‘There are more than fifty shades of Mennonites’: 5 Questions with Armin Wiebe

Armin Wiebe is an award winning writer originally from Altona, Manitoba. Since the publication of his first novel in 1984, Armin’s humorous Mennonite writing has brought laughter into our homes for a generation. His latest book is Grandmother, Laughing. Armin truly is a Mennonite icon and Manitoba treasure.

  1. When did you first know you wanted to become a writer?
    • In Grade 12 I had an English teacher named Al Braun, who loved literature and went well beyond the normal to try to infuse us with an appreciation of poetry and drama. Although I had always loved reading and would read anything I could lay my hands on, this was a time before there were public libraries in the West Reserve and so what was available to us was found in the school library and sometimes the church library. Al Braun opened up the world of literature to us in ways none of my teachers before him had. I also joined the Book-of-the-Month Club that year and got some insight into modern books and the notion of being a writer began to percolate at the edges of my brain to the point where I answered an ad in Mechanics Illustrated that promised “Make Money Writing Short Paragraphs!”
      The moment, though, when the writing bug really bit me occurred in third year university when I moved into a tenement house on Spence Street across from Elim Chapel. An aroma I couldn’t identify greeted me as I carried my stuff up the dimly lit stairs. A woman was knocking on the door next to mine and she asked me if I had seen the man living there. The next morning the landlady’s son told me that the man next door had died and his body had been there for three days. As I nodded off to sleep that night words came tumbling through my mind about the molecules from the dead man’s body travelling through the air to my nose. In the morning I still remembered the words and wrote them down. I had written my first real poem and enjoyed the expereince. After that I began looking for poems wherever I went.
  2. What is one thing you wish non-Mennonites understood about Mennonites?
    • I wish non-Mennonites would understand that there are more than fifty shades of Mennonites (and that’s just the church Mennonites), which is why we can’t have a pope. Add to that the inconvenient fact that Mennonites also have evolved a number of folk cultures over the centuries which can be a unifying force or an embarrassing divisive force, which makes it fun to write out of.
  3. Where the heck is Gutenthal?
    • Gutenthal is located between the Red River and the Pembina Hills just north of the big ditch that cuts us off from the States.
  4. Who would win in an arm wrestle: Armin Wiebe or Rudy Wiebe?
    • That would depend on the venue for the arm wrestle. If we were wrestling in a hayloft in a Yantsied darp, Armin might have a chance; if we wrestled at a symposium before a bunch of professors, Rudy would likely win.
  5. What does “holem de gruel” actually mean?
    • Whatever you want it to mean. “Holem” means “to fetch” and “gruel” means “fear”. So fetch the fear! Expletives have little logic.