Vol. 4, No. 1

The memoir and creative nonfiction issue for 2012.

In this issue:

  • 1 read more In This Issue

    In This Issue

    by Ann Hostetler

    Memoir has come of age in Mennonite literature. Family history, genealogy, and oral history have traditionally been rich areas in Mennonite writing, but the literary memoir is more recent territory. Those hesitating to use the personal voice and to name a portion of individual truth for a wider audience, however, have been nudged toward publication by Rhoda Janzen’s recent bestseller, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (Henry Holt 2009).i While widely praised as a witty memoir with undertones of healing and reconciliation, Janzen’s book has been highly controversial in Mennonite settings, where strong networks of community make the subjects …

  • 0 read more Friendly Confines

    Friendly Confines

    by Matthew Kauffman Smith

    On the first day of school in 1984, I planned to wear my usual summer clothes: red shorts and a T-shirt that clashed. I hadn’t yet learned that maroon, orange and purple didn’t complement red. The day before school, however, I started to have second thoughts on the whole shorts-wearing business. I always worried about breaking the rules.

    “Do you think I can wear shorts to school?” I asked my parents.

    “Oh, I would think,” Mom said, accenting “think.”

    “Matthew, it’s 98 degrees outside,” Dad said. “They have to.”

    I had asked a silly question. My family had moved from …

  • 3 read more Cain’s Legacy: Marked By Plain Sorrow

    Cain’s Legacy: Marked By Plain Sorrow

    by Eileen R. Kinch

    All around me was a familiar sea of Plain people. I stood in a hotel ballroom, waiting in line to register for a natural foods conference. A German dialect called Pennsylvaanisch Deitsch flowed in and out of my ears. Most of it I didn’t understand, but every now and then, I caught a word or phrase before it rushed out of the realm of my understanding. Gooten Mariye. Good morning. Holde mei Sitz. Save my seat. The Amish were everywhere, and the colors swirled in front of my eyes: burgundy, green, deep blue, lots of black. There were a …

  • 2 read more Are You a Little Dutchman?

    Are You a Little Dutchman?

    by James C. Juhnke

    In the spring of 1942, not long after my fourth birthday, I saw my grandpa sitting on the weathered board base of the old Woodmanse steel windmill on the Juhnke farmyard.

    I went over and sat beside Grandpa, resting my elbows on my knees like he did. He was chewing on a stem of green grass. We sat silent, facing southward, looking across the yard toward the flowering mulberry tree that stood between the farm house and the chicken shed. The windmill wheel with its curved galvanized blades was barely creaking some twenty-five feet above us. The stock tank was …

  • 1 read more Jacob and Agnes

    Jacob and Agnes

    by Loretta Willems

    I had just left the ranch that Stanley and I had leased. I am thinking it was 80 acres of a vineyard. I sold it back to the owner. My brother Henry had just died, so I went to San Francisco to meet Stanley. He was singing taverns for a living, so I joined him. Making a living that way was hard, so we decided to take the Delta Queen to go to Stockton to try it there. I felt like going to church, and hearing that there was a Mennonite church there I decided to checkit out.

    Arriving …

  • 0 read more Four Poems

    Four Poems

    by Peter Miller

    Lyric poetry can feel at home among prose memoirs. Both genres are fundamentally autobiographical and, as Ann points out in her introduction to this issue, “privilege the individual point of view.” How something is said is just as important as what is said. The author of lyric may sometimes operate through a fictionalized persona, but even then his or her purpose is to express a singular voice with its own unique concerns, experiences, and desires. As such, lyric, like memoir, is temporal. The passage of time provides the framework for both genres, whether measured in decades or, more likely for lyric, in minutes or even seconds. I wrote the four poems below after graduating from Goshen College and moving to Salem, Oregon, where I still live. They are certainly not a record of life since college, but they bear traces of the changes in geography and perspective that have accompanied the past two and a half years. I hope you enjoy them. -- Peter Miller

  • 4 read more Memoir: A Troubled Genre

    Memoir: A Troubled Genre

    by J. Daniel Hess

    To clarify what I mean by memoir as a “troubled genre,” I shall first tell a personal story. I will write a memoir about a memoir that I wrote and had published.

    Having been inspired by others’ stories, I decided to write my own personal stories, beginning with childhood. What happened to me as a young child? What did I do? Where did I go? Whom did I know? When and where did I learn? Over the course of several years I wrote perhaps 50 or 60 such accounts. Some time later when I showed them to a colleague he …