“Are you writing?”

I am frequently asked, “Are you writing?” or a variation of, “What are you writing these days?” The answer is that I haven’t been doing much new writing the past year, except for one essay about Helmut’s death. I have had, however, two projects to focus on, which have given me a sense of schedule and purpose throughout the year, in the gathering, editing, and proofreading functions of writing.

One of these is Return Stroke: essays & memoir, to be published by CMU Press and released in early June. I’m still shaking my head at the surprise of this all. Sue Sorensen, my CMU Press editor for This Hidden Thing (2010), had returned as head of the Press and since we’ve kept in touch, I tossed her an inquiry about a book of nonfiction. Back in 2015 I got a Manitoba Arts Council grant to draft a memoir about our two-and-half years in Paraguay, the most interesting place I’ve lived. I did it, as proposed and promised, but nothing further happened with it. Now I wondered about revising and reducing it, then combining it with some previously published essays as well as other pieces in my files, including the new one on Helmut’s death. Before I quite grasped what was happening, I had a manuscript to her and it was accepted! I’m rather glad, actually, that it unfolded somewhat impulsively, because a book centred in my life feels decidedly more vulnerable than fiction.

I’ll let the Press talk about the book, below. Pre-order information is here. It will also be available through McNally Robinson Booksellers, where I’ll do a Winnipeg launch June 2. I have a local (Delta) event planned for June 9, and one in Abbotsford, date TBA. Thank you for sharing my gratitude–and wee bit of nervousness–about this new book.968A4166-49E0-4164-8018-07571BB46EAD_1_201_a

This is the CMU Press description of the book:

These graceful, probing personal essays by award-winning fiction writer Dora Dueck engage with a diverse range of ideas (becoming a writer, motherhood, mortality, the ethics of biography, a child’s coming-out) because in non-fiction, she writes, “the quest for meaning bows to the experience as it was.” Yet within Return Stroke, one theme in particular does resonate—change. “How wonderful,” the author writes, that our “bits of existence, no matter how ordinary, are available for further consideration—seeing patterns, facing into inevitable death, enjoying the playful circularity of then and now.”

The book’s title, Return Strokethe title of one essay, where it literally refers to lightning—suggests such a dynamic: “When I send inquiry into my past, it sends something back to me.” The topic of memory, in all its malleability, impermanence, and surprising power, is especially central to the collection’s concluding piece, an absorbing memoir of the author’s 1980s life in the Paraguayan Chaco. Whether she is discovering the more meaningful part that imagination holds within her religious faith or relating with astonishing clarity and honesty the experience of giving birth away from her home country, Dora Dueck’s beautifully written essays and memoir make her an insightful and generous companion.

The launch

The weather in Winnipeg has been wonderfully fine and everything feels green and alive again, and in the midst of it all, yesterday evening, the occasion of launching “This Hidden Thing.” My longest-time friend Eunice came from Edmonton for the event (and some good conversation, as always) and many other local friends and family came too. I think we all — CMU Press and McNally Robinsons Bookstore and those of us who participated in one way or another — thought it had gone exceedingly well. I feel so grateful and blessed for the support and interest of others.

I can’t say I wasn’t a bit nervous, but once I got into reading the texts I’d selected for my small sampling, I felt completely at home again, and inside those words (using launch as a nautical image, rather than explosion as in sending off a rocket!) the book slipped off into its journey as a book. Felt at home, I say, but it’s curious, and I’m sure other writers know what I mean, there’s a kind of detachment too. The book sails away, and I’m on shore.  It’s where I want to be.

Signing books. (Both photos: Eunice Sloan)


News and notes

1. The launch of my book, This Hidden Thing, is about a week and a half away now. I expect that for a short time, at least, the book will have something of a life of its own, so I’ve given it a separate page, above. I’ll probably say something about the launch event here after it happens on May 19, but I’ll park reviews and other stuff related to it there. Already up, the news release Jonathan Dyck of CMU Press put together, the book flyer, and order information. 

2. I’ve agreed to serve on the advisory council for the Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg for the next three years. This is a relatively easy and also pleasurable task, involving free lunch twice a year at the university and listening/responding to a report of what Royden Loewen, as well as students and other professors involved with the Chair are up to. They’re up to a lot, actually, including the planning of two conferences this year, one on Mennonites in Siberia which is taking place in Omsk, Siberia in June, and one in Winnipeg, Oct. 14-16, called “Mennonites, Melancholy and Mental Health: Historical Reflections.” I’m under no obligation to “do press” for the Chair, but some of the papers proposed for the latter (examples: “Madness in my Family’s Journey,” “Duke Ferdinand vs Pilgram Marpeck: Lunatics or Preachers of Care,” “Trauma, War and Soviet Mennonite Women Refugees”) sound so interesting I’m keen to offer advance notice. Further information here.

3. Another event that greatly intrigues me, which unfortunately I not be able to attend as we’ll be away on holidays then, is “Celebrating 150 Years!” This has been organized by Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) for June 5-6 in Winnipeg. I’ve mentioned the 150 year celebrations of the Mennonite Brethren in this blog. This conference recognizes that anniversary, but also the 150-year anniversary of the formation of the General Conference Mennonite Church formed in Iowa in 1860. (This body is now Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.) These two 150-year-old bodies are the  supporting denominational bodies of  CMU — “two compelling stories…brought together in a special way.”

“[I]t is appropriate to reflect on what we have experienced and learned with and from ‘the other’,” states the conference invitation. Presenters of workshops and discussions have been drawn from both bodies and topics include “Exploring Stereotypes,” “Marriage across the MB-GC Divide,” and “Periodicals as Windows.”