She, Me, We: Anabaptist Women Publishing Theology

This past weekend Mennonite Church USA sponsored a conference honoring the diversity of women’s voices in theology, called All You Need Is Love. I had the privilege of co-leading a workshop with Managing Editors Melodie Davis and Valerie Weaver-Zercher. This blog post is a brief adaption of our workshop.

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Why does the Mennonite Church not have a Beth Moore? A Nadia Bolz Weber? An Ann Voskamp? A Rachel Held Evans?

I’ve heard variations of this question—just insert the name of your favorite woman writing theologically.

To answer the question, go back with me to the late 1940s when Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus and Ella May Miller had a huge following among Mennonites and those outside the Mennonite Church.

Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus founded Heart to Heart radio broadcast because she had a heart for the way she saw others parenting (or not) their children, and always longed for a platform, literally, in the church. (In those days a woman could speak from the floor of a Mennonite church but not from the platform.)

Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus photos

Ella May Miller was the speaker for over 25 years on this radio program. Her newsletter was mailed out to some 25,000 supporters and 181 radio stations across the nation carried the program. Annually during survey month she received 36,000 letters! One of her books sold nearly 210,000 copies.

Ella May Miller

Eventually Ella May resigned from the position in 1975, at a time when her approach and theology were no longer being embraced by the direction of the radio program.

A task force was charged with thinking about how to replace her, and they talked about not wanting to develop another personality-driven broadcast. Call it discomfort with women in leadership, call it discomfort with the theology that Ella May was espousing: I can only speculate on all the reasons for the team wanting to go a different direction.

Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, the publishing and media agency of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. The chart below shows the number of Herald Press titles published in the last 35 years. Specifically broken out are the books authored by women or co-authored by women.

chart

It’s likely no surprise to know that nearly all the children’s books and cookbooks published in these years were written by women. Yes, women also authored devotional and inspirational titles, books about mission and church life, or worship, and books about families. Only a few books in all these years, though, are cataloged strictly as “theology” that are written by women. Why do you think it been acceptable for women to couch theological writing in the context of food, children’s books, or family life rather than just writing theologically? Is this still true?

While Herald Press is certainly not publishing as many books by women as by men, the sales figures tell a different kind of story. Below are the 10 bestselling Herald Press books of all time. And I’ve put in bold the titles by women. Note that just 3 of these 10 are by men.

  1. The Amish (1952), John Hostetler
  2. More With Less Cookbook (1976), Doris Janzen Longacre
  3. Caring Enough to Confront (1973), David Augsburger
  4. Meditations for the New Mother (1953), Helen Good Brenneman
  5. Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950), Mary Emma Showalter
  6. Rosanna of the Amish (1940), Joseph Yoder
  7. Favorite Family Recipes (1972), Mary Emma Showalter
  8. Meditations for Expectant Mothers (1968), Helen Good Brenneman
  9. Amish Cooking (1982), Compiled by Amish women
  10. Ellie (1988), Mary Christner Borntrager

We at Herald Press see books authored in one of the following ways:

  • Solo author: Single author creates content of the book. (Recent titles include Sacred Pauses, Ordinary Miracles, and Blush.)
  • Coauthor: Two or more authors create content of the book. (Recent titles include Mennonite Girls Can Cook and Creating a Scene.)
  • Editor: One or more editors invite others to create substantive content. Editor creates content herself. (Recent titles include Tongue Screws and Testimonies and Widening the Circle.)
  • Collector: One or more editors invite others to create substantive content. (Titles include More-with-Less Cookbook and Simply in Season.)

While books are written in all of those ways, at Herald Press we know that:

  • Solo-authored books generally sell better than coauthored or editor-driven projects.
  • Collected editions, though, have been among Herald Press’ bestselling titles, with cookbooks as the biggest example.
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Managing Editor Valerie Weaver-Zercher talking about the ways that women write for Herald Press.

At the same time, when myself or others from Herald Press approach women to invite them to write a book as a solo author, they frequently suggest either a coauthor or editor approach instead. Perhaps it’s a lack of time. Perhaps it’s insecurity in author platform. Perhaps it’s feeling like you don’t have something to say.

As women, we practice theology on the go. It happens in the midst of conversations, in the midst of everyday life. The dialogical nature of how we “do” theology could be one of the reasons why women are so interested in writing with others and telling their stories together.

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Theologian Malinda Elizabeth Berry, at left, gave a wonderful workshop on thinking theologically about several Herald Press cookbooks. I’m on the right responding to Malinda’s assessment. It was theology on the go with my little theologian along for the ride.

But women, we need to hear your voices! The church needs you to “lean in” and communicate your message, to quote Sheryl Sandberg. I encourage you to work on your author platform either in person or via social media, to connect with readers and reviewers, and to engage in speaking and writing theologically. All of this helps you cultivate an audience that wants to follow you, and this is the audience that will eventually want to buy your book.

Amy Gingerich

Editorial Director

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What is new in children’s curriculum (and why I can’t wait)

Post by Rachel Nussbaum Eby

Right now is quite an exciting time for the Shine: Living in God’s Light curriculum, forthcoming from MennoMedia and Brethren Press as the first new Anabaptist-oriented children’s curriculum in about seven years.

RunningKidsWSkyThe first quarter of the first year is at the printers. This coming weekend is the writers’ conference for the second year’s writers and editors. It will take place at Camp Mack, a church camp of Church of the Brethren, in Milford, Indiana. The writers’ conference is a chance for the group to meet, brainstorm and plan together and, most importantly, learn what makes the Shine approach to curriculum unique.

On the Shine website, samples of the teacher’s guides and student pieces have been added. If you haven’t looked at them, go to www.ShineCurriculum.com/curriculum/products/ and click on “View sample sessions.” Behind the scenes, a Shine store is being created for the website to make it possible for people to purchase Fall 2014 products early, including starter kits.

One starter kit will include one student piece, teacher’s guide and pack for Early Childhood (EC), Primary, Middler, and Junior Youth. Also, it will include one EC Music CD, one Year One Songbook and CD, and one copy of Shine On: A Story Bible. The other starter kit is for classrooms with multiple-age groups (kindergarten through grade 6). It contains one teacher’s guide and resource pack for Multiage, one Primary student piece, one Middler student piece, one Year One Songbook and CD, and one copy of Shine On: A Story Bible.

3D-BookCovers_ShineOn_lowRGB (2)Information about Shine has been developed into a special “rolling brochure” which, when two are completely unfolded, can also double as a beautiful full-color poster.

ShineStuff 088Email me at RachelNE@MennoMedia.org  if you would like to receive one or two of these brochures free of charge. Information about Shine is also featured in this fun short video.

One of the unexpected things that I have enjoyed a lot about making this curriculum is the opportunity to see familiar Bible stories come alive in new ways. One session in quarter one is about the Ten Commandments. Each writer provided a variety of age-appropriate ways to understand and interact with the Ten Commandments. Just looking at one of the student pages from each level illustrates how the material has been developed for a specific age in a fresh way.

Early Childhood (ages 3–5)

Y1Q1_EC leaflets_10C (2)Primary (Kindergarten–Grade 3)

Y1Q1_PR_Leaflets_10C (2)Middler (Grade 3–Grade 6)

Y1Q1 MD_Glow_10CJunior Youth (Grade 6–Grade 8)

Y1Q1_JY_LED_10C (2)Sometimes it’s hard to be patient as I wait for writers’ content to become products I can hold in my hands. But then, as I look over printer proofs, I am reminded by the real life stories in our first quarter’s stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. I think of how they had years to wait before they saw “results.” Put into that perspective, waiting months—and now weeks—shouldn’t be that hard after all.

Learn more about why you should choose Shine as your Sunday school curriculum at www.ShineCurriculum.com/about/why-choose-shine/.

Let us know your thoughts, comments, questions!

Rachel Nussbaum Eby
Managing editor of Shine

Why are we investing in books?

Before I begin, I have to make a full disclosure: I’m a book-lover. I love the feel, the design and the texture of a well-designed and well-written book. As a child I had a box full of Golden Books; the only picture of me in a crib is one in which I am asleep with an open Childcraft book across my face.

My love of books is not the main reason why I believe that MennoMedia will hedge its best bets for the future on the book. Recently our staff worked on a strategic plan for the future and one thing we decided was that our trade book imprint—Herald Press—has a bright future. While there are many who doubt the sustainability of book publishing, recent signs in the industry indicate that it is not dying, but thriving. Just four years ago many were predicting that the digitization of all media—and the creation of eBooks in particular—would lead to the death of the book publishing industry, much the same way that the music, film newspaper, magazine and television industries have been turned upside down. However, most would be shocked to know that between 2008 and 2013, total annual revenues in the publishing industry have increased 13%.

It’s true that these total revenues have included new technology—eBooks in particular—but traditional printed-on-paper books have only declined modestly, indicating that predictions of the death of the printed book were premature.

Recently I came across an article in the New Republic that has explained the enduring value of the book, and why it seems to be enduring while other media are sharply declining. To put it briefly, a book is still something considered valuable by consumers. Books have resisted something called “disaggregation,” a phenomenon plaguing the music industry. [Think here about the difference between iTunes and the traditional album.] Disaggregation means that consumers are now about to pick and choose the music they want, one song at a time, for a relatively low price. Sales for the “whole” or the traditional album, have declined.

The film industry, in contrast, has suffered from “aggregation” or the bundling of content, such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, where the consumer pays a monthly flat rate for access to content numbering in the tens of thousands. Individual films now are devalued as they have become part of a massive “whole.”

The book, by contrast, whether digital or paper, still is a deal, in the eye of the public. People still see the value of the “whole” and are willing to pay for it all. Generally, you can’t break it apart in a way that increases its value and you can’t bundle them to increase value significantly, either.

For book lovers–and book buyers–like me, this is good news. As a publisher, this is also good news—even as the landscape still shifts—we still add “value,” in the public’s mind. And this is why it makes sense to place a bet on the future of book publishing.

~Russ Eanes

Russ Childcraft