CANADIANS JOY KOGAWA and Bruce Cockburn joined literary luminaries Elie Wiesel, John Updike, Katherine Paterson, Jon Hassler and David James Duncan in headlining The Festival of Faith and Writing, April 2-4 at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Over a hundred authors, publishers, editors and musicians met with 1,300 registrants in concerts, round table discussions, readings, interviews and workshops. In public evening lectures Elie Wiesel and John Updike each drew audiences of well over 2,000 people.
The festival seeks writers who "take us places we've not been before," explained conference organizer Dale Brown. "Much Christian literature leaves us where we are. We're somewhere in between the easy-answer Christian literature and the writing that pays no mind to the role of faith in one's life." The Calvin College professor continued, "We're interested in writers who show respect for and understanding of a faith tradition. Some of them may in fact have left that tradition, but they're still reacting to it, they're aware of it and they're respectful of it."
Elie Wiesel certainly wrestles with his faith. At the age of 15, he was imprisoned by the Nazis in Birkenau with his father, mother and three sisters. He survived Birkenau and Auschwitz, but his parents and younger sister did not. In the mid-50s he wrote Night, the story of a teenage boy racked by guilt for having survived the camps and torn apart from a God who allowed so many to die.
"The writer is a witness. We give testimony. This is what happened. We were there. Even what is lost in history can be found in memory."
Of the European Holocaust, Mr. Wiesel said, "What struck my people, struck mankind. In 1945 we were paradoxically optimistic. We wrongly thought the world had learned a lesson: that children cannot starve, that wars are grotesque. Fifty years later children still starve and wars continue. If not received, why give testimony?"
Author of more than 40 books and winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Mr. Wiesel believes, "The most terrifying story in the Bible is Cain killing Abel. Why? Brothers can be enemies. Whoever kills, kills his brother."
Mr. Wiesel, 69, relishes the thought-provoking questions in the Bible. "My tradition allows me to ask questions. God is there to be argued with. It is God's prerogative not to answer or perhaps I don't understand his language."
Mr. Wiesel admires writers in the prophetic tradition. "Prophets never took the side of power and wealth but of the poor, the sick, the disposed" and "were present to people who had no one."
If Mr. Wiesel gives voice to those caught in the furnace of the Holocaust, John Updike gives dignity to the sufferings of those in midlife, middle class America. Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, Mr. Updike, 66, is best known for Rabbit, Run in 1960 and its subsequent series. He has written over 50 volumes of poetry, novels and essays, his most recent novels being, In the Beauty of the Lilies and Towards the End of Time.
Margaret Drabble notes that "Updike's characteristic preoccupations are with the erotic, with the pain and striving implicit in human relationships and with the sacred (at times explicitly religious) in daily life. …