‘Holy Ghost Girl’ to Lead Exploration of Tent Revivals, Writing Memoirs during Werlin Lecture June 22

  • Werlin Lecture Graphics
  • Donna Johnson
    Award-winning author Donna M. Johnson will present the 2018 Werlin Lecture as part of the 2018 Press Women of Texas Conference at 2 p.m. Friday, June 22, at Baylor University.
June 12, 2018

Contact: Dr. Cassy Burleson, Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media, 254-710- 1961
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WACO, Texas (June 12, 2018) – Award-winning author Donna M. Johnson will present the 2018 Werlin Lecture at 2 p.m. Friday, June 22, in room 101 of the Castellaw Communications Center at Baylor University. The Werlin Lecture is free and open to the public as part of the 2018 Press Women of Texas Conference.

Johnson will take her audience back to the days when gospel tent revivals were the biggest show in town. “In a culture that emphasizes the idea that we can create and recreate ourselves at will – essentially make ourselves up – the current craze for memoir may well reflect our longing to reconnect with our histories in a deeper, more profound way,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s 2011 memoir, “Holy Ghost Girl,” explores her childhood experiences on the “sawdust trail” with Brother David Terrell, an apocalyptic big-tent preacher during the 1960s and 1970s who drew thousands of worshippers in central Texas and across the United States. As a member of the inner circle, Johnson had a front-row seat to the miracles, exorcisms, KKK face-offs and betrayals of the flesh common under the tent.

Johnson is a 2009 Ragdale Fellow and was recently awarded a three-year Lucas Artist Residency at the Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California. Her work has been included in two anthologies, “Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions” (2013) and “Her Texas: Story, Image, Poem & Song” (2015). She has written about religion, family and culture for The Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, Psychology Today and Huffington Post. She lives in Austin, where she teaches writing workshops and is working on a project that combines investigative journalism with personal narrative.

“Donna Johnson’s firsthand knowledge of tent revivals will transport you to belief-filled days… those days of ice cold watermelon… an evening July breeze carrying the promise of a good rain coming… and the rustle and flap of canvas as the Holy Ghost moved among people of all races,” said Cassy Burleson, Ph.D., senior lecturer of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

The Werlin Lecture was established in 1985 to honor Rosella Horowitz Werlin, a member of Texas Press Women, District 8. Her distinguished career in journalism spanned 61 years and included articles and feature stories that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News, Houston Post, Houston Chronicle, New York Times, UPI, Houston Jewish Herald-Times and Houston Home and Garden Magazine. Werlin also is remembered for her victory in a landmark copyright case against Reader’s Digest in 1979 that established legal precedent for the protection of journalists.

“Both the Werlin Lecture and the Annual Conference Press Women of Texas will bring Waco the unique, creative energy of journalists, creative writers and some of Texas’s up-and-coming writers and award-winners,” said Sarah Cortez, Press Women of Texas vice president.

The 2018 Werlin Lecture is part of June 22-23 Texas Press Women’s annual conference, which is sponsored by Baylor’s department of journalism, public relations and new media and the Baylor Libraries. To register for the conference’s personal narrative writing workshops, which also are being led by Johnson, contact Kay Casey at pwt@presswomenoftexas.org.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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