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Do you remember walking through the gates of a fair when you were a child? The smells of elephant ears and corn dogs, the calls of barkers and jaunty music, the swirling lights and snapping flags pulled your eager self in every direction at once.

That’s the effect Calvin College's biennial Festival of Faith and Writing has on lovers of the written word. So many delights, so little time!

At the 2012 Festival, Calvin’s own Gary Schmidt will set the celebration in motion Thursday at noon after an opening chapel. A 2011 National Book Award finalist for Okay for Now, Schmidt is as masterful a storyteller in person as he is in print. That event sends festivalgoers out to sample concurrent offerings spread over a field wide in both literary and spiritual dimensions.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film nominated for two Oscars this year, was first a book. Author Jonathan Safran Foer will deliver Thursday evening's keynote address.

Much beloved for her novel Gilead, Marilynne Robinson comes with a new book, the title of which might describe every attendee: When I was a Child, I Read Books. She'll speak at Friday evening's keynote and other concurrent sessions.

On all three days of the festival, Walt Wangerin's fabled Book of the Dun Cow, adapted for the stage, will be presented by the Calvin Theatre Company, with Wangerin available for discussion.

Seventeen more writers of fiction will be talking about their art. Then there are the poets, among them the winsome Li-Young Lee and festival grande dame Luci Shaw.

Memoir readers and writers should run to hear Mark Richard talk about his House of Prayer No. 2. According to The New York Times, the opening pages of this wild ride of a conversion story are “Genesis-like.”

Other sessions present writers on spirituality such as Shane Claiborne in Saturday morning’s keynote. There will be graphic novelists and screenwriters, nature writers and journalists, children’s book authors and illustrators. Essayists too, like that Roman candle of a writer Brian Doyle.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie closes the festival with a keynote on Saturday night. Her novel, Purple Hibiscus,tells the bittersweet coming-of-age story of a Nigerian girl.

After which we'll all stagger for the gates exhausted and sated, wishing there had been time for more.

The Festival of Faith and Writing, April 19-21, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich. Keynote sessions are open to the public. Website:

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