“I didn’t know what to expect, with this being my first trip to Pittsburgh, but Synod Hall in the university district with its beautiful auditorium and conference room upstairs was a welcoming environment for me. I walked in - late as usual - just as Suzanne Lewis introduced Marie Kopp who brought our gathering of writers and scholars back to the world of Flannery O'Connor - and specifically the relationship she had with her mother and others via classic letter writing. It’s been too long since I read O'Connor, even as both my daughters are being introduced to her fiction in school right now. Marie reminded me why I need to reconnect. Marina Olson took up the topic of Aristophanes and Eros as the principle of Order in the society of his dramas. I’m ashamed to admit I never read the Greek dramatist, but I need to now. In the afternoon author Jonathan Ryan reintroduced us to the weird power of the novels of Charles Williams, the ‘forgotten Inkling’.
And this brings up the whole wonder for me of the Festival of Friendship which launched officially as the evening arrived. As a science writer I appreciated being able to talk about the foundations of science and learning in the High Middle Ages and how they would have such a marked influence on the Renaissance and the later Scientific Revolution. In particular, on Saturday it was a joy to sit on a panel with Giorgio Ambrosio of Fermilab and Maria Elena Monzani of SLAC at Stanford, and highlight the beautiful illustrations and graphics from their room-length posters that fleshed out the key points of discovery and insight from the Middle Ages.
But we spent the rest of this delightful weekend being surrounded by poets, some I know and love - Rebecca Bratten Weiss, Joanna Penn Cooper, Jessica Mesman Griffith—and many new poets I got to meet for the first time; and musicians drawing attention to our own rich history of ballads and laments - and scholars and activists drawing attention to the plight of women and children in the regions of the world where human trafficking is epidemic; the plight of refugees desperately looking for help outside their besieged homelands; and also examining how technology today affects our behavior toward our neighbors and family.
The three concerts over the course of the weekend - and the beautiful poetry readings - helped inspire hope in spite of the somber nature of the issues we all grappled with. And we never forgot that this event—experience—was a festival of friendship, one I won’t forget.”
- John Farrell, speaker at the 2017 Festival of Friendship