Every other year, my college, Calvin College, puts on a Festival of Faith and Writing, where writers from all areas of literature gather to discuss their work, attend Q&A’s. do signings, and talk in panels about how various aspects of faith influence their creative process.
Today was the first day of the festival and because I have a full class load on Thursdays and Tuesdays, I only got to go to a couple things. But they were great things!
The first was the opening plenary, held in Calvin’s Van Noord Arena to accommodate the crowds, where Calvin English professor and multiple-award-winning young adult novelist Gary D. Schmidt talked about why stories are important. It was a stirring, moving talk that made me just want to skip my final class and just get back to the various stories I’ve been working on now and again. Of course, I didn’t skip my class, but I will do that other thing. I might post one of those stories here. Maybe, when it’s finished.
The second and third things I did today both involve this man:
Unless you know your author photos really well, the man in the picture is Jonathan Safran Foer, the acclaimed novelist whose second book, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, was turned into a film that was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.
Foer, who is Jewish, gave a plenary talk in Van Noord tonight that was about how faith has influenced and bled into various aspects of his life, both as a writer and apart from it. It was a wonderful speech and will stick with me for a long time, but it’s what he did before that that will stick with me longer.
Earlier in the day, one of the professors in the English Department facilitated a Q&A between Foer and 20 students. I was one of them, and I asked the first question.
“There’s a lot of fragmentation in your work. In Extremely Loud, we read fragments instead of whole words or sentences and literally, in Tree of Codes (his latest book), you rearrange sentence fragments. Can you explain why that persists in your work?” I asked.
Foer answered politely that, while he didn’t mean to defer my question in any way or demean it, that he does so because we live in a fragmented society in part to today’s media. It was a very thoughtful answer, and he gave many more throughout the hour.
At another point, I brought up something I had heard about how Foer was writing an HBO pilot for Ben Stiller’s production company about a vegetarian man based on his nonfiction book Eating Animals. Foer IS writing an HBO pilot, but it’s not about that.
I went up to apologize to him for confusing projects and he said, “That’s OK, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, this is sure awkward, isn’t it?” I said.
“Nope,” he replied, smiling.
Later on, I met him in the signing line after his talk.
“Y’know, you, Michael Chabon, and Phillip Roth are the only Jewish writers I’ve knowingly read, but I think it’s your words that will stick with me the most,” I said.
“Thank you very much,” he replied. “It was so nice to meet you.”
Well, that made me happy indeed! And indeed, Foer’s words he said today will stick with me, but none more so than this gem he said at the Q&A:
“If we’re all going to die, then we should live as fully as possible.”–Jonathan Safran Foer