Reading Mennonite Writing Now: 2022 John and Margaret Friesen Lectures

2022, 2:29:28 min

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Mennonite literary studies in North America is in a period of transition, with new scholarly avenues opening as critics respond to a fast-growing body of Mennonite fiction, poetry, and life writing. What does Mennonite literature look like today, and how can we read it most productively?

Lecture 1 | Distant Reading, Mennonite Writing: On the Past of Mennonite Literature in North America

The first talk in this two-part lecture considers the quiet role that literary history plays in focussing our collective critical gaze, and draws on recent work in the digital humanities to reconsider what we think we know about the emergence of Mennonite writing in English. What happens to our understanding of Mennonite literature if we take a step back and rethink the assumptions and parameters that helped to establish it as a field of study?

Lecture 2 | Endure: On the Future of Mennonite Literature in North America

The second talk builds on our distant reading of the field’s past with close readings of two works of contemporary Mennonite literature: in Little Fish, Casey Plett presents a vibrant but vulnerable community of trans women in Winnipeg, several of whom are looking to the Mennonite past in search of a future community; in Fallow, Sofia Samatar weaves together theological and migration histories to present a colony of intergalactic Mennonites far in the future. In the work of Plett and Samatar we find not only two of the most acclaimed works of Mennonite writing in recent years, but also two of its most generous investments in possible Mennonite futures.

Dr. Robert Zacharias is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at York University in Toronto, and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Mennonite Studies. He is editor of After Identity: Mennonite Writing in North America (2016), and author of Rewriting the Break Event: Mennonites and Migration in Canadian Literature (2012). His new book, Reading Mennonite Writing: A Study in Minor Transnationalism, is forthcoming this spring from Penn State University Press.

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