Giving voice welcomes faithful writers

Giving Voice is a writing festival in which three Christian artists from different mediums come to campus to showcase their work, provide workshops and discuss the relationship between faith and art.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Director of Giving Voice, says the festival “is about reminding people that in a dark, ugly, and sometimes despairing world, God offers us an opportunity to give our voices and co-create with him things that are beautiful, true, and good.” When asked how this festival had gone compared to others Wilson replied, “I have heard from students and faculty that this may have been one of our best festivals yet!”

The festival kicked off at Thursday’s chapel convocation, starting with Catholic poet Angela Alaimo O’Donnell reading a few unpublished poems written in the voice of famous U.S. novelist and short story writer Flannery O’Connor.

John Brown University then heard from Memoirist and Humorist Harrison Scott Key as he read an amusing story about his attempt to break into acting, getting his dream job at a Christian drama ministry and subsequently losing that job.

After the chapel service, the artists had a Q&A session with Filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson. Questions ranged from writing process to content, but the artists primarily discussed how faith impacts their art. All three writers felt the two are inseparable, and the former must necessarily inform the latter.

After lunch, the artists ran their respective workshops. Patty Kirk, Writer-in-Residence and professor of English at JBU, attended O’Donnell’s poetry workshop. “Ordinarily at Giving Voice, I attend a master class in nonfiction or fiction, and they never disappoint me. This year I decided to try out Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s master class in poetry, and it was a delight.” Kirk said.

“By the end of the hour and fifteen minutes, every one of us had drafted a sonnet, and the ones we had time to hear aloud were all amazing. I’m so glad I chose poetry this year.” Kirk said.

Professor Jacob Stratman, chair of the humanities and social sciences, also attended the workshop. “What I loved about the poetry workshop on sonnets is that Professor O’Donnell attempted to get all of us to understand how the 14-line structure of the sonnet can be the creative capsule to carry the world’s chaos.  It’s a little prayer, actually, and she helped us see that a little more clearly.” Stratman said.

The festival wrapped up later that evening. O’Donnell read more poems in the voice of Flannery O’Connor and works from her poetry collection Still Pilgrim. Harrison Scott Key read a few excerpts from his new book, The World’s Largest Man, a memoir reflecting on his relationship with his father as well as a mediation on the south in general. The evening finished with a showing of Laura Waters Hinson’s film Mama Rwanda, a documentary told from the perspective of several Rwandan women who must learn to forgive and move on 17 years after the genocide.

Giving Voice has cultivated a rich legacy for inviting writers over the years since its start in 2007. This year set the bar for the years to come.