How the Great Lakes Writers Festival Began

The first Great Lakes Writers Festival was held in 1991 at the initiative of Lakeland College professors Jeff Elzinga and Karl Elder. It was and is supported through an endowment from Lucille Fessler, a former chairperson of the Lakeland board of trustees and patron of the arts. The continued success of the event resulted from the volunteer efforts of members of the Lakeland community and Professor Elder’s connections in the writing community at large.

The featured writers at the first festival were Mark Strand, then Poet Laureate of the United States, and Judith Hemschmeyer, a nationally known writer with Wisconsin roots. In subsequent years Professor Elder, the festival coordinator, continued to bring in exciting and high profile guest writers, and the community came out to meet them at readings and in workshops. Yet, despite the festival’s success, it was suspended in 1997 due to financial considerations.

In 2004 the festival regained its feet and, as before, drew students, members of the Lakeland community and professional writers from a hundred mile radius.  Members of the Sheboygan County Writer’s Club and the general public were also among those who turned out for the events.

Plans are evolving for the next Great Lakes Writers Festival, which will continue the Lakeland College writing program’s mission to celebrate and encourage great writing.

GLWF featured writers from the past

October 25-26, 1991: Mark Strand and Judith Hemschmeyer
October 16-17, 1992: Billy Collins and W.P. Kinsella
October 15-16, 1993: Robin Hemley and Henry Taylor
October 14-15, 1994: Lucien Stryk and Sapphire
October 13-14, 1995: William Hathaway and Michael Martone
October 11-12, 1996: William Heyen and Jonis Agee
November 4-5, 2004: Tom Montag and Paul Zimmer
November 3-4, 2005: Beth Ann Fennelly and Larry Watson
November 2-3, 2006: Marilyn Taylor and Sebastian Matthews
November 1-2, 2007: Philip Dacey and Margaret Dawe
November 6-7, 2008: Tom Franklin and Linda Aschbrenner
November 5-6, 2009: David Lehman and Stacey Harwood
November 4-5, 2010: Michael Kriesel and Shannon Kring Buset
November 3-4, 2011: Joyce Dyer and Hailey Leithauser
November 1-2, 2012: Matthew Henriksen, Dawn Hogue, Jean Kuehnel, and Jodie Liedke
November 7-8, 2013: Nick Lantz and Allyson Goldin Loomis
November 6-7, 2014: David Jauss and Karla Huston
November 5-6, 2015: A.E. Stallings and Nickolas Butler
November 3-4, 2016: Joe Wilkins and David Steingass
November 2-3, 2017: Kevin McFadden and Emily Ruskovich
November 1-2, 2018: Barton Sutter and Christian Wiman
November 7-8, 2019: Kathleen Heideman and Paul Hostovsky
2020 festival canceled to maintain COVID-19 pandemic safety
November 5-6, 2021: Ryan Ireland and Cathryn Cofell
November 3-4, 2022: Anna Harris-Parker and Tony Woodlief