Lakeland University Blog

Great Lakes Writers Festival helps writers find their story

Great Lakes Writers Festival helps writers find their story


Great Lakes Writers Festival helps writers find their story

Lakeland University student Mikayla Rieck was amongst the many who found their story at the Great Lakes Writers Festival.

Rieck was a junior when she attended the annual celebration of the written word for the first time in 2022. A business administration major with dreams of opening her own gym, Rieck had goals that didn’t include writing. That is, until her professor, Jodie Mortag, encouraged her to attend the festival. Once there, she discovered what writing meant to her.

“This festival made me realize that writing many times isn't made for an audience,” Rieck said. “Many times, writing is made for the author to figure out more about themselves and/or heal their present or past self.”

Immediately after attending the Great Lakes Writers Festival, Rieck approached her academic advisor about adding a writing minor. The festival had not only opened her eyes to the impact of writing, but also to the writing community. Now she joins that writing community as she works on a nonfiction piece, healing old wounds and feeling closer than ever to her writing peers. She has even included her newfound passion into her goals, hoping to become an investigative journalist in the future.

“I think the festival is important because it shows how important writing is to humanity,” Rieck said. “I think we are in a time right now where people may be questioning if writing is really that vital anymore, and I think this festival shows how impactful writing can be. This festival shows how writing brings people together and makes people feel heard and seen.”

The 2023 GLWF is set for November 2-3. Poet Marianne Chan and fiction writer Clancy McGilligan are the featured writers and will hold master classes and exclusive book signings. Register to attend the festival at

The writing couple Chan and McGilligan are a dynamic pair that have both seen their share of accolades for their works. Between Chan’s numerous poetry awards for her chapbook “All Heathens” and McGilligan’s novella prize for his “History of an Executioner,” the 2023 festival is bound to continue its legacy of creative greatness.

One of those previous great writers was Tony Woodlief, the visiting fiction writer of the 2022 festival. He found comfort in the collaboration of writers that the Great Lakes Writers Festival had to offer. Even as a published author, Woodlief held doubts about some of his work. But the festival worked its magic once again.

“Giving several readings, and hearing my friend Anna Harris-Parker read, inspired me to revise several short stories I'd had shelved because I was unsure of them” Woodlief admitted. “So far one has been accepted for publication by a literary journal, and another is in a final round of consideration at a different journal. I know part of my job was to inspire other writers, but I ended up being inspired as well.”

Woodlief was not alone in his appreciation for the festival. The festival’s creator, former Lakeland Fessler Professor of Creative Writing and Poet in Residence Karl Elder, recounted receiving many thank-you letters from visiting authors that all confirmed the same thing: the GLWF is unlike any other festival they had attended or been a part of. There is no shortage of love for the festival from writers, students and community members.

Hosted at Lakeland since its conception in 1991, the festival was made possible by former chairperson in the Lakeland board of trustees and patron of the arts, Lucille Fessler. The festival has welcomed more than 50 visiting authors to campus to provide students and community members with a chance to listen and learn from experienced authors of both poetry and prose.

Elder hosted and ran the festival along with a carefully selected student intern for nearly 30 years. The festival became and remained a success not only because of Elder’s dedication, but also because of his methodology in selecting the visiting writers for the festival each year.

"When deciding on who to invite as visiting writers each year,” Elder shared, “I aimed to find both a male and female writer of each prose and poetry who would complement each other's works, providing students and community members with a well-rounded learning experience. It was my goal to cater to both the serious writers and the hobbyists."

Now, Lakeland Associate Professor of Writing Jodie Mortag, a former student and intern of Elder, has followed in her mentor’s footsteps and taken on the role of host and organizer of the GLWF. After running the festival for the first time in 2022, Mortag has admitted to the new perspective she has on her mentor’s former role.

“When Karl Elder, my mentor turned colleague, handed over the mic to me, I was nervous yet honored,” Mortag revealed. “I have always called the festival ‘Karl’s baby,’ and now, I was responsible for taking care of it. However, I have a rockstar team of creative writing interns helping to compose this event.”

Mortag credits her interns from the creative writing program for making the event possible each year. Between coordinating visiting authors, promoting the event, organizing the festivities and everything else the festival involves, Mortag recognizes that teamwork amongst writers is what makes it happen. After all, isn’t the festival all about writers coming together?

The festival also offers a writing contest for anyone who feels inspired to write after attending. Submit an unpublished poem, short story or personal essay by Dec. 1, 2023, for a chance to win $100. Details are listed on the GLWF website.

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