You didn’t think a global pandemic could KO the annual Writer’s Symposium By The Sea, did you? 

Well, okay, it did have an impact. We felt lucky that last year’s event (our most successful in attendance and audience engagement) occurred with Alice Walker, Pico Iyer and Sonia Nazario just days before the world shut down. Within months we realized that an in-person event in 2021 would be risky, so we pivoted. We pivoted inward

For a long time I have been wondering how to celebrate the great writers and thinkers we have in the PLNU community – faculty and students alike. When I started talking with my colleagues about participating, they all got on board immediately. So this year, under the theme Writing That Illuminates, we’re hearing from many within our own campus.

We’re collaborating with Driftwood, the student creative arts magazine, in sponsoring a student short film festival. Directors of the top-ranking films will have their work shown and will be interviewed by James Wicks, an expert in film studies. Wicks is also the chair of the Literature, Journalism, Writing, and Languages Department, one of the sponsoring departments for the festival. Another sponsor is the Department of Communication Studies.  

Rebecca Laird (an excellent writer and editor herself), is interviewing three of her colleagues in the School of Theology: Brad Kelle, Montague Williams and Michael Lodahl about their new books. Kelle’s new book is The Bible and Moral Injury (Abingdon, 2020); Williams’ new book is Church in Color: Youth Ministry, Race, and the Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. (Baylor University Press, 2020); Lodahl’s new book is Matthew Matters: The Yoke of Wisdom and the Church of Tomorrow (Didsbury Lecture Series) (Cascade Books, 2021).

Hadley Wood, a PLNU professor emerita and still an intellectual force on campus, is moderating two interdisciplinary discussions about academic writing, which is something that seems mysterious to students, but necessary for the academic world. She will engage several faculty members about their areas of expertise, their writing practice, and their advice to students. She’ll be talking with professors David Cummings, Linda Beail, Bettina Tate Pedersen, Karl Martin, Max Butterfield, Kara Lyons-Pardue, Alain Lescart, Stephanie Smith Matthews, and professor emerita Carol Blessing. If you have never experienced Hadley leading a discussion, you’re in for a treat. She’ll bring out the best in everyone, and I predict she will keep all of these smart people on track. 

Two of our campus poets will be featured in two different ways. I will interview Katie Manning and Margarita Pintado Burgos, both of the LJWL Department, about their writing in the same way I typically conduct Symposium interviews. They have produced amazing poetry over the years, and you’ll want to hear how they do it. But you’ll also get to see how they do it because the two of them will conduct a live poetry workshop. Pintado Burgos’ upcoming book is Sobreanimal; Manning’s newest chapbook is 28,065 Nights (River Glass Books).

Nelson, Manning, and Pintado on zoom

And finally, I have agreed to switch chairs and be the one interviewed, instead of the one doing the interviews. Stephen Goforth, my colleague in journalism for many years who is retiring this year, is going to interview me about my work as a journalist, my newest book (about interviewing!) and whatever else he can dig up about me. Those warrants for my arrest were for traffic tickets only – I promise! There. Now he doesn’t have to ask me about that. 

It’s all very illuminating, in my view, because we see these brilliant professors and rarely get a chance to go deeper with them about their writing, thinking, or interests. 

Just as we try to do with all of the Writer’s Symposium guests, we want this experience to inspire, model and celebrate great writing. There’s a lot of it going on right here at home.

The interviews will be virtual, and you can watch them via Zoom at this link: pointloma.edu/2021writers

As for next year, the 2022 Writer’s Symposium By The Sea is planned as an in-person event again, with David Brooks, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Cornel West. You can read about them on that same link. 

Thank you for participating with our Symposium in this new format. We look forward to seeing you online, and I hope you’re as inspired by our PLNU community as I am!

Dean Nelson, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the journalism program, and of the Writer’s Symposium.

PLNU’s the Viewpoint publishes relevant and vital stories that grapple with life's profound questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. In addition to the content offered online, the Viewpoint print magazine is published three times a year in spring, summer, and fall.