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2022 John and Margaret Friesen Lectures to explore Mennonite literature then-and-now.

2022 John and Margaret Friesen Lectures to explore Mennonite literature then-and-now.

What does Mennonite literature look like today, and how can we read it productively? This is the question Assistant Professor of English at York University, Robert Zacharias seeks to answer at the 2022 John and Margaret Friesen Lectures.

On Thursday, March 3, Professor Zacharias will present two live and in-person lectures at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) concerning the role of Mennonite literature in our current cultural context. Zacharias will investigate the historical background of the subject to possibly catch a glimpse into the future of Mennonite literature in North America.

For the past 20 years, the John and Margaret Friesen Lectures have explored Mennonite identity and experiences that have affected the distinct community.

As the Mennonite experience continually changes, so too do the ways we interpret and share those stories.

"One of the pleasures of Mennonite literature is that there is so much of it, and one of my central arguments during these lectures is that there are many ways to engage it," says Zacharias.

The professors' first talk, Distant Reading, Mennonite Writing: On the Past of Mennonite Literature in North America, will re-evaluate our collective understanding of the emergence of Mennonite writing. "Is it possible to rethink the field's past in a way that helps us reinvigorate some of the many authors and books that are often left unread?" asks Zacharias.

The second talk, occurring later in the evening, will include close readings of contemporary literature. His lecture, Endure: On the Future of Mennonite Literature in North America, will draw on two texts to analyze the current state and future of the field.

Robert Zacharias
Dr. Robert Zacharias, Associate Professor of English
at York University

Zacharias says, "Scholars have often focused on "transgressive Mennonite literature," or what once scholar calls the "kiss it goodbye" narrative that can be read in many early Mennonite novels. What I see in more recent work, however, is a different kind of Mennonite writing, with characters who self-consciously return to—and re-engage—the community's past in the service of a more expansive present."

Zacharias says the sheer quantity of Mennonite literature adds to the enduring, pleasurable quality of the sub-genre. 

Sue Sorensen,  Associate Professor of English and Director of CMU Press, which has published many Mennonite books, says the two lectures provided by Zacharias are ones to look forward to. "Rob Zacharias is one of our most knowledgeable scholars about Mennonite writing in North America. He knows the past and present of Mennonite literature intimately," says Sorensen. 

"Basically, what Rob Zacharias doesn't know about Mennonite literature probably isn't worth knowing," asserts Sorensen.

She continues to say, "There are some exciting books being written which indicates just how colourful and diverse the Mennonite world truly is."

Regarding the lectures, Zacharias simply says, "Just come with your curiosity and your love of literature, and let's have a conversation about books."

More information on the John and Margaret Lectures can be found at cmu.ca/friesenlectures.

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