Novelist Evie Yoder Miller writes that some years ago — after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle — she decided to plant a patch of black raspberries. She works through the year to care for the plants, and they reward her with juicy, delicious fruit. She sees in that cycle a metaphor for her writing.
“What shows up inside a book’s covers also results from creating sentences, following where they lead, pruning the dead stuff, and taming the mind’s excesses that want to escape their boundaries,” Yoder Miller says. “How successfully that occurs depends on many factors: the range and limits of my perception, the tastes and receptivity of readers. It’s an exciting adventure when words and ideas move beyond dreams and bring people together.”
Yoder Miller will be bringing people together in a literal sense Thursday, March 31, at Eastern Mennonite University, when she makes a return trip to Harrisonburg to read from her works and culminate this year’s Writers Read series. The event, sponsored by the Language and Literature Department, will be at 4 p.m. in the Common Grounds Coffee House in University Commons.
Originally from Kalona, Iowa, Yoder Miller has written two novels: Eyes at the Window (2005), set in a 19th-century Amish community, and Everyday Mercies (2015), a contemporary story that looks into several generations of women from Mennonite backgrounds.
EMU professor of English Marti Eads says she remembers Yoder Miller’s previous visit well.
“As a relative newcomer to EMU when Evie Yoder Miller last visited campus, I found her Eyes at the Window both engaging and informative,” Eads says. “A gripping mystery set in a pre-Civil War Amish community, Eyes gave me an enjoyable crash course in US Anabaptist church history. Evie was a delightful Writers Read speaker, as well, and I look forward to hearing her read from her more recent book. Reviews for Everyday Mercies suggest that it illuminates the life of a 21st-century Mennonite family in a way that evokes both sympathy and laughter.”
In a 2005 interview with Mennonite Life about her first book, Yoder Miller noted the detailed research that went into it, with several trips to Pennsylvania and Ohio and many conversations and hours in the archives. Her own life experiences also played a role.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching people,” Yoder Miller said in the interview. “I’ve lived in families, growing up as the youngest member of one and being married for (at that time) 26 years. During all of this time I attended or was a member of a Mennonite church, one with a very stern bishop in Iowa and another a house church with shared leadership in Appalachia.”
Violet Dutcher, professor of rhetoric and composition and director of EMU’s Writing Program, specializes in studying Amish women authors. She appreciates the depth that Yoder Miller brings to Everyday Mercies.
“Evie Yoder Miller probes deeply into Conservative Mennonite consciousness to give her characters their inner dialogues, their conversations with others in their minds,” Dutcher says. “Only someone who has lived through the 1950s and witnessed the private confessions of young women in the public sphere of the church congregation can get it so right years later.”
Mennonite Quarterly Review also heaped praise on the novel, saying it had “few weaknesses” and “is an important addition to US Mennonite fiction.”
Yoder Miller completed an undergraduate degree in English at Goshen College in Indiana, then returned to graduate school many years later to earn a master’s and PhD from Ohio University. She retired after a career in teaching, most recently at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She is currently working on a Civil War-era historical novel.
Copies of Yoder Miller’s works will be available for purchase and signing at the March 31 event, which is free and open to the public.