For Ervin Beck, upon his retirement
Walking down the west side of this hill
through maple and beech, you see the river
beyond the river grass, wind blowing
along its top like a child's hand as he waves
goodbye for what promises to be longer
than either of you can imagine. Further
downstream you spy a sandbar: two heron
stalk its edges while at its center huckleberry
bushes loaded with blue bells of fruit wait
to be rung. In the midst of the tall grass, half
way between forest and river, it's hard to see
anything except the meadow's green slats, sky
and sunlight breaking through to remind you
there something beyond. You are sure
others have walked here, yet the grass rights
itself so easily that all their paths disappear.
There is no danger. You will not be lost
without water or food; no animal will attack,
no storm will fire and bring down trees
in a tragedy of limbs. As this story ends
you will come to the water's edge, find
a small boat turned over, and out in the river
the current will not be so strong that you
are unable to carve it, pull yourself toward
the sandbar where you will take off your boots,
walk on warm earth at day's end, taste the berries
that fall unbidden to your hand, their blue song
like a blessing upon your tongue, a song given
back to the way you have come.
- Todd Davis
This issue of THE MENNONITE QUARTERLY REVIEW-a special volume of essays, tributes and book reviews on contemporary Mennonite literature-is dedicated to ERVIN BECK. Teacher, literary critic, folklorist, collector and promoter of Mennonite literature, Beck served as a gifted copy editor and assistant editor of this journal for some 35 years. He was the principal organizer of "Mennonite/s Writing: An International Conference," the venue at which the essays gathered together in this issue were first presented.
During his long career as a professor of English at Goshen College, Ervin Beck has been an indefatigable promoter of Mennonite studies, linking the scholarly insights from a variety of academic disciplines with an emerging public appreciation of Mennonite and Amish literature, folklore, art and material culture. As a deeply appreciative critic of Mennonite literature, Ervin has published several groundbreaking essays, including an analysis of Rudy Wiebe's novels within the framework of postcolonial literature and a probing study of the intellectual roots of Wiebe's The Blue Mountains of China. In addition, he has written perceptively on Mennonite trickster tales, archetypes in Mennonite literature and Mennonite urban legends (including a classic article that traced the spread in Mennonite circles of an alleged encounter between the professional baseball player Reggie Jackson and several Mennonites visiting New York City). Along the way, Ervin introduced a new course at Goshen College on Mennonite literature, the first of its kind in the U.S, and he has maintained comprehensive bibliographies of Mennonite-Amish folk art and U. S. and Canadian Mennonite literature (www.goshen.edu/~ervinb). In October of 2002, Ervin collaborated with Hildi Froese Tiessen of Conrad Grebel College to organize an international conference on Mennonite literature, a successor to the conference "Mennonite/s Writing in the U.S." that he organized in October of 1997.
Ervin's interest in folklore found expression beyond the classroom in his passion for Mennonite and Amish material culture. Since 1984 he has been a visionary promoter of the Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee, taking the lead in collecting and preserving artifacts from Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite communities. Over the past twenty years he has helped to organize numerous exhibits on themes that included folk art, children's toys, furniture and quilts. An active member of several local historical societies, Ervin has authored at least three books on topics related to local history and, in 1993, he was honored as "Historian of the Year" by the Goshen Historical Society.
Not least, since 1968 Ervin has served as copy editor, proofreader and assistant editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review. During his 35-year tenure, he has enlivened hundreds of manuscripts with his incisive, clear copy-editing suggestions, all the while respecting the distinctive voice and style of each author.
Ervin brought an unusual combination of confidence and humility to all that he did. As editor of the journal, I will miss his sure judgments, his collegial flexibility, his efficient work habits and his puckish sense of humor. This slender volume is only a token of the gratitude and respect that I wish to express to Ervin. The world of Anabaptist-Mennonite studies has been deeply enriched by his contribution-we are grateful!
- John D. Roth, editor