Notes for Festival of Faith and Writing 2012

Just finished a whirlwind weekend at one of the premier Christian literary conferences, Calvin College's biennial Festival of Faith and Writing. Great fun. While it's still fresh in my mind, I'm going to record my suggestions for participants attending the next FFW.


Attire

Pack for the fickleness of West Michigan springtime. I checked the weather forecast before I packed, and was not uncomfortable. But I might have been more comfortable if I had come prepared for both warmer and colder weather than I actually anticipated. On the first day of the three-day event, a sundress would have been appropriate (high 70s). One the third day, mittens (mid 40s). On the second day it almost rained, and I did not bring an umbrella. So: think layers.

Business casual is an appropriate level of formality if you are looking to make professional connections. If you're coming as an avid reader, jeans are fine.

It should go without saying that comfortable shoes are a necessity, but in case it doesn't: comfortable shoes are a necessity. Calvin's campus isn't that big, but the conference center where they have registration and exhibits and the arena where they hold the keynotes are roughly on opposite ends of it. One can expect to crisscross the campus a half dozen times each day. There was a shuttle available, but, meh. Besides, you spend enough time sitting at an event like this that it's good to have the opportunity to move between sessions.

Stuff to Sign Up For

Keep an eye on the website/newsletters leading up to the conference -- beyond the conference proper, there are several options that require additional advanced registration.

A small minority of sessions are workshops that require preregistration. If you're a writer who is interested in that sort of thing, pay attention so you don't miss the deadline.

Sign up for a Festival Circle if you can find one that interests you -- these are small groups that meet a couple of times during the event (over meals, so they don't conflict with scheduled sessions) for informal discussion of a common interest. Especially if you have a personality like mine -- gregarious in small groups, even of strangers, but withdrawn in large crowds -- it's a great way to make some insta-friends for the weekend. I didn't sign up for a Circle because I thought, introvert that I am, I would need the downtime, but it turns out they build plenty of downtime into the schedule, so you're not rushed even if you do join a couple additional meetings over meals. I was invited to crash a Circle for their second meeting, and only regretted not getting in on the full experience.

Food

Boxed lunches/dinners are available by preorder, and are the most convenient way to go for meals. Especially on the first day, while you're still getting your bearings on campus, they're worth the price. Most other options on campus will run you as much or more than the boxed meals. There's not really time to go off campus for lunch, but it's definitely a live option for the long dinner break, especially if you bring a car or can make friends with someone who did.

If you order boxed lunches, pay attention to the distribution time windows. There's plenty of time to pick up each meal, and the location is conveniently centrally located, so getting your hands on the food you've already paid for shouldn't be a problem. But -- for example -- this year, the distribution of lunch on the first day overlapped with the opening plenary session, and if one had assumed that lunch would be available after the session, one might have missed out.

There are snacks at the morning and afternoon coffee breaks, so if you're trying to do the Festival on a shoestring, you can use the pretzels/fruit/muffins etc. that you already paid for in your registration fee to supplement a small a la cart meal. (Heck, if you pilfer an additional banana or bagel from your hotel's continental breakfast spread and combine that with the snacks offered at break, you probably won't need to buy lunch at all.)

Books

Be sure to leave room in your luggage for the books you will buy. You will buy books. If you are the kind of person who can resist the siren song of books, why are you even considering dropping hundreds of dollars to attend a literary conference?

Consider bringing along your own copies of books by Festival authors if you want to try to get them autographed.

Be cagey about buying from exhibitors/the festival bookstore. Some publishers offer deep discounts at the conference; others, you can get the same or better price by ordering after you get home. Some exhibitors are running low on stock by the end of the event, so if you delay, they might not have your title available any more. Others might slash prices even further on the last day. But don't stress about it: if you miss something, you can almost certainly order it later; if you pay a few dollars more for something than the best possible deal, you're helping to support the book industry that we all love.

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