My feeble brain overheated Saturday afternoon at precisely 2:23 PM at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Jonathan Safran Foer philosophized and Marlynee Robinson rhapsodized. I’d taken in sessions on young adult fiction and memoir. Each synapse in my noggin was frayed by the foot traffic of theory, Cafe Americano, and conversation.
I returned to home base– The Burnside Writers’ Booth– for the safety of familiar faces. Kim Gottschild, a gifted memoirist, was faithfully working the table and I offered to give her a break.
Sitting at an exhibitor’s table at a writing convention at faith-based conference makes one a sitting duck. There’s the potential for being subjected to having a paranoid from a cabin somewhere on outskirts of St. Paul pitch you his book on Biblical ufology. Or that woman brushing off the hair of seven Angora cats from her Noah’s Ark vest as she explains how Mennonite romance novels are more erotic than their Amish counterparts and still yet remain within the bounds of Christian propriety.
Aware of these risks, I sunk into my folding chair. The ability to sink into a folding chair should be an indicator of my level of exhaustion. My brain was Silly Putty that could not be pressed into newsprint one more time.
Sure enough, writers visited our booth. But good writers. Intelligent, thoughtful, and witty thinkers, each of them.
The conversation swirled from economics to politics to social justice to theology. My tired brain grumbled at first, but found itself sucked into the conversation. I asked several of these thinkers to consider writing for Burnside. Any one of these authors would be a welcome addition to the Burnside team.
After several of these conversations I noticed two things. Each of these writers had a red sticker on their name tag and each was a woman.
I asked Marlena, a seminarian and contributor to the Her.menuetics blog at ChristianityToday.com what the sticker was for.
She explained that she was a part of the Red Bud Writers’ Guild. She explained that the guild is a network of women committed to supporting each other’s work. Through online forums they support each others’ writing through encouragement, information sharing, and critique.
I thought about my own writing tribe, the Burnside Writers, and how invaluable their support had been for me. There have been times over the years where I privately considered setting my laptop down and turning to a less taxing pursuit like network sitcoms. It’s been at those moments when I’d received and email from a Burnside friend affirming a column I wrote and insisting that I keep at it. Finding one’s second wind is often a communal task. Kim wandered back to the table and I made sure she made some connections to a few of the Red Bud writers.
I have to admit that after a while I began to feel self-conscious over my maleness. It wasn’t anything anyone said. There was no latent anger or jabs made over my possessing a penis. I was just aware I was an observer and not a full participant in the conversation. Rachel Held-Evans’ “Vagina-gate” came up and while I could agree that her publishers cautions over the use of the word was excessive and revealed a double standard. I could agree but I was not part of this sorority that was banding together to “expand the feminine voice in our churches, communities, and culture.”
My mind drifted back to the Burnside Writers Collective and I realized that currently our strongest voices are feminine. Kim and her memoir. Stephanie and her work on the Jack Kerouac. Sarah Thebarge just signed with Jericho Books. Diane working the conference and meeting with editors like its her job. Karen is on book tour. Jo turns indignation into good words. And Susan is bringing snarky back. Burnside is a lot like SNL. Writers come and go each season. We’re in our Tina Fey and Amy Poelher. The men, we’re all playing the part of Tim Meadows. It’s a steady gig. I’m not complaining. Much.
I decided to quip my way out of the awkwardness I was feeling. I turned one of the Red Bud authors and said that I was feeling the need to start my own guild for men and that perhaps I’d call it the “Ole Boys’ Club.”
She smiled and replied, “You mean the entire Christian publishing industry?”
I later learned I was talking to Katelyn Beaty, the editor of Her.menuetics.
I’m as dumb as a man and I need a guild, perhaps for no other reason than to have a community of men committed to retrieving my foot from my mouth.
Larry Shallenbergeris a pastor and the author of Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today. Visit him at larryshallenberger.com.
Writer photo, studio_chki / Shutterstock.com