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Festival of Faith & Writing Hires Director
April 13, 2005

Calvin College has hired Shelly LeMahieu Dunn as the new director of the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing (FFW), a new position designed to lift the administrative burden from the English department faculty.

"It's important," says Calvin English department chair John Netland of the hiring, "because putting together a festival is more than just booking big names. There are all kinds of practical decisions that have to be made, ranging from a venue to put somebody in, to figuring out which sessions go together, to figuring out who interviews whom."

The festival, which has welcomed such luminaries as John Updike, Oscar Higuelos, Maya Angelou, Annie Dillard and Madeline L'Engle, has grown since its humble beginnings in 1990 to an event with some 2,000 attendees, numerous authors and multiple venues. The 2006 Festival is scheduled for April 20-22.

Netland says LeMahieu Dunn's background has given her the expertise to deal with the Festival sprawl.

"We were very impressed with the management and entrepreneurial skills she will bring to the position," he says.

A 1992 Calvin graduate, LeMahieu Dunn has worked since 2002 as the owner of Red Wheelbarrow, a freelance copyediting company. From 2001 through 2003, she worked as a grant proposal manager in Calvin's development office and from 1999 through 2001 as a coordinator of publications, lectures and conferences for the Acton Institute.

She also has worked intermittently since 1997 as a part-time writing instructor in Calvin's English department, a not-inconsiderable qualification for her current job, Netland says.

"She's an experienced and successful teacher," he says. "It helps a great deal."

Susan Felch, a Calvin English professor and member of the 2005 Festival committee says: "In many ways putting together a good festival is like putting together a good syllabus. You want to introduce people to new ideas and new authors but you want to include familiar authors who will nurture folk."

The 2006 edition of the Festival, while still in the early planning stages, already promises that kind of new-old mix, Felch says.

"The Festival has been an amazing collaborative effort for 15 years now," says LeMahieu Dunn, "and has been blessed with a lot of people who have made enormous contributions to its success. I'm excited that I'll be able to contribute in some small way to the energy and enthusiasm behind the Festival, and I'm looking forward to being part of the conversation and the collaboration. It (the Festival) really is a great event, an event unlike any other in my opinion. It's a thrill to be part of it."

Calvin also has hired Kristin Otte as an administrative assistant to the festival. A 1996 Calvin graduate, Otte has worked for the past six years in Chicago, first as a school teacher and then as a paralegal and office manager in a law firm. Otte will work part-time on FFW and part-time on another venerable, biennial Calvin English department event, the Youth Writing Festivals.

"Both these hires," says Netland, "mark the college's commitment to continuing and building on the great work of so many over the past 15 years."

Netland notes that organizers were tempted to cancel the Festival after its 2004 edition (when former director Dale Brown stepped down as director) because of the extraordinary demands it makes on Calvin's English department faculty and staff. They reconsidered, Felch says, because of the enormous impact the festival has had on attendees from all over the U.S.

"We in Calvin's English department get to walk up and down the halls and talk about new ideas and books we've read," she says, "but for a lot of people the Festival is an oasis every couple of years. It didn't seem like it was fair for us to let the oasis dry up."