On September 24 and 25, the Luther College Writers Festival welcomed writers and readers of all varieties to campus. The festival was postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after being hosted biennially since 2007. Directed by Professor of English Amy Weldon and Decorah author Keith Lesmeister (’01), the 2021 Writers Festival hosted more than twenty published authors and editors to speak about their experiences and writing journeys. Topics ranged from details of the writing processes to sharing knowledge from and experiences with editing and publishing .
The mission of the Writers Festival is to celebrate authors from the Driftless region, and to empower aspiring writers to take steps toward honing their craft and publishing their work. Panels ranged from topics of the craft of writing and publishing to Midwestern writing, processes of editing, and being women of color in writing careers. Panelists included authors Andre Perry, Maisy Card, Margaret Yapp (‘05), and Professor of English David Faldet (‘79).
Weldon’s remarks for the keynote speech of the festival, the Farwell Distinguished Lecture, given by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks, touched on the ideas of how writing and reading connect us to the greater world.
“The Luther College Writers Festival continues to celebrate the power of words to connect and inspire us in our ever-changing, ever-complex, and ever beautiful world,” Weldon said. “Words prompt thought, words prompt change. Words work on peoples’ hearts, minds, and souls.”
By celebrating the written word, the directors hope that attendees can better understand and interpret the world around them. Lesmeister hopes that attendees of the festival took away inspiration and information from each other on writing, editing, and publishing, as well as a feeling of community empowerment to pursue the craft of writing.
“[The Luther College Writers Festival] is a way to allow students on campus and the greater community access to these working writers and to engage with them,” Lesmeister said. “By listening to other writers talk about their own work, it comes alive in ways that it might not have otherwise. My hope is that people leave inspired, rejuvenated, and excited to get back to their writing projects.”
Another objective of the directors was to provide Luther students with opportunities to connect with professional writers and editors. In Saturday’s panel, “Midwest Writing,” authors Andre Perry, Jennifer Colville, and Nickolas Butler discussed the difficulties of writing and publishing out of the Midwest as opposed to bigger cities. They expressed frustration for the lack of opportunities for writers in rural areas, but also appreciation for trailblazing Midwest authors like Toni Morrison, Louis L’Amour, and Ernest Hemingway, who overcame those obstacles and found huge success. They also expressed gratitude for the strong community of writers in places like Iowa City and Decorah, and for how accessible and encouraging those communities are. English and environmental science major Kira Dobberman (‘22) appreciated the opportunity to hear and learn from working writers.
“I love coming to the Writing Festival and hearing people talk about their work, their process,” Dobberman said. “Just being around other people who are excited about writing, who are all drawn to the same thing. It’s very neat to listen, to compare processes and see how I can improve my own work.”
Bridging the gap between students and career writers was a common goal of both of the co-directors. Lesmeister and Weldon are already planning for the 2023 writer’s festival, and plan to continue expanding opportunities for Luther students and Decorah community members interested in taking the next steps with their writing.
“[The festival] goes well with Luther’s liberal arts education,” Lesmeister said. “We’re here to provide students a breadth of knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise get. Most people have stories they want to share, that they want to tell. One wonderful way to be able to express oneself and to practice how to think and how to tell those stories is through writing them down.”