April 29, 2010

QUIP Conference 2010

A number of months ago, I saw on Facebook an announcement about the annual QUIP conference (Quakers Uniting In Publications). I noticed that the theme of this particular conference was "Journals to Blogosphere," and despite already having two Quaker-related events penned in my calendar for that particular weekend, I could not deny the familiar pull in my gut that indicated God was speaking to me:

    You need to be here.
According to its website, QUIP is "an international network of Quaker booksellers - authors - publishers concerned with the ministry of the written word."

I found that to be true.

(It would have had a more international flavor had a certain volcano not interrupted flights out of Europe during the week. QUIP still managed to provide a bit of internationality: There was at least one Friend each from Canada, Bolivia, and Kenya, plus a State-side transplanted Brit.)

Among the people and presenters there, I was especially delighted by Tom Hamm's presentation on the history of Quakers and publishing; Brent Bill's remarks about the "trajectory of Truth-telling" in the age of blogs, e-books, and online presses; and Wess Daniels' interest group on Convergent Friends.

There was also an evening panel of three bloggers, including Yours Truly, Martin Kelley (the Friend behind QuakerQuaker), and Sarah Hoggatt.

(You know you've been around for a while as a blogger when another blogger tells you, yes she knows about QuakerQuaker but no, she doesn't know who Martin Kelley is.)

Another major accomplishment that held my attention throughout the four-and-a-half-day conference was the release of the amazing international youth book project, Spirit Rising. Since this QUIP Conference marked the book's release, there was a tremendous presence of young adult Friends there, including the entire 10-member editorial board, plus a few contributors to the book.

Below are my own reflections and record of some of what happened at this year's QUIP Conference.

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It's been a few weeks since I've been among Quakers in a Quaker setting. I've not even been able to attend a weekly Meeting for Worship for the past four or five weeks. I went to the Midyear Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in late March, got sick at the very end of the weekend, and fell too far behind to write anything about Bill Deutsch's remarks on living with gratitude. Maybe that theme is enough for Friends to consider and doesn't require a blog post of personal reflections...?

About a week later, a handful of Friends attended the White Privilege Conference in southwestern Wisconsin, but even then we struggled to find a time and place to allow for worship and fellowship together.

So when I saw five familiar Quaker faces in the small Dayton, Ohio airport last Wednesday afternoon on my way to QUIP directly from my grandmother's funeral, I felt as if I was taking a good long drink at the well. It was a drink that was to be the first of many that I experienced at my inaugural QUIP Conference.

In the filled-to-capacity 8-person van that would take us to the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana, I spoke with Nancy Haines of Vintage Quaker Books and another Friend from Wellesley Friends Meeting in Massachusetts. We talked easily of the writing we're each doing, which led to tangents about family, early Quakers, and challenges in our meetings.

"I like this crowd already," I thought to myself. "We're talking about our Quaker lives, our struggles, our calls to ministry..."

Thomas Hamm

That first night, immediately after a homemade dinner for 40, we carpooled over to Earlham School of Religion for a presentation by noted Quaker historian and scholar Thomas Hamm. His presentation focused on how Quaker publications have changed--thematically and structurally--over the course of our history as Friends.

What could have been a very dry and protracted lecture was instead a session filled with humor, warmth, and a deep love for the subject.*

Tom began by acknowledging that the history of Quakers and publishing "is in large part the history of Friends' writing and distribution of the Truth as they perceived it, with the sincerity and the conviction as they were led by the Light."

Then he expanded on three major themes that presented themselves as a form of narrative arc for Quaker publications:
  • Pre-1660s. Proclaiming and articulating Quaker beliefs to the world, whether as individuals or on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends. These writings and publications included materials related to doctrine; epistles; and letters of advice.
  • 1660s-early 1900s. Engaging in controversy and actively confronting "the enemies of the Truth"--that is, those religious groups and other institutions that took issue with Friends. As Tom put it, "No attack should go unanswered," and Quakers back then made sure no attack did. Tom then added that Friends' answer to an attack was "often in the most vituperative way possible."

    During this period of growth, there was a span of eight years when Quakers published 300 books and tracts, averaging about a book a month--mostly written by George Fox. In addition to responding to attacks, Tom explained, the letters, books, and tracts put out by Friends were also distributed to advise, exhort, uplift, and inspire those who received the writings.

    The written act of "engaging in controversy" expands into the historic separations among Friends. Tom described how the start of of the information revolution and industrialization allowed for Friends to increase the volume of pages printed and distributed, due to the invention of the steam-powered printing press. Printing jumped from 200 pages per hour to 4,000-5,000 pages per hour.

    And so with the ease and lowered cost of printing, the newer printing press facilitated in some way the theological separations that had already begun to emerge among Friends.

    It was not lost on me how this new "information revolution" that we are currently involved in is also allowing for increased distribution of writings via blogs, online presses, and the like. Not to mention video, podcasts, Twitter, etc. And I also find it fascinating to consider that these increased communications today may be helping mend the original schisms that were accelerated by what was then cutting-edge technology...
I think a number of us wanted Tom to comment on and speculate about the 21st century, but he left that for Brent Bill to address later in the week.

Panel of Bloggers

The next night, after a full day of workshops, interest groups, and meeting for worship for business, QUIP gathered again, this time to hear from three Quaker bloggers about that particular form of publishing.

The exciting thing for me, as one of the panelists, was that one of the main conference planners, Stephen Dotson, had set up equipment to arrange for Martin Kelley to be "web-cammed" into the panel. So Martin was projected onto the wall behind where the other panelists were--the other panelists being Sarah Hoggatt (from Walking the Sea) and myself. At the same time, there was a computer in front of the panel, so Sarah and I could view Martin directly in front of us, and vice versa. The one minor setback was that Martin couldn't see the audience unless the computer with the webcam was made to do a 360--which it was, at one point.

Based on a few questions that Stephen had given us ahead of time, we introduced ourselves. Here were some of the talking points:
  • Why should Friends care about blogging or the blogosphere?
  • How do you sift through the massive amounts of information and find the gold amidst the noise and overload of the blogosphere?
  • How do you relate your blogging to your spiritual life and practice?
The discussion is pretty much a blur for me, much like any of us feel sometimes after we've spoken out of the silence during Meeting for Worship: it's hard to recall the particulars!

Some themes did come up, either through our own back-and-forth or drawn out by the questions that Friends asked. They included blogs as outreach and ministry; walking the line between sharing openly about an experience and keeping that experience strictly private--along with considering the privacy of others; the individuality of the internet; the anonymity of the internet and the interpersonal connections that blogging and social media can foster, especially in light of a yearning and willingness to be Known by one another; the growth of the Quaker blogosphere and how such growth has changed that sense of interconnectedness; the impact of Facebook on blogging...

I particularly liked a few of the questions that gave me something to think about more deeply.

One was about whether or not bloggers "fact checked" their posts, or how such fact-checking might happen. I was pleased to have remarked about the presence of at least two Friends with experience in blogging who seem very capable in helping in that arena!

Another question was about the extent we considered the privacy of another person before we would start writing about an event or interaction in which that person (or persons) might be involved. That was the question that led us as a panel to talk a bit more about being "public Friends," being modern-day publishers of the Truth, anonymity on the internet, and being transparent both in our meetings and online.

What I didn't say at the time but I'm thinking about now is that what we were talking about, in a way, was the concept of spiritual maturity: As we grow into our Quakerism, we may likely become less concerned about being asked permission to quote us or write about one another in our blogs, because we are becoming more concerned about being faithful to God's leadings and acting out of Love as much as possible.

The last question that caught most of us off-guard, I think, was about the change in how we might experience Spirit--or if we actually do experience the Spirit--when we are communicating through disembodied means, when we are physically removed from one another and the message is conveyed electronically and instantly, rather than through handwritten letters, voice-to-voice calls, person-to-person meet-ups over a meal.

The answer to that particular question will likely have to be lived out, just as early Friends had to find their way to stay in touch with one another--to exhort, advise, uplift, and inspire--as they left their homes to travel in the ministry, or were jailed for their bearing witness to the Truth.

Black Fire

A new anthology of writings by Friends and friends of Friends who are African American is due out in February 2011. It's called BLACK FIRE: Black Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights. The book is being edited by Hal Weaver, Stephen Angell, and Paul Kriese.

Black Fire includes the poetry, essays, and other writings of U.S. Black Quakers, and Black friends of Quakers, from colonial times forward, though not quite into current times. The writings address Friends and race, Friends and religion, and Friends and human rights. The idea behind the book was to highlight those voices that went missing, even though "silence should liberate, not oppress," as Paul explained during the workshop.

Here is a list of who is likely to be included in the anthology:

Benjamin Banneker
William Boen
Paul Cuffe
Sojourner Truth
Sarah Mapps Douglass
Robert Purvis
Jean Toomer
Howard Thurman
Ira DeAugustine Reid
Barrington Dunbar
Helen Morgan Brooks
Bayard Rustin
Mahala Ashley Dickerson
Bill Sutherland
Charles Nichols
George Sawyer
Vera Green

The hope is that Black Fire will both stand on its own as an anthology as well as be a companion book to Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. As one of the editors mentioned during QUIP, "This book tells a story that needs to be told by those who need to tell it."

Spirit Rising

This book is impressive.

It leaves an impression on your hands as you hold it.

It leaves an impression in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul as you turn its pages and imagine the young African Friend, the distant Norwegian Friend, the GLBT Friend, the evangelical Friend...

At QUIP, the editorial board shared a bit of their challenges to work together, across cultures, continents, and theological differences. In some places around the world, there were no computers or typewriters. Others had to travel hundreds of miles to gather a few young Friends together for a writing workshop that maybe produced a few paragraphs...

The board members talked about the tenderness they experienced during their face-to-face gatherings: tenderness around words, beliefs, practice, and faith. Yet all of these Friends nodded their heads when one Friend noted in the report how the bond of Love transcended the tension... That and how a good run on the beach could work its own form of miracle.

I was also impressed to learn that each board member had a support person or support committee "back home"--wherever home was for each of them--and that each person was willing to engage in the hard questions that they asked one another and that were brought out in the hundreds of submissions they were considering.

In essence, these Friends were living the Convergent Conversation. They were living examples of the inner and communal work that is needed in order to mend our schisms and live and worship as one family: the Religious Society of Friends.

Brent Bill

Brent was the speaker on the last night of the QUIP Conference.** He spoke about the "trajectory of Truth-telling" and began his remarks by quoting George Fox:
    I spent much time in writing for Truth's service.
Then Brent moved onto facts and figures, including:
  • In their first 50 years, 650 Friends (of which 82 were women) produced 3,100 titles.
  • Currently, Amazon.com has more than 2,000 titles about Quakers and Quakerism.
  • Of the top 10 Quaker titles on Amazon.com, 7 of them are by Philip Gulley.
  • Currently there are 137 Quaker titles on Kindle.
Brent also lifted up questions around What should we write? and How should we write?

What should we write?
1. What am I called to write? What matters most to me?
2. What's needed? What do people need to hear?
3. What's wanted?
4. What do I have to offer?

How should we write?
1. Grounded in ordinary experience.
2. Grounded in personal experience.
3. Honest.
4. Revelatory of the writer: self-disclosure and specific to the writer.
5. Hospitable; providing a form of hospitality.
6. Accessible to many people, not just a few--the writing invites people in.
7. Invitational to stories and experience, to have readers think through things on their own.

In closing, Brent raised a couple of important points:

Quakers aren't doing enough to get involved in the new trend of e-commerce. We're not ramping up our book selection for Kindle, the iPad, or other book readers, so we're not keeping pace with the original call to write and publish "for Truth's service."


QUIP has to look at whether it is in the book business or is it in the message business. If it's in the book business--and Brent didn't say this explicitly--then QUIP probably doesn't have many years of service left. On the other hand, if QUIP is in the get-out-the-message business, then there are many opportunities that await QUIP.

I was glad to have attended these four days with Quakers who work in publishing, who write about Quakerism, who are published authors. As I resign myself to missing all sorts of wonderful workshops in California, New England, and the Philadelphia area, I was pleased to be able to participate in an event that was a bit closer to the "breadbasket" of the U.S.


*The quotes I offer here are not intended to be verbatim, though I took careful notes.

**Brent has posted most of the slides from his Powerpoint presentation as a video, but be sure to have your cursor floating over the Pause button: you'll need time to read through everything.


Sarah Hoggatt has a number of photos on her blog Walking the Sea.

Martin Kelley writes about his experience at the 2004 QUIP Conference. His post includes a number of photos too.

Liz Yeats has added a few photos and reflections on her blog One Friend Among Friends.

Nancy Thomas has written up her thoughts on her blog Mil Gracias.


Mary Ellen said...

Liz, thanks so much for this very thorough account of the conference, and especially for taking the time to supply so many helpful links. I only have time now (in my abbreviated lunch hour) to note that there's much here to return to for my own reading and writing.

RichardM said...

Several Quaker philosophers are in the proces of putting together an anthology on Truth. Several of the essays including mine are finished with most still to come in, Jeff Dudiak is organizing it and hasn't got a publisher yet. But I'm pretty sure it will see the light of day eventually.

It woas good to hear some positive feedback on my daughter's project Spirit Rising. I haven't gotten my own copy yet.

By the way if you wondered why I stopped blogging it was because being named clerk of NCYM-conservative I didn't want my views to be misinterpreted as the "official" views of NC conservative.

Aimee said...

Thanks for your report about QUIP Liz. I especially liked the part from Brent about what should we write and how should we write. I feel like I'm doing more and more writing myself - though it's not always Quaker focused. But of course it's all about what we're called to write about...

RantWoman said...

THANKS for posting all the connections and references.

I have to agree with Brent Bill about the message business.

Much as I love the internet and all the exchanges that occur, I also carry a concern about digital inclusion. I mean this in two senses, both not excluding many weighty voices who have little to do with the internet and continually challenging ourselves about how dependent it is possible for people who enjoy the privileges of life in the US to become on modes of communication that others have no access to. I think there is huge dynamism in this area though and I also am glad to note all the different forms of media mentioned.

Robin M. said...

Liz, I am so glad YOU could be there. And write about it here. (I think I'm over my cranky bit.) There is so much to think about, just in this abbreviated description. I look forward to continuing the conversation, in books, in blogs, in person, in the future.

Liz Opp said...

Mary Ellen -

I'm glad I set aside time to write some notes during the conference itself, otherwise so much more would have been lost! At one point, Liz Yeats and I mused about having QUIP meet in Minnesota in a few years--especially if I'm willing to help out with arrangements! It's a very tempting proposition, so we'll see if that seed takes root any time soon.

RichardM -

Towards the end of the conference, I saw your daughter--or at least, I saw someone whose name and yearly meeting affiliation made me think it was your daughter! We never had a chance to speak but I was pleased that she was among a few Conservative young Friends who had a hand in bringing about Spirit Rising.

Also, FGC announced at QUIP that it is preparing to launch a new process for working with Friends who seek to publish their work. You might want to give them a call and ask for Lucy... I don't see a link about it yet on their website, but since it was talked about at QUIP, I assume someone at FGC can give you details.

Lastly, yes: I knew you were serving the YM as its clerk, so I figured you were very busy--and as always, I appreciate the care with which you, as a Conservative Friend, discern how and how much to participate in the Quaker blogosphere at this time.

Good to hear from you, as always.

Aimee -

Brent made sure to point out that Phil Gulley writes so many things, none of which really equates to blog writing. I think it's very important to write with our own authentic voice as well as what it is we are called to write...

RantWoman -

So good to read your comment! I often need that reminder that not everyone has access to certain things--even folks who lack literacy skills can listen to talks if we simply invite them in!

I remain so very glad for the printed word that in some way complements the digital one...

Robin M -

Of course you know that I know what it feels like--the anguish of missing an event that we very much want to go to.

Maybe it's time for you, me, and Chris to put our heads together and plan something together so we won't have to worry about missing an event...?!?


lizyeats said...

Liz, Just quickly thanks for blogging such useful and extensive report of the QUIP conference, and for linking to my blog and photos. I'm so glad you were at QUIP and look forward to engaging in more discussion with you about publishing and our shared but not similar Jewish backgrounds. Incidentally, that was Rachel Miller from NCYM(C) who now lives in MA. She was a child in NCYM(C) when I belonged and I really have enjoyed getting to know her as a young adult.