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Festival of Faith & Writing Opens Again

March 13, 2024

Novelists, poets, journalists, podcasters, and many others will join in celebration when the 2024 Festival of Faith & Writing kicks off April 11-13 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

After a six-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a full-scale, in-person offering of the festival will provide a chance once again for participants to gather, mingle, and attend scores of workshops and plenary sessions, said Jennifer Holberg, cochair of the event.

“This is going to be such a special time. It’s exciting. . . . It will be a great reunion,” said Holberg, adding that she believes the chance of being together will be the celebration.

Time is running out, though. If you want to join the event, the deadline to register is March 22.

Usually held every two years, said Holberg, the last in-person festival took place in 2018. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, that year’s gathering was canceled. A significantly scaled-back online version took place in 2022. Now, however, with COVID less of a concern, the festival, which draws some 2,000 people from around the world, is finally back.

“Once again we’ll have many great writers who are serious about their faith and writing and who are deeply interested in how faith helps us engage in the common good,” said Holberg. 

While the festival, she added, is rooted in Reformed theology, it draws many presenters and participants of  a range of religious beliefs.

“It’s such a thrill to see people from different points of view talking and eating and attending the events together,” said Holberg. “We really encourage conversation between writers and attendees.”

Kicking off the festival at noon on Thursday, April 11, will be the first of four plenary sessions. Taking part in this presentation, which will focus on being together again, said Holberg, will be YA (Young Adult) author Mitali Perkins and Rebecca Sheir, who is host of the children’s podcast Circle Round.

The second plenary speaker will be Tracy K. Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, memoirist, editor, translator, and librettist. She served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017-19. She will speak at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 11.

Next will be Yaa Gyasi, author of two novels: Homegoing, a story of race, history, ancestry, and love that traces the descendants of two sisters torn apart in 18th-century Africa across 300 years in Ghana and America; and Transcendent Kingdom, a deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama. She will speak at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 12.

The closing plenary session will feature Anthony Doerr, author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace, All the Light We Cannot See – which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction – and Cloud Cuckoo Land, which came out in 2021.

Individual tickets for the opening plenary session and evening plenary lectures are available through the Calvin University Box Office (616-526-6282). All other sessions are available with a Festival registration, which includes all plenary lectures. Registered festivalgoers do not need to purchase plenary tickets separately.

Among other events, there will be Festival Circles, 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. 

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. Preregistration is required, and the fee to participate in a Festival Circle is $30, which covers the cost of lunch.

An enduring highlight of the festival, which began in 1990, is the array of dozens of workshops led by writers, poets, journalists, publishers, critics, and others.

One workshop leader will be Byron Borger, owner of Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pa. He has spoken extensively about relating Christian faith to society at clergy convocations, colleges, church retreats, and other events. Another workshop will be led by Ruth Graham, a national correspondent covering religion, faith, and values for The New York Times

The plenary sessions, combined with the workshops and other activities, seem always to challenge and open up participants to a wider world of reading, said Holberg.

“When you come to the festival, you not only celebrate writing, but you also often go home after discovering new people to add to your collection” of books and other materials to read, she said.

Here is the full schedule for the 2024 Festival of Faith & Writing.