Here is the abstract:
The Call to Critique: William Stafford as Anabaptist Poet
Literature carries the power of revelation. Creative writings make known to all the world the character of the author and the contexts that exist beyond the ink on the page. Literary canons, however, do not contain many works by Brethren and Mennonite writers. For nearly five hundred years (Mennonites began in 1525, and Brethren in 1708), Anabaptists instinctively struggled to be, like Jesus’ original followers, “not of this world” (John 18:36), instead claiming citizenship in the realm where God alone is sovereign, while desiring to avoid the gaze of “this world,” including the intimate view that literary works very often engender.
This ‘other-worldly’ Anabaptist conscience urged the earliest communities of the movement into spiritual and physical isolation from those outside the boundaries of their paradigm. Toward this end, Anabaptists fashioned religious, ethical and ethnic identities distinct from the predominant cultures of Europe and North America. Discovery by outsiders very often meant violent persecution or exile until Anabaptists in the late nineteenth century began to walk away from their distinctiveness and assimilate to the norms of the cultural and religious majorities of “this world.” As threats from this once alien sphere gradually subsided, some Anabaptists felt free to speak creatively and critically of their experiences within the community; 1962 saw publication of the first Anabaptist literary novel, the controversial Peace Shall Destroy Many by Mennonite writer Rudy Wiebe. Not surprisingly, few Anabaptists rejoiced to see themselves portrayed on paper for a faceless public audience. “The world” would know their deepest secrets, their most embarrassing peculiarities, or perhaps worst of all, their failure to live up to their own decrees—a public self-revelation many Anabaptists shunned.
This revelation is exactly what inspires Anabaptists to write literary texts. There exists in current Anabaptist identity a chasm between past and present expressions of the community in relation to their calling as a people in history. The vocation of Anabaptist literary writers is to explore this emptiness—not necessarily to fill or bridge it, but to recognize it, struggle with it, and most importantly, to speak from it. Anabaptist poets and storytellers not only claim this anxiety of the gap; they call their communities to do the same. Brethren poet William Stafford (Manchester College professor of English, 1956; U.S. Poet Laureate, 1970), illustrates this task of the writer in the opening stanza of “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” the poem this paper critiques:
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
(The Way it Is, 1998)