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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