Vern Thiessen

Vern Thiessen is one of Canada’s most produced playwrights. His plays have been seen across Canada, the United States, Asia, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Europe, and New Zealand.

Thiessen has written for stage, radio, and television. Well known works include Shakespeare’s Will, Lenin’s Embalmers, Apple, Einstein’s Gift, The Courier, The Resurrection of John Frum, and Vimy. Einstein’s Gift, Lenin’s Embalmers, and A More Perfect Union have all been produced Off-Broadway. He had received numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, Canada’s highest honor for playwriting.

He is a past president of both the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and the Writer’ Guild of Alberta. He is currently an Associate Artist with Epic Theater Ensemble in New York City, where he writes, teaches, and acts. He is also an advisory board member of New York’s Wingspan Arts, and a member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Thiessen divides his time between Canada and New York City. For more about his plays, honors, and projects, click here.

Gregory Orr

Considered by many to be a master of short, lyric free verse, Gregory Orr is the author of ten collections of poetry. His most recent volumes include How Beautiful The Beloved, published in 2009, and Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved, published in 2005, both by Copper Canyon Press. Orr is also a writer of nonfiction and personal essays. His memoir The Blessing was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fifty best non-fiction books of 2002. His prose book, Poetry as Survival (2002), an extended meditation on the dynamics and function of the personal lyric, was characterized by Adrienne Rich as “a wise and passionate book.”

Much of Gregory Orr’s early work is concerned with seminal events from his childhood, including a hunting accident when he was twelve in which he accidentally shot and killed his younger brother, followed shortly by his mother’s unexpected death, and his father’s later addiction to amphetamines. In the opening of his essay, “The Making of Poems,” broadcast on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Orr said, “I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions and traumatic events that come with being alive.”

He teaches at the University of Virginia, where he founded the MFA Program in Writing in 1975. He lives with his wife, the painter Trisha Orr, and their two daughters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Click here for a more complete list of his publications and many honors.

More Featured Writers and Presenters

Katherine Arnoldi, PhD Creative Writing, has received two New York Foundation of the Arts Awards (Fiction, Drawing), a DeJur, a Henfield Transatlantic Award and the Newhouse Award. Her graphic novel, The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom (1998), was named one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by Entertainment Weekly, received two American Library Association Awards, was nominated for the Harvey and Will Eisner Awards and is optioned by the Kennedy Marshall Company. All Things Are Labor, Stories (2007) won the Juniper Prize. She was a Fulbright Fellow to Paraguay (2008-9).

Todd Davis is the author of three full-length collections of poetry—The Least of These, Some Heaven, and Ripe—as well as of a limited edition chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems. He edited the nonfiction collection Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball, and co-edited Making Poems: 40 Poems with Commentary by the Poets. His poetry has been featured on the radio by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and by Ted Kooser in his syndicated newspaper column American Life in Poetry. His poems have won the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize, have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and have appeared in such journals and magazines as Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Iowa Review, The North American Review, Indiana Review, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Image, Ecotone, Orion, West Branch, River Styx, Quarterly West, Green Mountains Review, Sou’wester, and Poetry East. He teaches creative writing, American literature, and environmental studies at Penn State University’s Altoona College and is a member of University Mennonite Church in State College, Pennsylvania.

Peter Dula is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture at Eastern Mennonite University. He received a PhD from Duke University in theology and ethics in 2004. Before coming to EMU in 2006 he was the Mennonite Central Committee Iraq Program Coordinator. He has taught at Lancaster Mennonite High School and at the Meserete Kristos College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he was a Fulbright scholar in 2001-2. Oxford University Press published his book Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology in 2011.

Dora Dueck is a Winnipeg writer and editor. Her recent novel, This Hidden Thing, won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction at the 2011 Manitoba Book Awards. Her other writing includes the novel Under the Still Standing Sun, two contract biographies, and short stories in journals such as Prairie Fire, Room, and Rhubarb. She has filled various editorial positions at the Mennonite Brethren Herald. Currently, she is working on her third novel. A collection of her short fiction will be published by Turnstone Press in fall 2012. She and husband Helmut have three grown children and six grandchildren.

Jeff Gundy teaches at Bluffton University, where he helped to create the writing major. His books of poetry include Spoken among the Trees (2007) and Deerflies (2004); prose books include Walker in the Fog: On Mennonite Writing (2005) and Scattering Point: The World in a Mennonite Eye (2000). Recent work is also in The Sun, Kenyon Review, The Georgia Review, Image, Christian Century, and Cincinnati Review. A graduate of Goshen College, he will return there in spring 2012 to teach an intensive poetry class. His current projects include manuscripts on theopoetics and on his 2008 experience in Salzburg as a Fulbright lecturer.

Scott Holland is Professor of Theology & Culture at Bethany Theological Seminary in partnership with the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana. He is a contributing editor for CrossCurrents journal in New York where he writes at the intersection of religion and literature or theopoetics. He has most recently served on the international writing committee of the World Council of Churches for the publication of An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace.

Ann Hostetler is the author of a volume of poetry, Empty Room with Light, and the editor of A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (2003). She is also the Web site editor for, which hosts The Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing. Her poems have appeared in The American Scholar, Literary Mama, Mid-America Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Washington Square, and other journals and anthologies. Her scholarship on multicultural American literature has appeared in PMLA, The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Conrad Grebel Review, and other places. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.

Jean Janzen is the author of six collections of poetry, the most recent being Paper House, published by Good Books, 2008. A book of essays based on her Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College, Kansas, Elements of Faithful Writing, was published in 2004. A new collection of memoir essays, Entering the Wild, is forthcoming this spring. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Image, Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, Christian Century, and numerous anthologies. She has won an NEA grant and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Some of her poems have been set to music, including the oratorio “That Sturdy Vine” by Alice Parker. A chorale/orchestral piece by Eugene Friesen based on her poetry will be part of the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Shenandoah Bach Festival in June 2012. Jean has taught poetry writing at Fresno Pacific University and Eastern Mennonite University.

Julia Spicher Kasdorf has published three books in the Pitt Poetry Series, including Poetry in America (2011). Her biography, Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American (2002) considers a musician and writer, and his relationships with Amish, Mennonite, and Church of the Brethren communities during the early and middle of the twentieth century. She co-edited J. W. Yoder’s Rosanna of the Amish as well as The House of the Black Ring, a local color romance set in Pennsylvania Dutch country written by pioneering scholar of American Literature, Fred Lewis Pattee. She also published a collection of essays, The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life (2001/2009). She is associate professor of English and women’s studies at Penn State, where she teaches poetry writing.

Keith Ratzlaff’s books of poetry are Man Under a Pear Tree (1996), which won the 1996 Anhinga Prize for Poetry; Across The Known World (1997); Dubious Angels: Poems after Paul Klee, based on the late drawings and paintings of Paul Klee (2005); and Then, a Thousand Crows (2009). His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry Northwest, which awarded him its Theodore Roethke Award, and in publications including Arts and Letters, The Common Review, The Georgia Review, McSweeney’s, New England Review, The Threepenny Review, Colorado Review, The Journal and The North American Review. He is the author of two chapbooks: Out Here (1984), and New Winter Light (1994). His poems and essays also appear in these recent anthologies: The Best American Poetry 2009; The Poets Guide to the Birds (2009); Pushcart Prize XXXI (2007); Poets of the New Century (2001), A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (2003), and In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland (2003). He is Professor of English at Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Sofia Samatar is an American of Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite background. She graduated from Goshen College and spent twelve years in Egypt and South Sudan, most of them as an MCC volunteer. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she specializes in twentieth-century Egyptian and Sudanese literatures. She blogs about books, the Arabic language and more. Sofia’s poetry has appeared in the speculative fiction magazines Stone Telling and Bull Spec, and one of her poems will be reprinted in The Moment of Change, an anthology of feminist speculative poetry forthcoming in May 2012. Her debut novel, A Stranger in Olondria, will be released by Small Beer Press, also in May. The novel, a literary fantasy, follows a young man who moves from a non-literate culture to a literate one and is haunted by his past. It’s a ghost story, a love story, an otherworldly travelogue, and an exploration of what it means to read.

Hildi Froese-Tiessen (PhD, Alberta) has published widely in the area of Mennonite/s writing and has edited numerous literary and critical volumes of work by and about writers of Mennonite heritage. Since 1990 she has been an organizer or chair of a number of international conferences on Mennonite/s Writing, and she recently hosted a well-received nine-week series of readings and lectures by and about Mennonite writers at Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo, where she has taught since 1987. She is the Literary Editor of the Conrad Grebel Review and is a member of the Advisory Boards of the Journal of Mennonite Studies, the Center for Mennonite Writing (Goshen College), GAMEO (Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online) and Rhubarb magazine.

Rudy Wiebe Widely published internationally and winner of numerous awards, including two Canada Governor General’s Awards for Fiction, Wiebe is the author of nine novels, five short-story collections, and ten non-fiction books. His latest publications include a novel of the historical Mennonite diaspora Sweeter Than All the World, the children’s book Hidden Buffalo based on a Cree creation legend, Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest, the biography Big Bear in the Extraordinary Canadians series, and Collected Stories, 1955–2010. He lives with his wife Tena in Edmonton, Alberta.