Artists in Converation

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Artists in Conversation is our event series featuring artists and writers whose work engages spiritual questions.  These conversations are open to the public,

Our events feature artists and writers of all kinds of faith backgrounds, in and around every “religion box” you might check.  Not sure what makes a spiritual question? Check out our (partial) list.

Past Participating Artists

Jessie Chaffee_credit Heather WaraksaJessie Chaffee is the author of the debut novel Florence in Ecstasy (Unnamed Press, 2017). She was awarded a Fulbright grant to Italy to complete the novel and was the writer-in-residence at Florence University of the Arts. Her writing has been published in Literary Hub, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Slice, and Global City Review, among others. She lives in New York City and is an editor at Words Without Borders, an online magazine of international literature in translation.

Poet Shadab Zeest Hashmi is the author of Kohl & Chalk and BakeSZH closer of Tarifa. She has won the San Diego Book Award, the Nazim Hikmet Prize and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize multiple times. She has been published in Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, Vallum, Atlanta Review and other journals worldwide.

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Ordained maggid, teacher and storyteller Batya Podos is a director of Abraham’s Tent, an interfaith summer camp for Christian, Jewish and Muslim children. Her publications for young people and families include her novel Rebecca and the Talisman of Time. She is also a contributor to New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family and The Language of Life.


Flamur Vehapi, scholar and poet, was born in Kosova and exiled by the Serbian regime in the late 1990s. He received his master’s degree in Conflict Resolution from Portland State University. While teaching at  Southern Oregon University, he received the 2009 Imagine Award for Community Peacemaking. Vehapi has published three volumes of poetry.


Human rights and housing advocate Martha Gies has published short stories, literary essays and journalism for nearly 40 years. She has taught creative writing at Marylhurst University, Lewis & Clark, and her Traveler’s Mind writing workshop. Gies is a convert to Catholicism and a member of St. Andrew parish in Northeast Portland.

Portland native Claire Willett is a proud company member of the writers’ collective Playwrights West and a founding artist of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work. She was a finalist for the 2015 Jerome Fellowship at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, has received grants from the Oregon Arts Commission and Regional Arts & Culture Council, and was the 2011 Oregon Literary Fellow for Drama.  Claire WillettIn addition to Dear Galileo, which recently received its world premiere in Portland, produced by Playwrights West and CoHo Productions, Claire’s other works include: the Scottish folk musical Carter Hall(currently in development with Nashville songwriter Sarah Hart); Upon Waking; How the Light Gets In; That Was the River, This Is the Sea (with Gilberto Martin del Campo); the chamber opera The Witch of the Iron Wood (with composer Evan Lewis); and The Demons Down Under the Sea, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee.” Her first novel, The Rewind Files, a sci-fi time travel adventure about Watergate, was released in September 2015 by Retrofit Publishing in Los Angeles.  She has a B.A. in Theatre from Whitman College.

PepperKaj-anne Pepper is a multidisciplinary maker, choreographer and performance artist. He lives in Portland OR where he loves to escape into the forest, write love notes on public transportation and play pinball. Best known for his drag persona Ms. Pepper Pepper, a high energy MC, hostess and Witch (with a capital W) who turns tragic into magic, trauma into drama, and is a legend in her own mind. For over a decade Pepper has been a fixture in the PDX nightlife and performance community. S/he started their drag life as a member of the “gender terrorist drag troupe” Sissyboy. Soon thereafter winning Portland “Total Drag Competition” and touring to CA, TX, and NYC with drag band The Genderfluids. In addition to their theatrical pursuits Pepper stays busy as a MC hosting Dark Night of the Soul (an evening of stand-up tragedy) and Critical Mascara “A Post-Realness Drag Extravaganza” occurring annually at PICA’s T:BA festival to rave reviews.

ajr_author_corrugated2_smaller (1)Alicia Jo Rabins’s collection, “Divinity School,” won the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in 2015. A wide- ranging exploration of spirituality, sex, travel, food, holy texts, and coming of age, “Divinity School” is a fearless investigation of how we learn to live in a human body. Alicia teaches ancient Jewish texts to children and adults and performs internationally as a violinist and singer.

Melissa sunglassesMelissa Bennett, M.Div. (Umatilla/Nimiipuu/Sac & Fox) is a writer & emerging storyteller, as well as a former interfaith mental health chaplain. She is interested in story as medicine, especially its ability to heal historical trauma among indigenous communities. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Melissa writes poetry and creative non-fiction with a focus on social justice, culture, tradition, and spirituality. Melissa is currently a member of the Northwest Indian Storytellers Association and WordCraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers. She is a 2015 recipient of the Evergreen State College Longhouse Native Creative Development Grant and serves on the Board for PlayWrite, Inc., as well as the Oregon Department of Corrections Religious Services Advisory Council.