I am so very excited to announce the publication of my memoir, Why I Left the Amish. Michigan State University Press has set the publication date of January 11, 2011. I am about to graduate from being a writer to becoming an author! Those of you who have known me for many years know how amazing it is for me to finally realize this dream. Thank you to all of you who have rooted for me, read versions of my story, or supported me in a host of other ways. This may sound like a cliché, but I literally could not have done it without you. Knowing that you have been looking forward to reading my book has been an inspiration that kept me going, even when the path wasn’t clear.
On November 7, 2010 it will be thirty-three years since I first left the Amish, and thirty years since I left the second time. During these years, many people have asked me why I left the Amish. Anyone who asked knows there is no short answer. In fact, it takes a whole book to adequately answer this question.
Why I Left the Amish, begins with an unanticipated break in my studies during my first semester at Smith College in 2004 when my father died and I traveled back to Ohio to my childhood community for his funeral. Finding myself back in the horse and buggy world I had left twenty-four years before, and then suddenly back on Smith College campus in a matter of forty-eight hours left me reflecting on the two separate and distinct lives I have lived.
Many childhood memories were triggered before and during the funeral — memories of my father’s mental illness, my older brother’s brutality, and my mother’s lack of protection, which often left me without advocates. Besides my struggles within my specific family, I also battled my feeling of being an outsider within the only community I knew. No matter how hard I tried, I could not quiet the fundamental questions that boiled up from within any more than I could fully conform to the ways of the church, even after becoming a baptized member of the church. My desire for more formal education was always there, even though I knew it would be impossible to acquire more education if I stayed in the community.
My book could not have been written in the earlier years after exiting the community. There has been a long inner struggle of coming to terms with my Amish past. Why I Left the Amish concentrates on my early life in the community, but it is also framed, and I hope deepened, by what I have learned and how I have lived for the past thirty years.
In offering an authentic rendition of what it was like to be born and raised in an Amish community, I hope to appeal to scholars of Amish culture who are interested in measuring long-held beliefs against practical realities, to those in mainstream culture who simply yearn to get a glimpse behind the organdy curtain that separates the Amish from the outside world, and to those within the Amish culture who long to know what the life of a former community member is like in the outside world. My aim is to tell a nuanced and balanced story — one that neither romanticizes nor demonizes the culture in which I grew up, and one that conveys the gratitude I have for the freedom I enjoy in my present life.
Note to booksellers, book reviewers, or members of the media: if you would like to review a galley copy of my memoir, please email Julie Reaume at Michigan State University Press.
You can also email me. Please visit my website, where I will soon post my schedule for book talks beginning in January.