‘Faith and Fiction’ book reading kicked off Sacred Arts Festival

Author Ron Hansen spoke at St. Thomas Thursday night about his newest novel “Exiles,” which tells the story of 19th-century poet and priest Gerard Hopkins and the tragic shipwreck which inspired one of Hopkins’ poems.

<p>Ron Hansen</p>
Ron Hansen (Courtesy St. Thomas News Service)

The “Faith and Fiction” book reading and discussion kicked off the 2009 Sacred Arts Festival, which lasts until Dec. 4 and consists of nine events related to the festival theme: “Call to Prayer: A Global Yearning.”

“Exiles” alternates between Hopkins’ story and the story of five young nuns who die in the shipwreck after being exiled from their German homeland because of laws against Catholic religious orders. Hansen initially wanted to write a biography of Hopkins, but ended up focusing on the shipwreck and Hopkins’ poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.”

“The Deutschland shipwreck symbolized Hopkins’ life,” Hansen said. “He thought he was a failure because his work was never published. He basically felt shipwrecked most of his life.”

In addition to “Exiles,” Hansen has written many short stories and novels, including “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” which was recently turned into a movie.

Student reactions

Senior Callie Knudslien originally went to the book reading to fulfill a class requirement.

“I was glad I went, though,” Knudslien said. “We read some of his short stories in my class, and now I think I’ll go check out some of his books at the library.”

Sophomore Cali David said Hansen’s writing was different than anything she had read before.

“After hearing him read, I want to look at his stories again,” David said. “Now I can imagine his voice reading the words. I think I’d see more in his writing.”

Senior Aaron Hagstrom said the book reading was boring at times, but he was interested in Hansen’s portrayal of “a priest whose whole life is devoted to Christian living.”

Senior David Bekkerus said he enjoyed comparing the style of “Exiles” to the style of Hansen’s short stories he had read in class, and he wants to read more of Hansen’s novels.

Influenced by faith

Hansen, a Catholic deacon, said his faith strongly influences his writing.

“My faith has taught me there’s a bigger world out there,” Hansen said. “People without faith don’t realize they’re seeing things in black and white, but I’m seeing the world panoramically because I acknowledge the existence of hidden things.”

Hansen said he often reminds himself of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s advice to “see God in all things.”

“Having reverence for the creative world God made gives you a new attitude towards everything,” Hansen said. “Sometimes I look on Amazon.com and see people who have written things like “This guy is off the wall” because of the spiritual factor of my work. But I look at my writing as a way to steer people towards better understandings of faith.”

Other Sacred Arts Festival events

<p>Sacred Arts symbol</p>
The 2009 Sacred Arts Festival symbol

Yasmin Levy, an Israeli singer, will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2. Levy sings mainly in Ladino, a Spanish-Jewish language developed after Jews were expelled from Spain in the late fifteenth century.

“Her music is different, her tonality is different, everything about the performance is different,” said Linda Hulbert, Sacred Arts Festival chair and associate director for collection management and services.

In addition to singing, Levy will discuss the journey of Sephardic Jews after they were forced to leave Spain and travel to Morocco and the Ottoman Empire in the Jewish Diaspora. She will be accompanied by musicians playing the flute, clarinet and darbuka, a goblet-shaped hand drum.

“Hidden Yearning,” a dance and theatrical performance featuring Leili Tajadod Pritschet, a dancer in pre-revolutionary Iran, will take place at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7 and Sunday, Nov. 8. The performance narrates her arrest, torture and how she came to the United States.

Pritschet’s performance will be accompanied by dancers from the Washington D.C. Silk Road Dance Company. St. Thomas students can get free advance tickets from the Box Office and all other events are also free for students.

“I hope students attend these events and I hope their souls are nurtured,” Hulbert said. “These are great opportunities right here on campus, served to students on silver platters.”

Other festival events include:

  • A performance by Canadian organist and composer Rachel Laurin at 8:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9.
  • “A Call to Prayer,” a demonstration of different religious chants at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.
  • A celebration of Solemn Vespers at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11.
  • The film “The Message,” which tells the story of the Prophet Mohammed, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18.
  • A selection of international crèches will run from Nov. 30 through Jan 15.
  • “The Crèche in Many Languages” lecture at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at klbroadwell@stthomas.edu