I was telling someone recently about a new series we’re launching at Herald Press. Entitled ‘Plainspoken: Real-Life Stories of Amish and Mennonites’, the series contains books about daily life and faith written by Amish and Plain Mennonite writers. The person I was talking to suggested that I’ll likely have to do extra-heavy editing of these writers, considering that they have only gone through the eighth grade.
Not necessarily, I told him. The first book in the series, which will be published in October, contains some of the best, funniest writing I’ve ever edited. An elementary teacher and an auctioneer, this Old Order writer has a knack for writing laugh-out-loud stories about his sassy students, prankster friends, and a younger sister who managed to be late for church twice in one day. Most of my edits are just icing on what is already a very tasty literary cake.
My acquaintance is not alone in thinking that Amish people must not be good readers or writers. Granted, there are likely lots of Amish folks, just like in the general population, who dislike reading books or writing. But the Amish have fewer digital distractions than most of us, never facing the dilemma I encountered last week: whether to read a novel or watch an episode of The Good Wife. I’ve talked to Amish people who’ve read Charles Dickens and Toni Morrison and Annie Proulx, and many love the writings of authors like Max Lucado and Rick Warren.
And in terms of writing: the author of the first Plainspoken book has lots of company. The authors of the The Amish write that despite suspicion of higher education, “the Amish have prolific writers, and every large settlement—and some smaller ones—include Amish printers and publishers.” Amish scribes write about their lives and communities in publications like The Budget and Die Botschaft and a plethora of other Amish-run periodicals. Amish writers have produced textbooks, novels, genealogies, cookbooks, and doctrinal works. Most of these find readers only within Amish communities, but the work of a few writers, like Amish-fiction novelist Linda Byler and now the writers of the Plainspoken series, are available to a general audience.
So while Amish life spills over with work, children, church, and household responsibilities, Amish readers and writers, like readers and writers everywhere, manage to snatch time in their busy days to sit down with a book or a pen. Some of those writers will keep their writing close to them, in diaries or memoirs for their grandchildren. I’m grateful that others will draft and revise and publish their work in books that—if we’re lucky—the rest of us might get to read.
Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of trade books at Herald Press. Her book about Amish-themed fiction, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013. The first book in the Plainspoken series, Chasing the Amish Dream, will be available this fall.
Purchase Valerie’s books here.