Raylene Hinz-Penner: A Tribute

Presented at the Mennonite/s Writing: IX, October 2022 Conference

Raylene Hinz-Penner has offered so much acknowledgment, in print and in person, of the value of others, I as well as others know she herself deserves a tribute. 

As a teacher at Bethel College in North Newton and Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, Raylene has inspired many students who attended her creative writing and contemporary literature classes. Many of us continue to write and teach, using Raylene as one of our early models. In her classroom, Raylene’s humor and honesty about her writing practice always emphasized writing as a life-long pursuit, a pursuit that values observing and understanding the natural environment and our relationship to it. She taught us to listen deeply to the words of other writers and to also listen to silences. From Raylene, we learned how writing can help us understand our own histories and to notice and preserve shared moments with the varied people in our lives– family members, friends and colleagues, our teachers and students, and those within and beyond our communities. She also has led many of us to these important and unique Mennonite writing conferences.

As a writer, Raylene continues to offer readers a richer appreciation for Kansas and Oklahoma. Through her vision and her writing, many have come to understand these regions’ varied topographies, peoples, and complex histories. Those who read her essays and poems come to know the quiet and often disarming power of the prairie’s horizon and the varied colors of the Flint Hills, as well as the social history of Raylene’s childhood home, which she writes about in her book East of Liberal: Notes on the Land. Raylene’s writing continues to explore with urgency our changing environment while also honoring those who embody the land and its past, such as the Cheyenne Peace Chief and Mennonite minister, Lawrence Hart in her book Searching for Sacred Ground and her new book, Field Notes on the Levee.  

As those of us who participated in the panel “Tribute to an Influential Teacher and Writer, Raylene Hinz-Penner” illustrated, Raylene’s continuing work and generous and vibrant personality have an utterly original resonance of deep value––a resonance of greater value than I suspect she realizes or gives herself credit for—in this Mennonite writing community and beyond it.

Thank you, Raylene.

About the Author

Jennifer Sears

Jennifer Sears has published work in Ninth Letter, Fence Magazine, and So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Literature and Art, the Boston Globe, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood , the anthology, Lost and Found (2): Stories of New York and writes for online journals including Arabic Literature in Translation and Gilded Serpent: Journal of Middle Eastern Music and Dance. She grew up attending Southside Mennonite Fellowship in Elkhart, Indiana and graduated from Bethel College where she first studied writing with Raylene Heinz-Penner. Her website is: www.HolisticBellyDanceProject.com .