A Brief History and Bibliography of Queer Mennonite Literature

In a 2008 personal essay, Jan Guenther Braun explains that she writes as a starting point for the creation of "queer Mennonite academic history."[i] Happily, in the decade since her essay, the body of queer Mennonite writing that Braun calls for has come into being, encompassing both creative writing and literary criticism. The present bibliography reveals this boom, which has led to queer writing becoming an important subfield of Mennonite literature. Perhaps surprisingly, the bibliography also shows that the roots of queer subject matter in Mennonite literature stretch back at least a quarter century before Braun's essay.[ii] This introduction to the bibliography traces these roots and their subsequent fruit as a way to offer a story of queer Mennonite literature that may not be visible in the bibliography alone. Kate Eichhorn posits that "sometimes an archive's story may be as important as its contents."[iii] Such is the case with the queer Mennonite literary archive built over the past three decades because of how it has had to fight to make itself visible as a response to Mennonite homophobia. Just as Braun's essay does, much queer Mennonite literature explicitly recognizes the function archives play in helping to make visible and to sustain marginalized communities.[iv] Likewise, the present essay is itself intended as an archiving endeavor.

As is the case with so many other aspects of North American Mennonite literature, the first sustained queer episode in Mennonite literature occurs in Rudy Wiebe's fiction. The penultimate chapter of his 1983 novel My Lovely Enemy includes a scene in which two women kiss genuinely—that is, the kiss is meant for their own pleasure, not as a titillating show for their husbands—as a prelude to a surrealist nudist conversation that almost ends in a foursome.[v] The interaction is queer because of the kiss, but just as importantly it hints at the potential for further queer Mennonite literary spaces via its dreamy ending. Unfortunately, My Lovely Enemy was a critical flop, perhaps because its peculiar Mennonite magical realism was ahead of its time, so this scene slipped into obscurity.

Moving into the 1990s, the explicitly feminist work of writers such as Di Brandt, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, and Janet Kauffman and its discussions of gender and sexuality played an essential role in opening up space for the flowering of queer Mennonite literature beginning a decade or so later.[vi] Kauffman's 1993 novel The Body in Four Parts includes a character, Jean-Paul, whose gender is ambiguous and who today might refer to hirself as nonbinary.[vii] Unfortunately, there have not been any recent examinations of Kauffman's work, so while earlier critics comment on the feminist aspects of Kauffman's writing,[viii] Jean-Paul and the other subtle queer tinges in her writing such as those in Characters on the Loose which recent queer theoretical work would help to illuminate have gone unexplored,[ix] and remain obscure like those in My Lovely Enemy.

Lynnette D'anna also began publishing openly queer novels in the 1990s, with five books appearing between 1992 and 2001. D'anna's novels are exuberantly, explicitly queer, and thus represent a watershed event in the history of both queer Mennonite literature and Mennonite literature in general. Their raw sexuality is a precedent for that found in the fiction of later writers such as Stephen Beachy and Casey Plett. However, although according to the rubric of how the field defines "Mennonite literature" (i.e., work by an author who is either an ethnic or a theological Mennonite whether they claim the identity "Mennonite" for themselves or not) D'anna's work is such, it is not explicitly Mennonite,[x] and her choice to stop using her Mennonite surname, Dueck, beginning with her second book might even indicate an attempted rejection of her Mennonite ties. Therefore, while Douglas Reimer's 2002 assertion that queer-themed Mennonite literature "is impossible to imagine"[xi] was factually inaccurate at the time, it was still correct in spirit to a certain extent.

Literature that was both explicitly queer and explicitly Mennonite, in part because of its publishing venues, began appearing around the same time as D'anna's fiction in two magazines, Mennonot and Rhubarb. Mennonot, which was queer-friendly from its 1993 inception until its demise ten years later, published a queer literature-laden issue in 1994 that included an interview with dancer Scott Lehman and what is probably the first piece of queer Mennonite theory, an essay by Kay Lorraine about the similarities between the queer and Mennonite communities. Rhubarb, the journal of the Mennonite Literary Society, began publishing explicitly queer literature at least as far back as 1999 with a poem by D'anna. It continued to publish queer poems and essays over the next decade and a half, including pieces by Jan Guenther Braun, Melanie Cameron, Wes Funk, and myself. The 2013 "Sex" issue contained a number of queer works from a variety of genres, and the journal continued to publish queer work until ceasing publication in late 2017.

Meanwhile, the queer Mennonite fiction boom that is now in full throttle began in 2008 with the publication of two novels, Braun's Somewhere Else and Christina Penner's Widows of Hamilton House. Each book concerns itself with finding and continuing to build a queer Mennonite tradition. Somewhere Else does so through its protagonist Jess's discovery of a chapbook of lesbian Mennonite poetry and her struggle to find a place in the story it tells. Widows of Hamilton House portrays a bisexual Mennonite librarian who discovers an uncanny queer archive as she works to build her own.

As the bibliography shows, since these two books were released there have been numerous other pieces of queer Mennonite fiction published, so many that I will not mention them all here. A few highlights include Stephen Beachy's boneyard, which queers the Martyrs Mirror, Corey Redekop's Husk, which is about a gay Mennonite zombie who saves the world, and Casey Plett's two books, her short story collection A Safe Girl to Love, winner of the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction, and her 2018 novel Little Fish, which both claim literary space for trans Mennonites.

A body of queer Mennonite literary criticism and theory has recently begun accumulating alongside this ever-proliferating creative writing. Sofia Samatar and Anita Hooley Yoder have published essays that explore non-Mennonite queer literature. In 2016 the Journal of Mennonite Studies published pieces from the "LGBT Fiction" panel at the 2015 Mennonite/s Writing conference in Fresno, California. Jeff Gundy's overview of the entire field of Mennonite literature, "Mennonite/s Writing: Explorations and Exposition," also published in 2016, includes an "LGBTQ" section. Queer work from the 2017 Mennonite/s Writing conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is now beginning to come into print.

As this brief overview of the field and the bibliography show, the stream of queer Mennonite literature flows unstoppably these days, including in this special issue, and can no longer be ignored. It is there waiting for readers and literary critics to discover it further.

A Bibliography of Queer Mennonite Literary Writing

I. Fiction, Poetry, and Drama by Openly Queer Authors or Containing Significant Queer Characters

Beachy, Stephen. boneyard. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus, 2011.

---. Distortion. New York: Southern Tier/Harrington Park, 2001.

---. Glory Hole. Tuscaloosa, AL: FC2, 2017.

---. Leahbelle Beachy and the Beings of Light. San Diego: Vapor Books, 2018.

---. Some Phantom/No Time Flat. 2006. Portland, OR: Verse Chorus, 2013.

---. The Whistling Song. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992.

---. "Who is Jake Yoder? 10 Minute Investigative Reports on boneyard." YouTube. 29 September 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3D7st2wA7kw.

---. Zeke Yoder vs. the Singularity. N.p.: CreateSpace, 2016.

Bechtel, Greg. Boundary Problems: Stories. Calgary: Freehand Books, 2014.

Bergen, David. The Retreat. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2008.

Braun, Jan Guenther. "Back Bencher." Rhubarb, Fall 2004, 9.

---. "Slam." Rhubarb, Fall 2004, 40.

---. Somewhere Else. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2008.

Cameron, Melanie. "An Open Hand." Rhubarb, Spring 2001, 39.

Cruz, Daniel Shank. "New York, or What I Learned in Voluntary Service." Rhubarb, Spring 2008, 21-26.

D'anna, Lynnette. Belly Fruit. Vancouver: New Star Books, 2000.

---. fool's bells. Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1999.

---. RagTimeBone. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1994.

--- [as Lynnette Dueck]. sing me no more. Vancouver: Press Gang, 1992.

---. "thump (my heart into." Rhubarb, Summer 1999, 27.

---. vixen. Toronto: Insomniac Press, 2001.

Dueck, Dora. "In the Village of Women." In What You Get at Home, 79-89. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 2012.

Fitzpatrick, Cat, and Casey Plett, ed. Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers. New York: Topside Press, 2017.

Funk, Wes. Baggage. Regina, SK: Benchmark Press, 2010.

---. Cherry Blossoms. Regina, SK: Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2012.

---. "Daddy." Rhubarb, Winter 2015, 62.

---. Dead Rock Stars: Illustrated Edition. Illustrated by Kevin Hastings. Regina, SK: Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2015.

---. Humble Beginnings. Saskatoon, SK: Wes Funk, 2006.

Harnish, Andrew. "An Excerpt from Plain Love." Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 297- 302.

Kauffman, Janet. The Body in Four Parts. St. Paul: Graywolf, 1993.

---. Characters on the Loose. St. Paul: Graywolf, 1997.

Kobernick, Hillary. "Date Night." Rhubarb, Winter 2015, 57.

Lachman, Becca J.R. "Rumspringa." In Other Acreage, 1-2. Boston: Gold Wake Press, 2015.

Mast, Benjamin. "Bachelor Meal." Rhubarb, Winter 2015, 58.

Penner, Christina. Widows of Hamilton House. Winnipeg: Enfield & Wizenty, 2008.

Penner, Jessica. Shaken in the Water. Tipp City, OH: Foxhead, 2013. Rpt. Newton, KS: Workplay Publishing, 2017.

Plett, Casey. Lizzy & Annie. Illus. Annie Mok. N.p.: Casey Plett and Annie Mok, 2013-2014.

---. A Safe Girl to Love. New York: Topside Press, 2014.

---. Little Fish. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018.

Redekop, Corey. Husk. Toronto: ECW Press, 2012.

Samatar, Sofia. "Fallow." In Tender: Stories, 206-61. Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2017.

---. The Winged Histories. Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2016.

Suzanne, Miriam. Riding SideSaddle*. 2016. https://oddbooksapp.com/book/ridingsidesaddle.

--- [as Eric M. Suzanne]. Riding SideSaddle*: A Novel. Version 1.0. Denver: SpringGun Press, 2015.

Suzanne, Miriam, Teacup Gorilla, Diana Dresser, and Michael Morgan. 10 Myths on the Proper Application of Beauty Products. 2016. https://oddbooksapp.com/book/10-myths.

Swartley, André. The Wretched Afterlife of Odetta Koop. Newton, KS: Workplay Publishing, 2015.

Wideman, Johnny. This Will Lead to Dancing. Stouffville, ON: Theatre of the Beat, 2017.

Wiebe, Rudy. "September: One." In My Lovely Enemy, 184-235. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1983.

II. Interviews, Memoirs, and Personal Essays[xii]

Braun, Jan Guenther. "A Complicated Becoming." Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 291- 97.

---. "From Policy to the Personal: One Queer Mennonite's Journey." Journal of Mennonite Studies 26 (2008): 69-80.

---. "Queer Sex at Bible College." Rhubarb, Spring 2013, 13-15.

---. "Whose Law? Queer Mennonites and Same-Sex Marriage." Journal of Mennonite Studies 32 (2014): 97-113.

Cruz, Daniel Shank. "Learning About Gender: Some Stories." Rhubarb, Winter 2015, 6-8.

---. "On Postcolonial Mennonite Writing: Theorizing a Queer Latinx Mennonite Life." Journal of Mennonite Writing 9, no. 4 (2017): https://mennonitewriting.org/journal/9/4/ postcolonial-mennonite-writing-theorizing-queer-la/?page=5#all.

---. "Reading My Life in the Text: Adventures of a Queer Mennonite Critic." Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 280-86.

Harnish, Andrew. "Espresso Con Panna." Atticus Review, 29 September 2016, https://atticusreview.org/espresso-con-panna/.

Funk, Wes. Wes Side Story: A Memoir. Regina, SK: Your Nickel's Worth Publishing, 2014.

Lehman, Scott. "Movement Artist Scott Lehman: Sacred Gestures." By Sheri Hostetler. Mennonot, Fall 1994, 6-10, http://www.keybridgeltd.com/mennonot/Issue3.pdf.

Loeppky, Lynette. Cease: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Desire. Fernie, BC: Oolichan Books, 2015.

Lorraine, Kay [as Kay Stoner]. "How the Peace Church Helped Make a Lesbian Out of Me." Mennonot, Fall 1994, 10-12, http://www.keybridgeltd.com/mennonot/Issue3.pdf.

Michelle, Caitlin. "Mennonite Strips the Little Black Dress: On Being Mennonite, Gay, and Naked." Rhubarb, Spring 2013, 11-12.

Nightingale, Larry. "Whithering Away? Reflections of a Sometime Celibate at 60." Rhubarb, Spring 2013, 8-10.

Outland, Amy Beth. "The First Time." Rhubarb, Summer 2016, 10-11.

III. Literary Criticism and Theory[xiii]

Cruz, Daniel Shank. "Archiving Queer Space in Widows of Hamilton House." In 11 Encounters with Mennonite Fiction, edited by Hildi Froese Tiessen, 103-18. Winnipeg: Mennonite Literary Society, 2017. Rpt. in Rhubarb 42.

---. "Learning to Listen in Greg Bechtel's 'Smut Stories'." In Education with the Grain of the Universe: A Peaceable Vision for the Future of Mennonite Schools, Colleges, and Universities, edited by J. Denny Weaver, 213-22. Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House, 2017.

---. "The Queer Call of Wes Funk." Journal of Mennonite Studies 36 (2018): 103-17.

---. Queering Mennonite Literature. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019, forthcoming.

---. "Queering Mennonite Literature." In After Identity: Mennonite Writing in North America, edited by Robert Zacharias, 143-58. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.

---. "Stephen Beachy's boneyard, the Martyrs Mirror, and Anabaptist Activism." Mennonite Life 70 (2016): https://ml.bethelks.edu/issue/vol-70/article/stephen-beachys-boneyard-the- martyrs-mirror-and-an/.

Gundy, Jeff. "Mennonite/s Writing: Explorations and Exposition." Mennonite Life 70 (2016): https://ml.bethelks.edu/issue/vol-70/article/mennonites-writing-explorations-and- exposition/.

Harnish, Andrew. "LGBT Mennonite Fiction: A Panel from Mennonite/s Writing VII: An Introductory Reflection." Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 279-80.

Plett, Casey. "Natural Links of Queer and Mennonite Literature." Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 286-90.

Samatar, Sofia. "Writing Queerly: Three Snapshots." Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2015, http://uncannymagazine.com/article/writing-queerly-three-snapshots/.

Yoder, Anita Hooley. "I've Read Too Much Poetry for That: Poetry, Personal Transformation, and Peace." CrossCurrents64, no. 4 (2014): 454-65.

[i] Jan Guenther Braun, "From Policy to the Personal: One Queer Mennonite's Journey," Journal of Mennonite Studies 26 (2008): 70.

[ii] Going even further back, the first reference to a queer character in Mennonite literature that I know of is in one of the earliest pieces of Mennonite literature in English, Gordon Friesen's Flamethrowers (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1936), 156. This citation hints at the fact that there have always been queer Mennonites even though we have often had to hide on the margins of the Mennonite community.

[iii] Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013), 43.

[iv] See, for example, Christina Penner's Widows of Hamilton House, Jan Guenther Braun's Somewhere Else, Stephen Beachy's boneyard [sic], and Sofia Samatar's "Fallow." I examine this trend more thoroughly in my forthcoming book, Queering Mennonite Literature.

[v] Rudy Wiebe, My Lovely Enemy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983), 229-34.

[vi] One explicit way this influence manifests itself is through citations of these feminist writers' work in queer Mennonite literature. For instance, a character reads Brandt's poetry in Jan Guenther Braun's A Safe Girl to Love (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Press, 2008), 13; and a character reads Kauffman's fiction in André Swartley's The Wretched Afterlife of Odetta Koop (Newton, KS: Workplay Publishing, 2015), 28.

[vii] Janet Kauffman, The Body in Four Parts (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1993), 99-100.

[viii] See, for example, Todd Davis, "Laboring Through The Weather Book: The Value of Work in the Poetry of Janet Kauffman," in John D. Roth and Ervin Beck, ed., Migrant Muses: Mennonite/s Writing in the U.S. (Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1998), 159-68; and Jessica W. Lapp, "Embodied Voices, Imprisoned Bodies: Women and Words in Janet Kauffman's Collaborators," in Roth and Beck, Migrant Muses, 135-44.

[ix] For instance, in the story "26 Acts in 26 Letters" there are same-sex couplings, but there are also heterosexual couplings using sexual paraphernalia that are queer as well. Janet Kauffman, Characters on the Loose (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1997), 67-95, especially 78-85.

[x] The only explicitly Mennonite elements of D'anna's five novels are characters with stereotypically Mennonite surnames in RagTimeBone and Belly Fruit, and a minor character named Menno in fool's bells. The latter book also includes a character who commits suicide because her religious group, the "Monochromes," who are clearly thinly veiled Mennonites, "don't see colour; their world is black and white," and thus they have condemned her as a sinner. Lynnette D'anna, RagTimeBone (Vancouver: New Star Books, 1994), 3; Belly Fruit (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2000), 11, 83; fool's bells (Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1999), 30, 38.

[xi] Douglas Reimer, Surplus at the Border: Mennonite Writing in Canada (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 2002), 199.

[xii] Note that personal websites are not included here.

[xiii] Note that book reviews are not included here.

About the Author

Daniel Shank Cruz

Daniel Shank Cruz grew up in New York City and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Goshen College (B.A.) and Northern Illinois University (M.A., Ph.D.). Cruz is the author of Queering Mennonite Literature: Archives, Activism, and the Search for Community (Penn State University Press, 2019), and he has published writing in a variety of venues such as Crítica Hispánica, Mennonite Quarterly Review, the New York Times, and several book collections. His research interests include the intersections between ethnic minority literatures (especially Mennonite literature and Latinx literature) and queer literatures, archiving, and the role of geographical space in literature. He is an Associate Professor of English at Utica College in upstate New York.