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Presbyterian Writers Guild sponsors free poetry slam, jazz concert on November 15

‘Jazz and poetry, this is what we need now!’ says one artist

by Jerry Van Marter | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian pastor Susan Baller Shepard wrote a collection of poetry called “Doe.” She’ll be one of four Presbyterian poets to participate Nov. 15 in a free online poetry slam and jazz concert.

LOUISVILLE — Got Zoom fatigue? Then how about a little Zoom entertainment?

From 5-6 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, November 15, the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) will present an hour of poetry and music entitled “Poetry Slam and Other Jazz.” The program will feature renowned Presbyterian poets J. Barrie Shepherd, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, Cláudio Carvalhaes and Susan Baller Shepard. Providing musical entertainment will be well-known Presbyterian musician and jazz pianist Bill McConnell.

Bill McConnell

The free concert will be available at:

“Like so many groups during this unrelenting crisis, the members of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, having missed our opportunity to gather at the General Assembly this year, long to be together,” said the Rev. Emily Enders Odom, president of the Presbyterian Writers Guild and a mission interpretation strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“Because the program for which the Guild is perhaps best known other than our biennial awards luncheon at GA was a ‘poetry jam’ we offered at the 2013 Big Tent,” Odom added, “we couldn’t think of a more appropriate time to reprise that event with both familiar and fresh voices.”

The slam will be emceed by Mike Ferguson, editor of Presbyterian News Service and a member of the PWG board of directors. It will also include a brief “open mic” for attendees who wish to share their poetry. “In encouraging attendees to take advantage of the open mic time,” Odom noted, “we hope to hear what and how people have been thinking and writing during the pandemic.”

J. Barrie Shepherd

Barrie Shepherd, retired pastor and former PWG board member, whose poems are published frequently in the Presbyterian Outlook, the Christian Century and other venues, is arguably the poet laureate of the PC(USA).

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is a pastor and prolific writer of contemporary hymns that are sung in churches around the world. Several of her hymns are in Glory to God, the Presbyterian hymnal published in 2013.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Cláudio Carvalhaes is a renowned poet, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York,  and author of the new book, “Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World.”

Susan Baller-Shepard was runner-up in this year’s Best First Book Award — given by Presbyterian Writers Guild and funded by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation — for her poetry collection titled “Doe.” She lives and writes in Bloomington, Illinois, where she is a pastor.

Cláudio Carvalhaes


Bill McConnell is widely known in Presbyterian circles for his musical accompaniment and jazz stylings. The former director of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, McConnell currently serves in the Mission Engagement and Support office of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

As one of the Presbyterian poets remarked upon having been invited to read, ‘Jazz and poetry, this is what we need now!’”

For more information about the Presbyterian Writers Guild, visit

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