Author reconnects with her roots
By Shana McNally
Mennonite Conference, while her mother was a
nurse. In particular, her mother was and continues
to be a source of inspiration to her.
AS A CHILD, Rhoda Janzen found it hard to
embrace the Mennonites’ belief in a simple lifestyle.
IT’S A COMMON adage
that you can’t go home
again, but Rhoda Janzen
does just that in her memoir,
and this month’s Book
Today, she appreciates it.
The author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress:
A Memoir of Going Home grew up in Fresno,
California, within the small, strict
Christian denomination that is similar to the Amish, but somewhat less
• Learned that “forgiveness is something you
can deliberately move toward and practice.
Bitterness and unhappiness are two phenomena
that we do not need to experience.”
Buyer’s Pick, Mennonite
in a Little Black Dress.
After obtaining an M.A. in creative writing from the University of
Florida and a Ph.D. in American literature from UCLA, she broke away
from the faith, and ended up teaching
English and creative writing at Hope
• Redefined what she thought
about being a Mennonite. Before, she
said, she thought of it as “a form of
Protestant faith grounded in heritage
and tradition that deliberately chose
not to expose itself to things that I
found culturally valuable.” Now? She’s
“looking not so much at what they
reject as what they embrace.”
Shortly after Janzen turns
43, her husband leaves her—
for a man—and a car accident
leaves her seriously injured.
Those two events lead her to
her parents’ home—and the
Mennonite community in
which she was reared.
College in Holland, Michigan.
What did it take to lure her back?
One week. In that week, her manic-depressive husband of 15 years left
her for a man and she was hit by a
drunk driver, leading to a four-month sabbatical.
While back in Fresno, she:
Along the way Janzen ended up
with a memoir she described to The
Costco Connection during a phone
interview as “a comedy about reconnecting with your roots, and your
family, and your community of origin, and a way to
move on after you have a face plant.”
Janzen broaches her
circumstances, and the
subsequent return to what
now seems like a foreign
culture, with insight and wit
(and a few traditional recipes
for good measure).
• Was reminded of the Mennonite practices and
behaviors she did enjoy, such as sewing, music and
a quiet, reclusive life away from popular culture.
This included cooking, which she still loves (she
says she would have been a chef if she hadn’t become
a writer and a teacher).
• Reconnected with her now-retired parents.
Her father was once head of the North American
The title of the book was orginally a joke, con-
ceived in a brainstorming session with her editor, that
eventually stuck as Janzen came to like the idea of “a
Mennonite in a sober black dress juxtaposed against
the little black cocktail dress in fashion,” she says.
She also learned to write nonfiction. While she
had previously written Babel’s Stair, a collection of
poems, and had poems published in a variety of
journals and anthologies, she found nonfiction writing to be “fast and easy, with more room for improv.”
“I’m trained as a creative writer/poet … but [I]
didn’t have another outlet at the time, and a friend
who wrote fiction and nonfiction encouraged me,”
says Janzen, who decided at age 4 that she wanted
to be a writer and continues to be inspired by
such authors as Henry James, Willa Cather and
An “immersion” writer, who started writing
each day after a rehabilitating run and wrote until
“the point of exhaustion,” Janzen emerged with a
manuscript after just one month and four days.
What’s next? The recent breast cancer
survivor is currently at work on
Backslider, another memoir, about
“organized religion and the weirdness
of cancer and becoming a (step)mom
for the first time,” and started a website,
is Janzen’s relationship
with her mother, who offers
support no matter what.
Having had a mom who
doubled as a personal
cheerleader, I know that no
matter where you call home,
as long as your mom’s
around, it’s a pretty good
place to be.
For more book picks, see
Pennie Clark Ianniciello Costco Book Buyer NO PURCHASE OR PAYMENT OF ANY KIND IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Signed book giveaway
What hasn’t changed? Janzen, now
47, still shops at Costco in Wyoming,
Michigan, and enjoys traveling, cooking and
AUGUST 2010 ;e Costco Connection 45
COSTCO HAS 50 SIGNED COPIES of Rhoda
Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress to
give away. For a chance to win, send an
e-mail with your name and mailing address
firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Rhoda
Janzen” in the subject line. Or print your
name, address and daytime phone number
on a postcard or letter and send it to: Rhoda
Janzen, The Costco Connection, P.O. Box
34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. S weepstakes is sponsored by
Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010. Open to legal residents
of the U. S. (except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the time of
entry. One entry per household. Entries must be received by September 1,
2010. Winners will be randomly selected and noti;ed by mail on or before
October 1, 2010. The value of the prize is $14. Void where prohibited.
Winners are responsible for all applicable federal, state and local taxes.
Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
Employees of Costco or Macmillan and their families are not eligible.