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Past/Present


Introduction to the Issue


Past/Present

The global pandemic has changed many of the ways in which we live in the world, as well as our place in it. Along with its many challenges, this period has witnessed new creativity among writers that share a connection to Mennonite heritage. As the world emerges from the pandemic, one of the things we anticipate is the rescheduling of the twice deferred (because of COVID-19) Mennonite/s IX Writing Conference. The conference, which will celebrate 30+ years of “Mennonite/s Writing,” will be held at Goshen College on September 29-October 2, 2022. The conference theme of Past/Present will celebrate the 30 + years of artistic community that has emerged from these conferences, and look forward to envisioning the next 30 years.

This issue of the Journal offers a foretaste of the Past/Present theme of the conference. In addition to reviews of a number of new and/or innovative works written before or during the pandemic, we feature poetry by Connie Braun and an essay by David Waltner-Toews. Braun's three poems from a new collection in progress, "The Stellium in My House," builds present lyrics over maps for interpreting the past -- astrological and historical. In David Waltner-Toews' "The Professor, Four Quartets, and an Epiphany," pays homage to Mary Eleanor Bender, who was Waltner-Toews' literature professor at Goshen College. This engaging person reminiscence, enriched with a life-long friendship and recent interviews, brings to life an era in which Mennonite education literally informed and shaped the artists and readers of the next generation. Mary Eleanor Bender, along with Mary Oyer, also honored here, were several pioneering women artists and intellectuals of this era.

In the interests of covering new work, I wanted to include a review of Nightbitch, Rachel Yoder’s debut novel that has gained impressive media attention. When a photo of the book's cover, along with a few underlined pages, popped up on the Facebook feed of my friend and editor, Shea Tuttle, I knew she’d be the perfect reviewer. Not only are her children younger than mine, she also owns a dog. She wrote: “I just finished this book and don’t know how to recommend it highly enough. . . For mothers. For people who love mothers. For people who have ever wanted to howl. For artists of any kind. For people who yearn.” In her review we find out just why she does recommend it so highly.

Two reviews by Ervin Beck offer perspectives on recent work:

Shale Play by Julia Kasdorf and Steven Rubin is a collaboration in poems and photographs that explores and witnesses the effects of fracking on northwestern Pennsylvania communities. Published before the pandemic, its environmental theme and its clear, compassionate portrayals of people on all sides of the issue are as relevant today as they were a few years ago. Even more so. This is a model of art in the service of social justice.

Unpardonable Sins, just published this year, is a first detective novel by David Saul Bergman, the pen name for the team of Daniel Born and Dale Suderman. It weaves biblical themes with the provocation and pace of the thriller, bringing a Mennonite pastor character into an unusual role.

Charity Gingerich’s first poetry collection, Almost June, was also published pre-pandemic, but in all of the kerfuffle of our times, the review was lost and then found. Gingerich is deep into a second collection, but her first still deserves our deepened attention. Connie Braun is a sensitive reviewer of these contemporary lyric poems infused with a longing for the ecstatic and grounded in a life lived close to nature and embedded in community.

We hope you enjoy this issue and read some of the works here recommended. We also hope that David’s essay on Mary Eleanor Bender inspires you to think kindly on your teachers and to appreciate the ways that they initiated you into the great community of readers and books.

Ann Hostetler

11 November 2021

About the Author

Ann Hostetler

Ann Hostetler is the editor of A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (Univ. of Iowa Press 2003) and author of a collection of poems, Empty Room with Light (Dreamseeker Books 2002). Her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies including The American Scholar, Nimrod, Poet Lore, The Valparaiso Poetry Review, Literary Mama, Rhubarb Magazine, Testimonies and Tongue Screws: Poems, Stoires, and Essays Inspired by the Martyr's Mirror, and Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets (2010). A professor of English at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, she is the web site editor of the Center for Mennonite Writing and co-editor of its Journal.