Last week, I was privileged--in every sense of the word--to attend the Dig Deeper Retreat and Publishing in Color Conference organized by Brian Allain of Writing for Your Life. I have been to many conference in my career and this conference was like none other. There was a spirit of love, hope, and anticipation that was palpable from Monday through Wednesday as publishing houses and authors convened at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, NJ. It was as if the publishing houses had been waiting for us--abundantly talented, God gifted, yet underrepresented authors--for such a time as this.
I learned about the conference from Dr. N. Lynne Westfield, my mentor and friend. She is one of the people who really sees me. Ten years ago, when I was a seminarian at Drew Theological School she saw me and cultivated the gifts that she knew were inside of me. That cultivation was a beautiful and sometimes difficult process. At her core, she is an educator with a heart for justice and love; She challenges her students to live Micah 6:8, "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" in creative and--of course--counter-cultural ways. Still seeing me, Lynne invited me to attend the retreat and conference. Still cultivating, Lynne encouraged me to steal away for a few days to be present in this particular space in order that I may return to my life inspired to create.
On Monday a small group gathered for the Dig Deeper Retreat. On the schedule were Brian Allain, author Patricia Rayborn, and Ravell Books Editor, Kelsey Bowen. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Patricia Rayborn was unable to be present and Sophfronia Scott presented in her stead. The sessions on Monday included, "Marketing for Spiritual Writing," "Your Unique Road to Publishing," and "My Story, God's Glory." My biggest takeaway from Brian was that consistency in social media presence is key. Kelsey gifted us with the do's and don'ts of a 15 minute and 30 second pitch. Sophfronia’s offering was like a well prepared meal, seasoned to perfection. I'm still feasting off every word she uttered. The highlight of her presentation was when after teaching us about the importance of metaphor in the art of writing, she invited us to write a short piece based off the prompt, "I have a mind like..." I've posted mine here.
I left the Dig Deeper Retreat on Monday feeling overjoyed and overwhelmed. Those feelings continued and were magnified on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Publishing in Color Conference. Sophfronia Scott kicked off the conference. Towards the end of her keynote she asked these questions, "Who are you to write? Who are you not to?" OK, God. I hear you. Then Dr. Frank Thomas shared with the participants the reason why he writes: to stay sane. I was inspired by his points and presentation--he is somebody's preacher, even when he's not preaching. I was ready to collect an offering when he said, "Sometimes I write, and sometimes I am being written." My God! That's it RIGHT there! The two keynotes were followed by workshops. The workshops were plenteous. There were so many good ones to choose from. I ultimately selected workshops that were aligned with my prayer focus and writing goals; Over the two day conference, I attended workshops given by Urban Ministries, Our Daily Bread Ministries, Guideposts, and Christianity Today. For the moment, I am more interested in short form writing. The books will come later. If this conference experience has taught me anything, it is trust God's timing and trust God's process. Let the church say, "Amen"
Speaking of trusting God's timing and process, the after lunch keynote on Monday was a kairos moment. Dr. Jacquie Lewis has the task of engaging a crowd that was full of information AND food and she did just that. Her keynote was about dismantling racism with the power of our words. She boldly charged and challenged us saying, "We are dreamweavers, bound only by the limits of our imaginations." In other words, what we see happening around us socially and politically is not all there is. As writers we have within us the creative power to write a new world into being based on God's dream for a just, equitable and peaceful society. What I appreciated about her keynote was that she also gave practical tips for writing and led us in a writing exercise from the prompt, "One day they touched my face and..." I've posted mine here. Monday also included a panel discussion that featured authors of varying experiences in publishing sharing what they/we, as African American authors, need from Agents, Editors, and Publishers. The bottom line: we want RELATIONSHIP. The publishing world feels like an insider club that we don't have access to. Whew!
On Day Two (yes, that was all in day one), Sophfronia Scott came again with jewels. She was not scheduled to offer two keynotes, but graciously stepped up in Patricia's absence. Her second keynote, prepared fresh for this group was about joy. JOY! I felt God embrace me as she presented. Joy is my word for the year. It is my goal to live a more joyful and joyous life. It is my hope to have joy fuel everything that I do, from cooking dinner for my family or delivering a sermon to sitting at the bedside of a patient or writing a blog post. There was so much goodness in her presentation--especially her use of media--but one thing touched me more than anything. She said, "You will always have help in your quest for joy." On that day Sophfronia was my help. Sophfronia was not the only woman with jewels on Tuesday. Joyce Dinkins of Our Daily Bread Ministries and Dr. Cheryl Price of Urban Ministries both came as full vessels willing to pour into the lives of the now and next generation of African-American spiritual writers. While they have different functions at different publishing houses, they are strikingly similar. They both have a knowing that is beyond them--given only by God. They both have a generosity and openness that felt like a much needed hug from an auntie who knows what you need, has what you need, and is ready to give it to you. Yet, like that same auntie, they both have a seriousness that they bring to their work--understanding that matters of the Spirit are weighty matters that need diligence and the utmost reverence. In her presentation, Joyce provided research--hard facts--about the marketshare that African-American consumers and readers hold as a way of reinforcing the necessity of our voices. Cheryl closed the conference with the keynote "Writing Matters" and left us with this, "People are waiting for what you have to write. Your words may save someone's life."