Introduction: Queer Mennonite Literature

Any reasonable observer of the field of Mennonite literature must agree that it is currently flourishing. Alongside a still-active first generation of Mennonite writers, a second, prolific generation of writers has emerged.[i] In addition to this creative work, new scholarly collections such as After Identity: Mennonite Writing in North America and 11 Encounters with Mennonite Fiction are evidence of the field's robust discourse.[ii]

Queer Mennonite literature is becoming more and more visible as a movement within this recent activity. Lots of younger Mennonite authors are writing queerly, whether in terms of writing about LGBTQ2IA+[iii] experiences or also writing about the need for radical societal transformation, as in the queer theory sense of the term. But the roots of queer Mennonite literature stretch back into the 1990s.

This special issue of the Journal of Mennonite Writing on "Queer Mennonite Literature" includes new work from both of these generations. The issue contains work by nine authors, a number which does not exhaust all of the Mennonite writers who are writing queerly. It also encompasses multiple genres. The issue begins with two poems by the godmother of queer Mennonite literature, Lynnette D'anna. The first examines sexual abuse in the Mennonite community, and the second celebrates the excitement and trepidation at the beginning of a new sexual relationship. The issue continues with a triptych of related pieces by Kandis Friesen which she calls essays even as they muddy the boundaries between genres. Friesen's work focuses on archiving, which has been an important subject in queer theory over the past fifteen years, and which serves as an appropriate framework through which to view the entire issue because of how its contents document queer Mennonite experience.

This documentation continues with three excerpts from novels in progress. Andrew Harnish's piece from Plain Love explores what it is like growing up in a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, community so sheltered that even basic dishes such as fettucine alfredo are considered exotic.[iv] Jan Guenther Braun's scene from Don't Drive Too Fast, Don't Stay Too Late, and Be Good moves to the city as the narrator reminisces about her Mennonite childhood while on a first date with another woman. The fiction section of the issue concludes with an excerpt from the third volume of Stephen Beachy's surrealist Amish Terror science fiction trilogy, which is forthcoming in 2019.[v]

Three personal essays follow. Kay Lorraine's "The Finest of Lines" extends her foundational 1994 essay "How the Peace Church Helped Make a Lesbian Out of Me's" reflections on being a queer Mennonite.[vi] Miriam Suzanne's "Rejecting Maleness" explores her journey as a Mennonite woman who is trans. Becca J.R. Lachman's "A Birth, a Flag, and My Introduction to Military Erotica" examines an experience that was queer in more ways than one that has helped Lachman to reflect on the ways Mennonite homophobia, sexism, and racism are intertwined.

The issue concludes with a bibliography of queer Mennonite literature compiled by myself for readers who are interested in further exploring the field. The bibliography shows that queer Mennonite literature will play an influential role in Mennonite literature's continuing evolution, and that the work in this issue offers a mere taste of the queer writing that is available.

[i] Recent works by first generation writers include Armin Wiebe's Grandmother, Laughing (Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 2017) and Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin's Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018). Abigail Carl-Klassen's Shelter Management (Chicago: Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Sofia Samatar's Tender: Stories (Easthampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2017), and Casey Plett's Little Fish (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018) are examples of recent work by second generation authors other than those included in this issue.

[ii] Robert Zacharias, ed., After Identity: Mennonite Writing in North America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015); Hildi Froese Tiessen, ed., 11 Encounters with Mennonite Fiction (Winnipeg: Mennonite Literary Society, 2017).

[iii] This acronym, which is usually abbreviated as LGBT or LGBTQ, stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirit, intersex, asexual, other.

[iv] For another excerpt from Plain Love, see Andrew Harnish, "An Excerpt from Plain Love," Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 297-302.

[v] The first two volumes are Zeke Yoder vs. the Singularity (N.p.: CreateSpace, 2016) and Leahbelle Beachy and the Beings of Light (San Diego: Vapor Books, 2018).

[vi] See "How the Peace Church Helped Make a Lesbian Out of Me," Mennonot (Fall 1994), 10-12, http://www.keybridgeltd.com/mennonot/Issue3.pdf.

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.