Scores of Mennonite writers, poets, scholars and lovers of literature will gather at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University in March for the seventh “Mennonite/s Writing Conference.” During the past several decades, Mennonite creative writing in North America has flourished. Dozens of critically acclaimed novels, short story collections and poetry books by Mennonite writers — as well as the emergence of the Center for Mennonite Writing at Goshen (Ind.) College and a growing subfield of Mennonite literary criticism — are evidence.
Far less visible has been a parallel renaissance of writing among more conservative Mennonite groups. For 20 years, Ink and Quill Quarterly, a 16-page publication “for poets and writers from the Plain Churches,” has given voice to dozens of writers who are eager to share their love of literature — particularly poetry — with each other.
Each issue of Ink and Quill Quarterly begins with an essay analyzing qualities of a classic poem printed on the cover. The cover of a recent issue included the final stanza from William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” followed by a short essay with references to blank verse, iambic feet, unstressed syllables and a general encouragement “to allow the meanings of cryptic phrases to open slowly in your mind.”
Subsequent sections in Ink and Quill Quarterly address a range of creative interests. “The Classroom” offers practical pedagogical tips for teaching a specific poem in a school setting. In a column titled “Touching Up,” the editors provide a gentle critique of reader-submitted poems, giving suggestions for how a poem could be improved. “The Way of Words” is a prose article on an aspect of linguistics or the creative writing process. A recent contribution reflected on the author’s budding awareness of the joy of writing and her growing confidence as a poet, culminating in the first publication of one of her poems. An artist, Amanda Yoder, contributes a regular column called “Art Vision” that offers basic instructions for drawing and painting, and occasional musings on art appreciation. “The Chimney Corner” allows readers to respond to previous issues. “The Book Nook” lists a host of poetry books, children’s stories, novels and reference works available for sale.
But the heart of Ink and Quill Quarterly is the poetry submitted by readers. A dozen or more poems under the heading “Buds and Blossoms: Heartbeats of the Soul” fill several pages of each issue. Many of the poems address ordinary life events — nature, family relationships or a work setting — reframed in a larger perspective, often revealing a new insight or a deeper understanding of God’s presence in the world. The overwhelming majority of poems are contributed by women, as is the hand-drawn artwork scattered throughout each issue.
Ink and Quill Quarterly fills a literary niche in the culture of Old Order and conservative Mennonite groups. It provides an outlet for creative literary and artistic expression, particularly among women. It serves as a vehicle for continuing education — an especially important function in groups that may not permit formal education beyond the eighth or 12th grade. Most important, it creates a sense of community among a host of gifted writers, united by their love for a well-turned phrase and the power of words to reveal deeper mysteries in life’s ordinary routines.
To subscribe, send $10 to: Ink and Quill, 1068 W. Kittle Rd., Mio, MI 48647.
John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism.