A Mennonite Writing About Mennonites Writing About Mennonites Writing

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’ve probably noticed that the Mennonite literary community has, to use the parlance of our times, been “absolutely killing it” over the past several decades. Hundreds of Menno lit works have been published since the 1980s and Andrew and I have had the pleasure to interview a number of these authors right here on Mennotoba.

I suspect, though, that not as many folks outside of scholarly circles are aware of the equally vibrant world of Mennonite literary criticism. Yup, that exists! A few years ago, we even interviewed scholar Magdalene Redekop about her book Making Believe: Questions About Mennonites and Art. Just as there’s been a flowering of Menno lit over the past few decades, there’s also been an equally bountiful crop of writing about Mennonite writing.

For over 50 years, Hildi Froese Tiessen has been at the forefront of Menno lit crit and her new book, which draws from decades of material on the topic, On Mennonite/s Writing: Selected Essays (CMU Press), is available now. I just got my copy in the mail this week and am really excited to read it!

So, yes, I never thought I’d be that person, but, yup, here I am … a Mennonite writing about Mennonites writing about Mennonite writing. However, I don’t really consider myself a critic, per se, especially in a field that’s way out of my area of expertise, so I won’t be reviewing these books, but I did want to highlight a few recent volumes of Menno literary criticism. There are Menno lit crit books stretching back decades, and perhaps I’ll write about them in another post, but I thought I’d mention a few titles published in the last year or two that you should check out if you have a chance. (Descriptions adapted from publisher’s websites).

  • On Mennonite/s Writing: Selected Essays (CMU Press) by Hildi Froese Tiessen
    • “In 1973, Hildi Froese Tiessen published the first academic essay about Rudy Wiebe’s fiction (included in this volume). Since then, in scholarly essays and talks, she has examined with great insight the literary careers of Di Brandt, Patrick Friesen, Julia Kasdorf, Sandra Birdsell, and David Waltner-Toews, as well as key origin figures like Arnold Dyck and Al Reimer. Dr. Froese Tiessen’s widely admired essays include several (among the first of their kind) which situate Mennonite literature in relation to postmodernism, as well as investigations of the sometimes disconcerting ethnic and theological assumptions about Mennonite artistic practice. The essays in On Mennonite/s Writing are the first solo collection of Dr. Tiessen’s writings, and she has written a major new piece especially for this publication.”
  • Rudy Wiebe: Essays on His Works (Guernica Editions) by Bianca Lakoseljac (ed.)
    • “The anthology, Rudy Wiebe: Essays on His Works, compiled and edited by Bianca Lakoseljac, examines Wiebe’s works and his achievements as an author, editor, professor and mentor who helped shape successful authors and encouraged a passion for Canadian literature.”
  • Lives Lived, Lives Imagined: Landscapes of Resilience in the Works of Miriam Toews (U of M Press) by Sabrina Reed
    • “Perceptive, controversial, topical, and achingly funny, Miriam Toews’s books have earned her a place at the forefront of Canadian literature. In this first monograph on Toews’s work, Sabrina Reed examines the interplay of trauma and resilience in the author’s fiction.”
  • Ethics for Apocalyptic Times: Theapoetics, Autotheory, and Mennonite Literature (PSU Press) by Daniel Shank Cruz
    • “Ethics for Apocalyptic Times is about the role literature can play in helping readers cope with our present-day crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the shift toward fascism in global politics. Using the lens of Mennonite literature and their own personal experience as a culturally Mennonite, queer, Latinx person, Daniel Shank Cruz investigates the age-old question of what literature’s role in society should be, and argues that when we read literature theapoetically, we can glean a relational ethic that teaches us how to act in our difficult times.”
  • Reading Mennonite Writing: A Study in Minor Transnationalism (PSU Press) by Robert Zacharias
    • “Mennonite literature has long been viewed as an expression of community identity. However, scholars in Mennonite literary studies have urged a reconsideration of the field’s past and a reconceptualization of its future. This is exactly what Reading Mennonite Writing does. Drawing on the transnational turn in literary studies, Robert Zacharias positions Mennonite literature in North America as “a mode of circulation and reading” rather than an expression of a distinct community.”