I read Anne Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies in the waning days of 2001, in my first year of divinity school, in the months after the planes hit the towers, as my grandmother was dying. That book taught me something real about grief, that life could be both hard and good and funny, that church is good, and that faith doesn’t have to have answers.
They were words that found me at just the right time.
It was something, then, to be in the audience Friday night as Anne Lamott offered the evening keynote at the Festival of Faith and Writing. As wise and witty as ever, she managed to wave the story of the tragic death of a friend in with the fact that she had accidentally packed pants that don’t fit so wasn’t wearing the pants that she intended to wear. “You can’t even see my pants!” she said, from behind the podium, and then went back to telling us how she had spent her birthday sitting in the funeral home next to the open casket of the young man who had died. Life,
she said, is about showing up.
Hearing Anne Lamott in person was a highlight of the Festival, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. The Festival of Faith and Writing truly is a festival, a feast – think of a really long buffet table, with more options offered than could ever be consumed. Some will be better than others, some won’t be what you expect, but everything will at least give you something to talk about afterwards.
I learned about Afghan folk poetry from Eliza Griswold, an international investigative journalist whose childhood as the daughter of an Episcopal bishop still informs her work. I learned about the genre of Amish fiction (did you know this was a thing? Apparently it’s huge!) and the concept of narrative scholarship from Valerie Weaver-Zercher. I watched as Bromleigh McCleneghan, Ben Dueholm, and Amy Frykholm talked wisely about how to write faithfully about sex. I heard from poets Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw, memoirists Jeanne Murray Walker and Leslie Leyland Fields, and watched a delightful interview with Rachel Held Evans.
And sprinkled in and around were lots of conversations with friends new and old, all lovers of words, whose lives have been shaped – as mine has – by words that found us at just the right time.
On Friday morning, I attended a panel discussion with a number of editors and agents representing traditional publishing houses. They talked about the realities of publishing in a world where people are buying fewer books and where self-publishing is a real possibility. It’s easy to get a little doom-and-gloom about it all, but one editor said that she thinks the industry will keep changing, and we’ll all just keep changing with it. After all,
she said, there will always be people like us who love words.
May it be so.