The annual Giving Voice Festival of the Arts took place Thursday and Friday, hosting four writers and a variety of events celebrating creative expression through faith.
The festival began with a special chapel featuring novelist Tom Maltman and singer, songwriter and novelist Andrew Peterson. Maltman spoke in chapel on Thursday about authentic storytelling and the importance of Christians involved in making art.
“In this world, more than ever, people crave the authentic,” Maltman said. He addressed concerns about self-censorship in writing, whether because of fear or because of concerns about what other Christians would think.
“Only when we’ve been honest about the dark can we let the light in,” he said.
Before Maltman spoke, Peterson performed two songs. Peterson drew inspiration from his childhood and his favorite books. Peterson encouraged students to seek out wonder in the mundane.
“If you want adventure, you don’t have to look any farther than the person sitting next to you,” he said between songs.
After chapel, the festival’s next event was a talkback lunch with all the guests of Giving Voice. Poet and playwright Jeanne Murray Walker and the University’s own Patty Kirk, writer in residence, in joined Maltman and Peterson in answering questions about inspiration, motivation, and finding the right audience.
“I started writing when I realized I would never be a classical violinist,” Walker said. “Everybody has these ideas. It’s just a matter of being able to put a frame around them.”
She spoke at length about the power of limitation in bringing out creativity. When one student compared his writing style to “bleeding onto the page”, and asked how he could make his writing better, Walker suggested putting it into a sonnet.
The writers and students discussed finding the right audience for one’s writing. Maltman’s and Walker’s audiences
Maltman’s and Walker’s audiences are primarily secular, while Kirk’s and Peterson’s are primarily Christian. The consensus was that it depended upon a work’s purpose.
“I kind of aim to offend,” said Kirk, speaking on how her editors often hesitated to keep controversial elements in her essays that might shake Christian readers.
Maltman, on the other hand, spoke on reaching out to non-Christians. He said if a story is honest, people will respond to it no matter their religious perspective.
After the talkback, the writers taught workshops for students on fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and songwriting.
Thursday night’s big event was a reading by the four writers.
Maltman read two excerpts from his new book “Little Wolves,” a story of redemption in the face of violence.
Walker read six poems for her audience, with titles such as “Portrait of the Virgin Who Said No to Gabriel” and “The Failing Student.”
Kirk read an essay called “In Which I Consider Zeal, Restraint, Sandwiches, and What It Means to Be Holy,” a memoir that was equal parts funny and serious, with an added dash of Kirk’s uniquely provocative faith.
Peterson finished up the night with several of his nostalgic songs, making reference to authors from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to Roald Dahl and J.M. Barrie.
On Friday, 200 high school students came to campus for workshops taught by Giving Voice’s guests, as well as staff and faculty from the English, communication and art departments. High school students could choose to learn about creative visualization from Maltman, writing about food from Kirk, and a number of other subjects.
All the authors thanked the University for hosting the event. Maltman urged students to continue using whatever art forms they have to further God’s kingdom. Peterson agreed.
“If you’re honest in the art you’re creating, then what you believe will bear itself out,” he said.
Maltman hoped that students would continue to reach out the world, even in difficulty.
“My fear is that [Christian media] is too insular,” Maltman said. “Don’t fear the world. The world is out there waiting for your stories.”