Brad Igou is the compiler of a new book, Amish Voices Volume 2: In Their Own Words, 1993-2020. This follows up the original Amish Voices. Both volumes are based on collected writings of Amish people in the publication Family Life. While Amish Voices covers the first 25 years of that monthly, Amish Voices 2 picks up where that left off.
If you’d like to know how Amish people view issues such as faith, family, church, technology, and other topics, these books are a great place to “hear” directly from them. Brad does a great job of putting together a wide range of voices on diverse topics in these two volumes. As he explains below, it wasn’t always easy.
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Brad Igou on Amish Voices Volume 2: In Their Own Words, 1993-2020
Amish America: What is Family Life – who produces it, etc. – and how did you first come to it?
Brad Igou: In 1968, a group of Amish in Ontario published the first issue of a monthly magazine for Amish readers, which they named Family Life. From very humble beginnings, the magazine and their publishing house, Pathway, has grown dramatically, producing other magazines, and many books and textbooks.
I lived with an Amish family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for three months in 1972, and during my stay was when I first saw and started to read the magazine. It gave me insights I did not find in academic books, because it was the Amish themselves who were writing or sending in articles, stories, and poems. It also provided a contrast to the Lancaster Amish, since I could read articles from communities both conservative and liberal across the USA and Canada.
For many years, I thought a book of selected writings would be a valuable “contribution” to the world of Amish literature, since these would be the words of the Amish themselves, rather than writings by non-Amish about them. It is too long of a story as to how my first book was finally published in 1999, with selections from the first 25 years of the magazine, titled The Amish In Their Own Words. About 20 years later, I was asked to create an abridged version, which became the first volume of Amish Voices, published in 2019. Retirement kickstarted my plan to put together a second volume of the next 25 years, which became the second volume covering 1993-2020. (It was more than 25 years of magazines, but 2020 seemed like a good year to stop.)
Some of the original Family Life editors are still alive but, as in my life, now there is a new generation (or two), so this is one printed publication that will be around for years to come.
What will readers find in Amish Voices 2?
By grouping selections from over 25 years of Family Life, the book covers a wide range of topics, and now provides insights into the Amish faith and community in more recent times. A few chapter titles are “Living in the Present”, “Marriage and Family”, “The Young”, “Work”, “Controversies”, and “Amish Humor”. You get the idea.
Also, many people will be surprised by the poems, and I could have put an entire book of them together, but I had to select only a few.
Over the years of reading Family Life, what changes did you notice over time? And what are some of the biggest topics of concern that you’ve noticed writers have written about over the years?
Not surprisingly, changes in technology have resulted in many articles, with writers expressing concern about the internet and cellphones. In cellphones we have mini-computers that allow us to surf the web, take photos and video, watch movies, text and email, and talk person-to-person. Some people say this is the biggest threat the Amish currently face. The Amish tend to adopt changes more slowly than the world around them, observing the impact, but I would say cellphones really caught them off-guard, because the technology progressed so rapidly, even for some of us. Now some communities are trying to pull back. They are grappling with many of the same concerns we have. Just look at how AI (artificial intelligence) has taken us by surprise, and now everyone is debating how (and if) we can and should control it, not to mention what effects it will have on our lives.
One important topic that carried over into the second volume is the debate over farm vs. “factory,” which led to small or “cottage” industries, well-documented in Erik’s book, Success Made Simple. But now that Amish businesses have grown so big, there is concern about the wealth that has come to some, while for farmers falling milk prices and the cost of farmland continue to challenge the agricultural way of life.
I should also note that there is more openness to talking about abuse, depression, suicide, and mental illness, just as these problems have become more visible and acknowledged in our modern society. There is an honesty that may surprise readers, and not always easy answers.
How does Volume 2 compare to the first volume, as far as what’s covered?
I thought it was important that readers of the two volumes could easily flow through the different topics, and see how things had changed (or not) over 50 years, so I essentially kept the same chapter titles. We did change the chapter “Choices” to “Living in the Present,” and we broke out some selections from “Odds and Ends” to create chapters on “Amish Humor,” and what I call “Amish Parables.” This follows more closely the chapter set-up of the 1999 book.
I know due to space limitations you had to leave a lot out. How did you choose which articles made it into the final version?
Your readers may be interested to know that when I had finished typing all the selections I liked from the years 1993-2020 of Family Life, I had a file of about 475,000 words, not counting the chapter introductions I wrote! I knew that was way too long, and submitted a manuscript of about 145,000 words to Herald Press. But, not surprisingly, that proved too long as well, and after various revisions, we ended up with a book of about 65,000 words, comparable to the first volume of Amish Voices. Although it was difficult to eliminate so much, it did force me to focus on what I thought was essential and most meaningful.
As I went about removing selections, I tried to cut articles that covered similar territory, were too “theological,” or more of interest to me personally. So I tried to keep those that showed how ideas may have changed, along with new challenges and concerns that I thought general readers could connect with, such as cellphones and the internet. I always wanted to keep a good balance by including a variety of selections to create what I hope is a good reflection of the magazine, with a good balance of ideas and opinions.
Which pieces made the biggest impression on you?
I found that the foundation of the Amish faith is strong, but that increasingly there are challenges with living in the modern world, the young, and how much to adapt or accommodate change. It is still fascinating to see the range of thoughts and opinions. The importance of family and community, the core beliefs of the faith, and humility are Amish values I continue to admire.
My favorite pieces continue to be the ‘parables,” as I call them. These are everyday stories or incidents that take on a broader meaning. And sometimes there was a story that was totally unexpected. When I read “Please Let Me Stay,” I knew that this enterprise of compiling a second book was worthwhile, because this is a true story that is so riveting, surprising, and touching that it needed to reach a wider audience. I don’t want to ruin it by saying more. (Have some tissues handy.)
Why do you think Family Life has been and remains popular among plain readers?
I think we all know in the last few years how important it has been for people to share their personal stories when they have concerns or problems in life. It is how we know that we are “not alone.” I think for the Amish, who don’t have social media (well, except for some Amish teenagers), this is a way for them to share their feelings, see that others are dealing with similar problems, and also to get some “Amish answers” to difficult questions. And even when there is obvious disagreement, it is not about criticizing without offering solutions, and the discussion is handled with respect. I should also add that many non-Amish subscribe to Family Life.
What will readers of Amish Voices 2 take away from the book?
When I started reading the magazines, I wondered if there would be enough “new” material of interest, but I soon found there would not be an issue with being repetitive. Our respective worlds have changed in the last 25 years, but there is much that readers can identify with; we just get to see that “through Amish eyes.” I think that provides an opportunity to reflect on our own lives and faith, and perhaps even be challenged or encouraged to make some changes. I want readers to see the Amish not as a novelty, or as “cookie-cutter” people, but as humble human beings with whom we may have more in common than we might think. Finally, I hope it reminds us to listen to and respect people who are different from us, something which is in short supply these days, at least in the USA, where I feel we spend too much time, and place a premium on, being different.
Final comment – I may not be around in 25 years, but it would be fascinating to know what Amish life and our world will be like by then. Will there be a Volume 3 of Amish Voices?
Where to get the book
UPDATE: We’ve drawn a book winner and posted a number of unused selections that didn’t quite make it into Amish Voices Volume 2, to give you a feel for the book. Check that out here.
Thanks to Brad for his interesting answers. Check back here for the winner in an upcoming post. And don’t forget to leave a comment below to enter the giveaway.