8 Women With Impact: Mennonite/s Writing VIII

I can’t keep stretching out this Mennonite/s Writing conference for so many posts. I need to wrap it up, preferably in 500 words or less. WordPress prefers I keep it under 300.

Okay, well in that case I won’t follow along in the program anymore. It didn’t even serve me well in the first place as my haphazard notes failed me. (I remember thinking as I scrawled random statements, “Oh, this’ll make sense later.” I was so wrong.) Here’s what I remember…

Friday evening at CMU’s Marpeck Commons:

I thought Jennifer Sears’ reading was entitled What Mennonite Girls Are Good For, but I glanced at the program again and see it was Ghost Trains and Political Refugees. I had the chance to catch up with Jennifer later and learned the subtext was about the brutal cycle of war and unearned power in society. I’m looking forward to someday having the chance to read the rest of the story (presumably upon publication).

If I could use one word to describe Jessica Penner’s reading of Attempts at Homecoming, it would be visceral. And also meta. She was at a reading, reading about a reading she had done in her hometown. As a rapt attendee, I felt I was living the experience as she read. Like peering into her brain, and actually witnessing the scene she was describing, through her eyes.

Casey Plett read from her book, Little Fish. This too, uncovered a scene of uncomfortable homecoming, and some characters I’m all too familiar with. Love her perspective.

Composer and pianist Carol Ann Weaver brought us songs inspired by her mother’s journals and last words, a glimpse of what it is to face death… and be so, so sad. And yet somehow uncomfortably comforting. (Sung by Marnie Enns.)

The next morning, day two. Here I’m going to skip all the way to Dorothy Peters’ presentation, Childhoods Placed and Displaced: Two Girl Immigrants. One story in particular remains seared into my mind. Back in Ukraine, when her one grandmother was a little girl, her father told her that their family was going to move to Canada. So, plans had been made to immigrate. One night, her sister was raped by a group of men. Her father went out to find them. There was a knock at the door. The table was set for dinner. At the door, one of the rapists, holding her father’s decapitated head. He marched into the house and put it on a plate. That was more horrific than I was expecting. Especially given Dorothy’s gentle voice.

And then… poet Di Brandt. If you know poetry, or Canadian literature, you’ll probably roll your eyes at me when I confess that this was the first time I’d encountered something Di Brandt had written: Paradigms of Re-Location, Re-Vision and Re-Placement. I was transfixed by Di’s kind voice, sharp blue eyes, and piercing intellect. I felt challenged, and also wished to hear the paper given again, or perhaps find it and read it sometime. I returned home and began to devour her first book, questions i asked my mother. I don’t yet know how to talk about her work, I feel so very much in over my head… but I feel connected to it, there is so much beauty and earnestness and brilliance there.

A break for dinner. We wolfed down our food and raced back. I was anxious to “get a good seat” for the grand finale: authors Miriam Toews and Rhoda Janzen. We found the theatre doors closed and didn’t know when we’d be allowed to rush into the theatre to claim a seat. They’re like rock stars!

I’m likely the last menno on the planet to somehow not have yet read Rhoda Janzen’s memoir Mennonite In A Little Black Dress. I’ve heard it’s hilarious, and was a New York Times Bestseller. Also my dear friend Eliza who is not a Mennonite nor does she live in a land with many Mennonites, has obtained this book and was telling me all about it the week leading up to this conference. I texted her: “You know that book you’re reading? The one you’re telling me to read? Well, its author is here. Rhoda Janzen is HERE!” And she’s outright engaging and somehow spoke without paper or anything in front of her. It kind of felt like a cross between stand-up comedy, a rant, and a university lecture.

And then Miriam Toews. I’ve read every one of her books. She grew up in Steinbach! I live in Steinbach! And she’s hugely famous! Of course I’ve read her books! They’re funny, fascinating, and the characters are devastatingly real. I realize not everyone here is a fan of Steinbach’s depiction in A Complicated Kindness… but really, now that I’ve mentioned that, don’t you want to read it too? And Swing Low (a memoir in her father’s voice) shook me. I watched her acting debut in Silent Light, which is among my favourite films, painfully gorgeous (she won an award for her acting, by the way). And I read Irma Voth, inspired by her experiences with Silent Light.

Now we have to wait three years until the next Mennonite/s Writing conference. At least I have plenty of reading to pass the time.