Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Rudy Wiebe (WEE-bee) was born in 1934 on his family’s farm in a small Mennonite community in Fairholme, Saskatchewan; his parents were émigrés from the Soviet Union. Wiebe began writing seriously during his undergraduate years at the University of Alberta (1953-1956) and took an M.A. in creative writing from that institution in 1960. He has held various teaching posts since that time, including one at Goshen College, Indiana (1963-1967), but in 1967 he began teaching full-time as a professor of creative writing at the University of Alberta, where he remained until his retirement in 1992.
It is Wiebe’s work as a novelist that has given him his fine reputation in his native land, though he has also carved out a formidable career as a short-story writer, playwright, and editor/critic. He has candidly described himself as “one who tries to explore the world that I know, the land and people of Western Canada, from my particular worldview: a radical Jesus-oriented Christianity.” To perform this function, Wiebe has characteristically chosen experimental modes of narration, particularly the use of multiple, omniscient narrators, whose compelling voices establish the theme that the struggle for personal identity is resolvable only through wrestling with one’s family and cultural past. As Wiebe explains, “I believe fiction must be precisely, peculiarly rooted in a particular place, in particular people.” His first language was Low German, and this cultural background—coupled with his devout Mennonite faith—forms the thematic landscape in which his early fiction is constructed. He has thus come to be widely praised as one of Canada’s most innovative “Prairie” writers.
The characters in Wiebe’s first three novels share the common plight of being “strangers in a strange land,” a religious remnant fighting for their faith and family identity in a modern world gone mad. Mennonite Christianity, evolving from the radical Anabaptist tradition, is a fiercely independent faith that demands of its practitioners a separation from the world—it compelled them to leave their native land, customs, and language in search of a country where they could live out their faith. Wiebe’s first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many, the title of which alludes to the Book of Daniel, is an ironic juxtaposition of two men’s wartime legalism and arrogance: the arrogant militarism of Adolf Hitler and the arrogant pacifism of Deacon Block, a Western Canadian Mennonite. Welcomed by critics for its evocation of time and place but equally criticized for its overt moralizing, this novel served notice that a new, yet unharnessed narrative power had emerged in Canadian letters. First and Vital Candle and The Blue Mountains of...
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Rudy Wiebe’s identity as a Mennonite and western Canadian writer was shaped in his earliest years. His parents came to Canada in 1930, having fled religious persecution in Russia. In 1933, the year before Wiebe was born, his parents settled with other Russian Mennonites in Speedwell-Jackpine, Saskatchewan, a harsh, lonely, demanding land where he lived for his first thirteen years.
The life of the community centered on the church, and for Wiebe, the stories that nurtured him “were of Russia, of czars and villages and Bolsheviks and starvation and anarchists and war and religious fights.” Wiebe’s Mennonite background was reinforced at the Mennonite high school in Coaldale, Alberta, where his family moved in 1947, and later at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, where he earned a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1961.
Wiebe’s first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many, relates specifically to his Mennonite heritage and describes life in a community much like the one in which he was reared. It aroused such controversy at its publication in 1962 that Wiebe resigned his position as editor of the Mennonite Herald. By 1962, Wiebe had also studied abroad at the University of Tübingen, married Tena Isaak, and received a Master of Arts degree. His third novel, The Blue Mountains of China, shows significant development in style and structure. It was also his last novel specifically about Mennonites.
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Rudy Henry Wiebe (WEE-bee) was born in a one-room log cabin near Fairholme, Saskatchewan, Canada, on October 4, 1934, the youngest son of Abram and Tena Knelsen Wiebe, devout Mennonites who had fled Russia in 1930. They had settled as hardy pioneers in the tiny community of Speedwell-Jackpine, a hundred miles northwest of Saskatoon, in the bush and prairie country of northern Saskatchewan.
On many a long winter night, Rudy would listen, entranced, to Mennonite stories of a Russia where czars and Bolsheviks had terrorized villages, wars and religious disputes had torn communities asunder, and much hardship and sometimes starvation had afflicted many. Those stories, told in a Frisian dialect of Low German, made a deep impression on the child. The bleak, empty but forceful presence of the environment outside the home also did. Both would affect his stories that were to come.
When he started school in a one-room schoolhouse, Rudy had to learn English, but he proved an eager student. By the time he was in the fourth grade, he had consumed all the books in the one-shelf library. In 1947, the family moved to Coaldale, Alberta, where Rudy enrolled at the Alberta Mennonite High School, whose warm harmonious spirit affirmed the young adolescent’s faith and impressed on him the importance of a community that not only preaches but also practices the good moral life.
Entering the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1953, Wiebe soon discovered his love for language and literature. Encouraged by his teachers, Wiebe at age twenty-one entered a short story contest and won first prize. A year later he became a published writer when his short story “The Power” was chosen to appear in New Voices: Canadian University Writing of 1956.
After he graduated with a B.A. in 1956, Wiebe put his...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Like Leo Tolstoy, whom he admired, Rudy Wiebe intended for his fiction to make a difference. Though his early fiction suffered from too much moral freight, Wiebe evolved from a regional Mennonite writer to a literary artist of international acclaim and significance. His unconventional technique often puts a strain on readers, but they are engaged by his passionate, eloquent voice, by his vision that exposes threats to the moral fabric of the human community, and by his insistence that history can teach and inspire.