Elder shares history of Great Lakes Writers Festival


Ben Wilks

Karl Elder started the Great Lakes Writers Festival to bring writers to LC.

The Great Lakes Writers Festival has been around since 1991.

For 23 years, the festival has been educating high school, college and adult writers on the art of writing fiction and poetry, but how did the festival come into being at Lakeland College?

The idea was spearheaded by Fessler Professor of Creative Writing Karl Elder with some help from Professor of Writing Jeff Elzinga.

“We wanted an efficient means to expose the students to other writers besides ourselves,” said Elder.

The idea was to find a way that Lakeland’s writing students could learn while at the same time reaching out into the community to invite local high school students into Lakeland as a way of recruitment to the college.

The festival would also be beneficial to the writing staff members. They could meet other writers and gain knowledge from them.

Elder wanted the festival to be free to the public and open to the community. The festival would be free of charge to the college too. The money would come in from donations from local resident Lucille Fessler whose husband, Jacob Fessler, was a passionate writer in the Sheboygan community.

“This is an inexpensive way to do it instead of sending the students off to conferences,” said Elder.

The festival would become a reoccurring theme. Elder recognized the value of the festival to the community and college. There have been few complaints and a lot of satisfaction from the visitors to the festival.

Planning for the festival takes a lot of effort. Elder has taken on many helpers over the last decade. Students in the writing program offer to help with the festival or have an internship as an assistant to Elder during the planning process.

“The festival has given me the opportunity to learn more about my craft,” said Amanda Smith, junior writing and communication major. “It also taught me that writing is a very diverse field. Every year I learn something new.”

This is Smith’s third year of being a festival participant, and she has helped Elder with the planning process along with other students.

With the Great Lakes Writers Festival of 2014 having just concluded, Elder has already begun planning the festival for next year. He does not like the planning process, but he has appreciated the extensive help from his student interns.

“I get to see how writers get published,” said Veronkia Lau, senior writing and English major. “I also can see the future beyond college for writers.”

Lau is one of the students who helped Elder with the Great Lakes Writers Festival this year.

The festival has not run every year consecutively. In the late 1990’s, the festival took a short hiatus before returning to its normal schedule.

The festival has been one of the larger convocations for Lakeland College.

“I have to be a good host,” said Elder. “And I am! Just ask ‘em!”

Most of the writers at the festival are chosen by Elder himself. Sometimes Elder knows the writers personally.

Karla Huston, the featured poetry writer at the festival this year, is friends with Elder. He has known Huston through reading poetry with her. Some writers that are invited to the festival are even alumni of Lakeland.

In addition to Huston, David Jauss also came to Lakeland as the second featured writer this year. His readings consisted of some of his short stories.

Elder’s planning and contribution to the festival make it a large convocation that brings in large amounts of people from all over the local community.

Even high school students are invited to come to the festival. One year, up to 65 high school students came to the festival for a chance to hear and learn about the art of writing.

This year, over 40 high school students came to the college.

With the ongoing success of the festival, Elder has no plans of stopping the event at Lakeland.