Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Omar Eby: A Tribute

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Omar Eby: A Tribute

Article excerpt

I first met Omar the year before I enrolled at Eastern Mennonite College in the pages of the 1957 Shenandoah, the college paper that he edited. Then from 1972 through 1999 we became close friends as colleagues at our alma mater. My course evaluations received a welcome boost when we team-taught courses like African Literature and Continental Fiction, thanks to Omar's careful planning, honest evaluation, and listening and discernment skills. As an oblivious optimist, I did not realize for a long time the extent of the inner conflict created by Omar's deep commitment to his family, his students, his writing, and his faith. No wonder life was not always easy for this conscientious perfectionist.

Four books in particular serve to remind us of Omar's accomplishments. In 1982 he received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Virginia. There, under the tutelage of Peter Taylor and John Casey, he wrote a series of short stories, several of which served as the basis of his 1988 novel, A Long Dry Season. For the missionary Thomas Martin, grace comes through his wife and through the promise of the distant rains that will bring an end to his dry season. Family and faith are apparently reconciled. Not so for Omar, whose publication dry spell continued for fifteen years before Cascadia published a collection of essays titled Markings My Own (2003).

This spiritual memoir displays the full range of Omar's disciplined versatility. Seventy meditations, each confined to exactly three pages of text, guide us through the book of Mark. Is this a commentary? A personal journal? Literary criticism? A confession? Yes, no, and much more. What did it cost this lover of privacy and solitude to provide personal "soul food" for the masses? In her foreword, Lee Snyder describes the book as a "literary lover's feast" and provides a list of Omar's personae: author, Anabaptist, colleague, descendant, friend, horticulturist, grandparent, gourmand, teacher, mentor, missionary, music lover, parent, pilgrim, poet, seeker, sinner, and spouse. …

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