Ministry of Writing Colloquium with Scott Cairns

The Ministry of Writing: An Annual Colloquium (Nov. 4-5, 2011)

The colloquium will be held in the ESR Center at the northeast corner of the Earlham Campus. A $65 registration fee covers all colloquium events, including Friday night readings, all plenary sessions and workshops, Saturday continental breakfast and lunch (please indicate vegetarian preference) and refreshments, and the reading/open mic Saturday night. To register, print and fill out the registration form and mail it with payment to: Writing Colloquium 2011, Mandy Ford, Earlham School of Religion, 228 College Avenue, Richmond, IN 47374. For information about travel see the ESR Contact Us page. (Brochure PDF)

Keynote Speaker - Scott Cairns

Keynote Speaker

Scott Cairns’ many works explore the unity between traditional dichotomies: art and belief, the body and spirit, doubt and faith. Reviewers have noted how Cairns “speaks with a literate religious conscience” (Mars Hill Review), “brings us to the very cusp of mystery” (Image), and writes poems that “may be as direct and sustained in their exploration of theological issues as any significant American poetry in decades” (The Christian Century). Yet his style is conversational, unpretentious, and often humorous.

Cairns is known for embracing an artistic method that privileges discovery and delight over certainty, a method he will share during his time with us. His keynote address, “The Poem in Progress: A Way of Knowing,” will describe the poetic text as not being a means of expressing what is already known, but as a way of knowing, of seeing, of glimpsing what is not yet known. His workshop session, “The Poem: A Dialogic Endeavor” will continue that conversation.


Scott Cairns

Scott Cairns — The Poem: A Dialogic Endeavor

This workshop continues the conversation begun in Scott’s keynote address. It will be a reading of poems and other texts that served to provoke his response, which in many cases turned out to be answering poems.

Scott Cairns is Professor of English at University of Missouri, and during spring of 2012 will serve as Visiting Professor of English at Saint Katherine College in Encinitas, CA. His poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Image, Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, etc., and both have been anthologized in multiple editions of Best American Spiritual Writing. His most recent poetry collection is Compass of Affection. His spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge, and his translations, Love’s Immensity, appeared in 2007. His book-length essay, The End of Suffering, appeared in 2009. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, and has been named Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair in English at MU.

Todd Davis

Todd Davis — Putting Sacred Spaces in a Poem

We all come from some place, and those places mold our very lives—from our daily routines to our notions of the sacred to our relationships with other people and with the world that sustains us. In this workshop, we will focus on how place—and what Zen Buddhists refer to as the world of ten thousand things or what Christians might call the incarnation as seen through creation—not only serve as shaping forces in the content of a poem but also as formal influences in the structuring of that poem.

Todd Davis teaches creative writing and environmental studies at Penn State University. He is the winner of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, author of four books of poetry—Ripe (2002), Some Heaven (2007), Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems (2010), and The Least of These (2010)—and co-editor of Making Poems (2010). His poems have been published in such journals and magazines as The North American Review, The Iowa Review, The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, and Image. His work has also been featured by Garrison Keillor on “The Writer’s Almanac” and by Ted Kooser in “American Life in Poetry.”

Erin McGraw

Erin McGraw — What Did You Mean To Say?

One of the best ways in the world to tell a bad story is to know exactly what we want our point to be. Overdetermined storytelling leads to, at best, limp and usually obvious stories and, at worst, propaganda. How do we tell stories that are life-affirming but not formulaic? This session will consider strategies that allow writers to explore issues and themes with an eye toward revelation--for the writer.

Erin McGraw is the author of five books of fiction, most recently The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard (2009). Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Allure, The Kenyon Review, and many other magazines and journals. She teaches at the Ohio State University.

Tom Montgomery Fate

Tom Montgomery Fate — Momentary Revelation

Writers are sometimes able to frame a single moment from their lives with such compassion and precision that it carries an entire story or essay on its back. In this workshop we’ll mine our own lives and imaginations for such moments, and consider how to frame them—how to invite our readers into that emotional acuity, that moment of revelation.

Tom Montgomery Fate is the author of five books, including Beyond the White Noise (1997), a collection of essays, Steady and Trembling (2005), a spiritual memoir, and Cabin Fever (2011), a nature memoir. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Orion, The Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, Sojourners, Christian Century, and many others; and they often air on NPR and Chicago Public Radio. He teaches creative writing at College of DuPage in suburban Chicago.

Susan Neville

Susan Neville — Making the Turn: I and Thou, Him and Her, U and Me

This is a workshop about writing creative nonfiction that stems from personal experience, and in particular about point-of-view. When and how does the “I” in the personal essay become universal? How can developing an inward gaze from memory, observation and reading become a gaze away from the self? What are the ethics of writing about the “other” when it’s, say, a family member? We’ll look at examples from writers of creative nonfiction and, in the workshop, we’ll try some exercises you can incorporate into your own writing practice, and in particular we’ll practice “making the turn.”

Susan Neville is the author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including the spiritual autobiography Iconography and the edited collection Falling Toward Grace. Her two collections of fiction include In the House of Blue Lights, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize and a “best book of the year” according to the Chicago Tribune as well as Invention of Flight, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award. Other books include Sailing the Inland Sea; Fabrication, Essays on Making Things and Making Meaning; Twilight in Arcadia; and Butler’s Big Dance. She is the Demia Butler Professor of English at Butler University and teaches in the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers.

Amy Lyles Wilson

Amy Lyles Wilson — Pitch-Perfect Proposals

Well-crafted proposals sell books. Knowing which information to include and how to package it can set you apart from countless other authors trying to get published, and will be the subject of this morning only workshop. During the afternoon, writers who have prepared a book proposal may schedule a brief conference. To be considered for an afternoon conference, submit your proposals to Susan Yanos ( three weeks prior to the colloquium. For guidelines on preparing proposals, visit

Amy Lyles Wilson has worked in publishing since receiving her master’s degree in journalism in 1986, specializing in acquisitions and development. She is also a writer, having recently co-authored Bless Your Heart: Saving the World One Covered Dish at a Time (Thomas Nelson), and contributed to a series of themed collections from Fresh Air Books, an imprint of Upper Room Books. She is a columnist and blogger for Her Nashville, and leads writing workshops as an affiliate of Amherst Writers & Artists. Wilson served as the Patrick Henry Writing Fellow at the Earlham School of Religion in 2003, and earned her master’s degree in theological studies from Vanderbilt University Divinity School in 2007. Learn more at

Susan Yanos

Susan Yanos — Soul Work: Creativity and Spirituality


The creative process, if entered intentionally, is also a spiritual process. In this afternoon-only workshop, we will explore the spiritual aspects of creativity—from calling and craft to commitment and cost-counting—as well as experiment with creativity exercises.

Susan Yanos is the director of the Mullen Ministry of Writing Program at Earlham School of Religion. Besides teaching writing and literature classes, she has conducted writing workshops, made presentations on Scripture and spirituality, and directed women’s retreats. She is the author of Woman, You Are Free, as well as several short stories and essays, and was a winner in the Catholic Press Association’s first time author category. She holds degrees in biology, literature, and pastoral theology.

Schedule of Events

Friday, November 4

6:30 p.m.


7:00 p.m.

An Evening with the Presenters: Session Leaders Read from Their Works

Saturday, November 5

8:15 a.m.

Registration/Continental Breakfast

9:00 a.m.


9:30 a.m.

Keynote Address by Scott Cairns: The Poem in Progress: A Way of Knowing

10:30 a.m.


10:45 a.m.

Workshop Session One (choose one)


The Poem: A Dialogic Endeavor — Scott Cairns


Putting Sacred Spaces in a Poem — Todd Davis


What Did You Mean to Say? — Erin McGraw


Momentary Revelation — Tom Montgomery Fate


Making the Turn: I and Thou, Him and Her, U and Me — Susan Neville


Pitch-Perfect Proposals — Amy Lyles Wilson

12:15 p.m.


1:30 p.m.

Workshop Session Two (choose one)


Putting Sacred Spaces in a Poem — Todd Davis


What Did You Mean to Say? — Erin McGraw


Momentary Revelation — Tom Montgomery Fate


Making the Turn: I and Thou, Him and Her, U and Me — Susan Neville


Author/Editor Meetings — Amy Lyles Wilson


Soul Work: Creativity and Spirituality — Susan Yanos

2:45 p.m.


3:00 p.m.

Closing Gathering


Announcement of Mullen Writing Fellowship


Autograph Party and Refreshments

4:30-6:30 p.m.

Coffee House/Open Mic

The Ministry of Writing Colloquium: “The Ministry of Writing” colloquium was endowed by individuals in honor of Tom Mullen at the time of his retirement as Dean of Earlham School of Religion in 1990.  Tom retired from ESR in 1997. He passed away in June, 2009. His “Writing for the Religious Market” class, first offered over 20 years ago, was the beginning of ESR’s unique emphasis in the ministry of writing. This colloquium is one way the school demonstrates its commitment to the written word as an important form of ministry.

Event Date: 11/04/2011 (All day) - 11/05/2011 (All day)