During the past year, in conversations inspired in part by the 2015 Mennonite/s Writing conference held at Fresno Pacific University, my colleagues and I have continued to discuss how the concept of “Mennonite writing” might be defined, what it might entail and/or exclude, or even whether it is a useful or relevant construct. Indeed, Robert Zacarias addresses some of the difficulties of this phrase in his recently published collection of essays, After Identity (reviewed in this issue), and Jeff Gundy’s 2015 Menno Simons Lecture Series (also published here) tackles some of the implications as well. The literary, historical, reflective, poetic, analytical, and other forms of writing represented in this year’s issue of Mennonite Life perhaps offer the multi-disciplinary body that is “Mennonite/s writing” today.
Three contributions — by turns poetic, literary, historical, and journalistic — open our issue with a tribute to the late Robert S. Kreider. Writers from several generations testify to Kreider’s importance to a host of Mennonite educational and service organizations, in the United States and abroad.
Contributors to the “On Writing and Performing in Prison” section raise questions about our expectations for writers and audiences. Two faculty members upend expectations of the classroom by working, reading, writing, and performing with college students and prison inmates, and an interview with the director of Offender/Victim Ministries underscores the importance of such work. As former Bethel College professor Ami Regier reflects, “The humanistic, relational importance of the connection with incarcerated lives reshaped the importance of the classroom for me. I began to see the prison as part of the community, and I want college students to see ex-prisoners as integrated into any community in which they will live. I see a venue for transforming higher education — and for intervening in a discriminatory future for a disproportionately large segment of the population — in the possibility of future partnering between higher education and prison education projects.”
“Contemporary Mennonite Scholarship” includes pieces from several disciplines and methodological approaches. In addition to Jeff Gundy’s three-part series of literary and poetic presentations, writers in this section offer literary analyses, historical scholarship, and journalistic documentation of important historical events in Mennonite communities.
We are pleased to feature an array of scholarly and literary contributions by students, the next generation of “Mennonite writers.” The three college students represented here write in persuasive, reflective, and analytical voices. The three high school winners of the 2016 Cornelius Krahn Mennonite Multimedia Contest are also published in this issue. This annual contest accepts essays, creative writing, multimedia projects, and original works of art or music on topics related to Mennonite or Anabaptist history, identity, and theology, and this year’s winners represent three separate approaches.
As is our tradition, we again include a sizable section reviewing recent publications. Colleagues from around the country offer thoughtful reviews of several fiction and non-fiction additions to Mennonite writing, including a multi-disciplinary set of reviews, edited by Karen Sheriff LeVan, of Jeff Gundy’s Songs from an Empty Cage. Barb Thiesen also shares her annual bibliographic compilation.
Finally, I draw your attention to two Calls for Papers included at the end of our issue. In November of this year, the Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Church USA will host the second “Women Doing Theology” conference, titled I’ve Got the Power! Naming and Reclaiming Power as a Force for Good. In June 2017, Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, will host an international conference titled Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries. Both program committees look forward to considering proposals for scholarly and creative presentations.
This issue marks the last in my tenure as editor of Mennonite Life. I have learned a great deal in my four years at the helm and have so appreciated the opportunity for broader engagement with the world of Mennonite(s) writing. I know that Mennonite Life will be in good hands next fall when I turn the editorial reins over to Dr. Brad Born, Bethel College Professor of Literary Studies and long-time supporter of the journal, and I look forward to seeing what new directions he might pursue. I thank my colleagues at Mennonite Life for their assistance and dedication over the course of this year. Our inter-collegiate editorial committee has included Christopher Dick (Tabor College), Karen Sheriff LeVan (Hesston College), and several members of the Bethel College faculty and staff: Mark Jantzen, Christine Crouse-Dick, John Thiesen, and Melanie Zuercher. Special thanks go to Jesse Kaufman, Web Developer, for his on-going work with the Mennonite Life website.
--Rachel Epp Buller, May 2016