemble accompanied the hymns, including one with text translated by Gracia Grindal and another with text by Carol Gilbertson. 

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Poet Susanna Childress hugs old friend Walt Wangerin, Jr.

Hospitality and Conviviality

Throughout the festival, readers and writers gathered at receptions to meet, make new friends and renew old friendships, to share work and life stories.  In keeping with Luther College’s Norwegian-American roots, refreshments featured Norwegian cookies—romegrot bars, kringle, and sandbakkels.  And in keeping with the College’s commitment to sustainability, the Saturday banquet featured locally-grown root vegetables and grass-fed local beef. 

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Vibrancies readers--Paul Shepherd (left) renews friendship with other presenters Gary Fincke and Jill Alexander Essbaum

All in All

All in all, a most satisfying event.  One New Hampshire attendee, asked about how she learned about the Lutheran Festival, replied that as she left the last festival she felt so “spiritually fed” that she knew she would come back.  This festival too, she said, gave her such a feeling of having been nourished and renewed.  We hope to see her—and all of you—back for the festival in 2013! 

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