I’ve been thinking and writing about Mennonite literature a lot lately, and this latest round of book-buying includes some of the earliest novels published in the field. It also includes one of the more recent works of Mennonite fiction and a book by someone with a Mennonite-sounding name (Kroetsch), though to my knowledge he has no Mennonite ties. Aside from Flamethrowers, all of the books take place in Canada.
Friesen, Gordon. Flamethrowers. Caldwell: Caxton, 1936.
Flamethrowers is to my knowledge the earliest literary novel by a Mennonite published in the United States. It, like Kliewer’s book (and arguably like Wiebe’s), is rather critical of the community. I bought it from one of amazon.com’s booksellers. Hossack’s, Kliewer’s, and Wiebe’s books were also purchased via this method.
Hossack, Darcy Friesen. Mennonites Don’t Dance. Saskatoon: Thistledown, 2010.
I try to keep up on writing by as many contemporary Mennonite writers as possible, and just heard about Hossack’s short story collection from a friend. This person passed along the rumor that the publisher insisted on the title rather than on Hossack’s choice because books with “Mennonite/s” in the title sell better, especially in Canada where Mennonites are seen more as an ethnic group than as a religious one.
Kliewer, Warren. The Violators. Francestown: Jones, 1964.
This is another early example of U.S. Mennonite fiction. I am tickled by the juxtaposition between the cover’s bucolic illustration and the book’s violent title.
Kroetsch, Robert. The Stone Hammer Poems: 1960-1975. 1975. Lantzville: Oolichan, 1983.
I bought this at Back of Beyond Books in Moab, Utah, which is an excellent new-and-used independent bookstore. I’ve been wanting to investigate non-Mennonite Canadian literature more, and Kroetsch is an author in this category whom I’ve heard of, so I decided to buy his book. It is a lovely aesthetic object.
Wiebe, Rudy. Peace Shall Destroy Many. Toronto: McClelland, 1962.
I already have the 1964 Eerdmans paperback edition of Peace Shall Destroy Many, which is the most important early piece of Mennonite literature, but I wanted a copy of the McClelland and Stewart hardcover edition because of its unique back cover, pictured here. The front cover of both the hardcover and first paperback printing has a white background with red lettering for the title and author’s name, and black lettering for the controversial plot description (Wiebe was the editor of a church newspaper at the time, not a “theologian.” He strongly objected to this description, but the publisher insisted on it). The back cover’s reversal of these colors is striking and foreboding. I acquired this copy for only $7.00 even though it is signed by Wiebe.