With the help of an Independent Artists grant, Kirkby is writing Untold: The Hutterite Story, a book she hopes will demystify Hutterites by explaining their history in a compelling narrative.
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Mary-Ann Kirkby in her writing room

Although Hutterites have a 145-year history in North America, relatively little is known about them in mainstream. Public misperceptions became particularly pronounced in July 2020, when COVID-19 outbreaks occurred on three of the 400 Hutterite colonies on the Prairies. Businesses put up “no Hutterites allowed” signs; walk-in clinics refused to treat Hutterites; and Hutterites became the subject of hateful expletives in person and on social media.

In the wake of the response to the outbreak, author Mary-Ann Kirkby from Prince Albert found herself thrust into the spotlight. In 2007 she released her memoir, I Am Hutterite, about growing up at the Fairholme Hutterite Colony in southern Manitoba. The book was a national bestseller, and Kirkby became the go-to for all things Hutterite. Through newspaper columns, blogs, interviews and speaking engagements, she works tirelessly to dispel myths and educate the public about Hutterite culture. “It’s no secret that minorities inhabit a fragile place in our society, and Hutterites are no strangers to being characterized by ignorance,” she notes.

With the help of an Independent Artists grant, Kirkby is writing Untold: The Hutterite Story, a book she hopes will demystify Hutterites by explaining their history in a compelling narrative.

Mary-Ann Kirkby at her computer writing her bookIn 2015 she was invited by archeologists, archivists, scientists and museum curators to visit the Hutterite homelands in Europe. Over a period of five years, she accessed a large body of data, conducted hours of interviews and took hundreds of photos. “This project will bring the Hutterite story full circle, connecting our present with our past,” Kirkby asserts.

The non-scholarly, roots-style book will share stories that speak to Hutterite humanity and vulnerabilities. “In order to overcome the scourge of racism and discrimination, we are going to have to get to know each other, to laugh at each other’s foibles and eat at each other’s tables. That’s what I as a writer have tried to do; to prepare a table for non-Hutterites to have a Hutterite experience. Writers, at their best, are change agents,” says Kirkby.    

Kirkby hopes that readers will develop a greater understanding of Hutterites and their culture, resulting in mutual respect. “I still get so many emails from people who’ve just read I Am Hutterite. One woman wrote, ‘I have always shied away from Hutterites, but I just finished reading your book and realized they are such decent people!’ What more could a writer ask for?”

Photos: Mary-Ann Kirkby in her writing room. Photos by Gordon Kirkby.