I fondly remember the Mennonite/s Writing Conference in 2017 in Winnipeg and loved providing my rambling reports on the weekend’s activities. This time, however, the conference was in Goshen, Indiana and I was unable to attend. So, instead, I had Andrew write down a few thoughts on the weekend. So here you go!
Mennonite/s Writing 2022 by Andrew Unger
I was walking briskly down the hall in the busy Minneapolis airport in search of refreshment, when I spotted poet Patrick Friesen, hurrying in the other direction. Steinbachers, even former ones, have an eye for each other it seems, so I stopped abruptly to say hello, as Patrick gripped his suitcase, preventing it from sailing away from him down the moving sidewalk. It turns out we were on the same flight to Indiana and when we boarded the plane, we discovered that Patrick, his wife poet Eve Joseph, scholar Magdalene Redekop, and myself were all seated within a row of each other. Does Delta Airlines purposefully seat Mennonites next to each other, or is it just that, being frugal, we all chose the most inexpensive seats on the flight?
Whatever the case, my weekend at the 2022 Mennonite/s Writing Conference in Goshen began with a sense of familiarity and community even before it started. I don’t intend to give a play-by-play of every session at the conference—I heard someone, perhaps Rob Zacharias, note that instead of one conference, it would more accurate to say that each attendee had their own conference. This is true. There were many times when I had to choose between two or three concurrent sessions. Should I attend the poetry reading or listen to Paul Tiessen’s paper on “Rudy Wiebe and the first Peace Shall Destroy Many skirmishes”? If you’re interested in Mennonite literature, as I assume anyone attending this conference would be, these were tough decisions.
In addition to attending both creative and scholarly sessions, I chaired a session (this basically means I introduced the speakers and facilitated the discussion afterwards) and read from The Best of the Bonnet and my novel Once Removed in two separate sessions. The best part, though, was connecting with people afterwards. Even though I didn’t get a chance to attend every session or chat with everyone as long as I might have wished, what I appreciated most about the weekend was the real and sincere sense of community. In her Saturday evening talk, discussing the history of the Mennonite/s Writing Conferences, which began in 1990, Hildi Froese Tiessen noted that after attending her first conference thirty years ago, poet Di Brandt said that she “felt listened to” for the first time in a Mennonite context. That, I feel, is one of the biggest strengths of a conference like this. Meeting people. Listening to people. Learning from people.
At 4:30 on Sunday morning, Rob Zacharias downed a pot of coffee and drove Casey Plett and I the 45 minutes from Goshen to the South Bend airport. Her flight was at 6:30. Mine at 7:00. We had a chance, in our early morning groggy state, to chat about writing, and Mennonites, and our favourite dishes at Chicken Chef. It was a wonderful way to end the conference.
On my flight back to Winnipeg, I couldn’t help but think that was one of the best weekends of my life. I think I mentioned this to filmmaker Andrew Wall, who was coming from someplace else completely, but thanks to Delta’s apparent policy of seating Mennonites near each other, just happened to be in the row right behind me.