Sunday, March 11, 2018

Writing as Hospitality

As I noticed before the AWP conference, there were only 2 sessions that dealt overtly with faith and writing.  One session sounded like it would be about writers who grew up in faith communities and were struggling with having to get those voices out of their heads.  I skipped that one.

I finished my time at AWP by going to a panel entitled "The Ganesh in the Room:  Speaking of Faith in the Literary Community."  They began by noting the potential offense and insensitivity contained in the title, especially for a panel that contained no Hindu participants.

The panel was moderated by a Jewish man, and one of the participants was a Jewish woman.  The other participants were a Muslim woman from Pakistan and a Christian woman.  It was fascinating.

Here are my two favorite take-aways, both from Amy Frykholm, the Christian woman participant.  She talked about her Christian belief as being less of an identity than as a location and a territory.  I loved that metaphor.  It explains the wrestling to leave as well as the longing to return.  It takes our faith away from the issue of what we believe (and can or cannot prove) and the creeds.

When we had 5 minutes until the end, the moderator asked how many people still had questions.  Five people raised their hands.  The moderator asked each person to ask their question and then the panel would see if they could somehow address them all.  The questions ranged from how to deal with readers who may not understand all the references to publishers (who also may not understand all the references). 

Amy Frykholm said that what she noticed as a common thread both in the questions and in the way she would answer:  the need for hospitality.  Who is receptive already?  What do people need to know to understand the work and to feel welcome in the world?

In the end, the panel encouraged us to be in awe of the mystery and to say the unsayable.  In some ways, that's good advice for us all, regardless of our faith, regardless of whether or not we write.

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