This issue begins with our continuing tradition of an annual December showcase of contemporary arts. Featuring writers wrestling with the angels of certainty and uncertainty, heresy and truth, lived fictions and grace, consulting editor Raylene Hinz-Penner introduces a selection of works from participants in the recent Mennonite/s Writing conference at Goshen College, and interviews Ann Hostetler on the subject of a forthcoming anthology of Mennonite poetry. Following this sampler of writings, we offer the first article in a cooperative publication venture with Mennonite Historical Bulletin. The final article on the school in Wadsworth, Ohio, is timely in view of the recent removal of the Wadsworth bell to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.
Stretching Us: A Report from the 2002 Mennonite/s Writing Conference
by Raylene Hinz-Penner
At "Mennonite/s Writing: An International Conference" held at Goshen College, October 24-27, 2002, and planned by co-chairs Ervin Beck of Goshen College and Hildi Froese Tiessen of Conrad Grebel University College, those couple of hundred of us in attendance kept telling each other that such a gathering of writers would not soon happen again. Big-name Canadians came–Rudy Wiebe, the grand dean of Mennonite writing, was honored for his contributions to Mennonite literature forty years after Peace Shall Destroy Many–and other Canadian writers we in the U.S. had longed to hear: Di Brandt, Patrick Friesen, Sandra Birdsell, David Waltner-Toews, Sarah Klassen. It felt a bit like one had entered a waterfall of one's own accord by enrolling for the weekend, what with the ongoing showers of some nineteen plenary session readings, including the U.S. "names" too, all gathered at one place, and reading, reading, reading: Julia Kasdorf on stage with her baby reading poems of motherhood; Jeff Gundy, his jocular, heretical self; Dallas Wiebe reading poems of the cross written out of the pain over this year's loss of his wife, Virginia; Keith Ratzlaff, his normal strange, chuckling, lyrical/whimsical self, noticing, always noticing; David Wright, reining in a bit his normal bombastic over-the-edge screaming self; Jean Janzen, still her dignified, hymn-loving, sensual, worshipping poet-self, and thus, chosen for Sunday morning, to finish things off. The Japanese lyricist, Yorifumi Yaguchi, was celebrated and read to us his delicate poems which grow out of a tradition so clearly apart from the western world out of which most readers came.
It was a rich, rich weekend if you care about voices which hover around the "Mennonite" world of writing. The greatest delights, of course, were the surprises. One almost always gets a surprise from the sagacious likes of a Dallas Wiebe or a Jeff Gundy–and we were not disappointed. We are including new work by Dallas and a wonderfully stimulating paper of credos and propositions for Anabaptist writers by the humorous and smart Jeff Gundy, who is never afraid to say what should be said. Jeff's paper, titled "Heresy and the Individual Talent," opens with a Bly quote, "The Christ Child was not obedient to his parents"–his essay is relevant for the season, and these times. For me, the joy of the writers' event was also in the stimulation and excitement of "new" voices, even if only new to me. I listened one evening to 25 new voices reading at an open microphone. I was privileged to read in a plenary session with Maurice Mierau, intense, smart, heart-powered, and I rushed to buy his new book, Ending with Music; we feature some of his poems here. I sat up straight when I heard the crackling fiction style of Rosemary Nixon; included here, samples of her work.
Next year, there will be a Mennonite anthology published by Ann Hostetler, new professor of literature at Goshen. She has worked the past eight years on this collection and achieved publication with the University of Iowa Press. That process has been a kind of pilgrimage for her. Read about it in her thoughtful interview. We've included some of her new poems, too. You can hear her read them on-line. I'm grateful this holiday season for the way in which the "Mennonites writing" are stretching us beyond typical boundaries.