Writer entertains, teaches at “Giving Voice” festival

“Heck yes, I’ve seen miracles. I saw people coming out of my wife!” and “I think periods are fascist, actually,” quipped Brian Doyle, as he held the attention of John Brown University students and showed off his gregarious Irish personality during Thursday’s chapel.

Doyle, an award-winning author, essayist and editor of the University of Portland’s “Portland Magazine,” was here as the creative nonfiction writer of the Univeristy’s annual “Giving Voice” festival. Other speakers at the conference include fiction writer Kevin Brockmeier, poet Gwen Hart, and songwriter Derren Raser.

Giving Voice, a festival of the arts, gives John Brown University’s humanities department a chance to encourage high school and college students to embrace creativity and the written word.

A lunch panel discussion allowed students to pick the brains of the guest speakers. They asked questions about the revision process, where writers get their inspiration, and what to do about writer’s block.

Doyle told students he has “no patience for writer’s block. I think it’s rather selfish. If you get stuck, then start working on something else. Shoot. Write a letter to your mom, and then just take off the ‘dear mom.’”

The artists then held a time of reading Thursday evening in the Soderquist Business Center.

Notable pieces from the night included a break-up poem from Gwen Hart concerning the heart-wrenching divide of Barbie and Ken, a short story about finding God’s overcoat by Kevin Brockmeier, Derren Raser’s quest to figure out if “a friend can recover from loving the other” through one of his songs, and a short piece by Doyle about a miracle, the miracle of a child giving a burial at sea to road kill.

Friday was all about the high school students, who attended workshops presented by both professors and guests.

Steve Snediker ran a workshop on stop motion film, and his students actually put together a short project, which they showed at Friday’s final ceremony in Berry Performing Arts Center.

Brian Doyle ran a session on writing creative non-fiction.

Lisa Mayhue, senior and student facilitator, said “There were kids who went in that didn’t want to be in this workshop at all, and yet they left being so excited about writing. Doyle just had the most creative ideas.”

Doyle’s teaching pedagogy included challenging the students to a mental game of lists: names of your seven future kids, activities you are awesome at, your favorite number, your favorite color, your brother’s favorite color.

Gwen Hart led a poetry workshop in which students collaborated on poems in a specific genre.

Other workshops included a reader’s theatre, run by Jan Lauderdale, and an improvisation class led by Donna Rollene.

Students then had an opportunity to show off their newfound acuity in various art forms. Poetry, improv, the stop motion film and the reader’s theatre each presented their day’s work in a final ceremony