Armin Wiebe is the kind of guy you’d like to invite home for dinner, knowing that he’d appreciate both the meal—steak or stew—and your company. The same easy smile, subtle wit and thoughtful demeanour that make him such a pleasant companion also do him considerable service as a writer.

Armin is a writer who shares not only his stories but his time in promoting the craft he loves. One look at Armin Wiebe’s Web site—er, Wiebe-site—provides a glimpse of more than just his sense of humour and his many writing credits; it also shows his support for other Manitoba writers. Click on An Explorer’s Guide to Manitoba Books and you’ll find a long list of publications by Manitoba authors, each referred to with a sense of reverence for the craft of writing and those who pursue it.

As one of the founding members of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, Armin was involved in its early stages of development, which just happened to coincide with his time of “coming out” as a writer. “It was a fabulous time to be trying out this writing life,” he says. “During the years I was trying to be a full-time writer, the MWG was a regular life line—the mentor program, the reading service, the Delta Marsh retreats, the reading series, and all the writers I encountered through Guild activities.”

Armin spent many years teaching throughout Manitoba and the Northwest Territories and he also served as writer-in-residence in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Dauphin, Manitoba. He currently balances his writing with the full-time job of teaching creative writing in the Creative Communications program at Red River College. It isn’t an easy balance. “Teaching both drains me and inspires me,” he admits. “The hardest thing for my own writing is getting out of editing mode when I need to be in rough draft mode with my editor shut off.”


The Salvation of Yasch Siemens, a unique coming-of-age tale, was Armin’s first published novel. It received nominations for the Books in Canada First Novel Award as well as for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. This novel was followed by a tongue-in-cheek mystery, Murder in Gutenthal, and a political spoof, The Second Coming of Yeeat Shpanst. Each of these satirical yarns is staged in the fictional Mennonite village of Gutenthal and each incorporates a most unusual appproach to language.

“The year they built the TV tower I was heista kopp in love with Shaftich Shreeda’s daughter, Fleeda.” So begins The Salvation of Yasch Siemens.

In sharp contrast to these humorous tales, Armin’s upcoming novel from Turnstone Press, Tatsea, is, as he describes it, “an adventure love story set in Denendeh, Canadian Subarctic in the 1760s.” But Tatsea exceeds Armin’s simple description. This is a dramatic novel with powerful spiritual undertones and strong, well-drawn characters. It is rich in aboriginal history and culture, a result of extensive research and an obvious admiration for the subject matter.

The seeds of Tatsea were sown nearly twenty years ago when Armin and his wife taught in Lac La Martre in the Northwest Territories. To provide reading material students could relate to, school staff began sharing stories about the culture and life of the community and Armin put many of them down on paper. These tales and others stayed with him, weaving their way into the pages of this superbly crafted novel.

Tatsea, the character for whom the novel is named, is a young woman thrown into marriage with a virtual outcast, a man she finds physically repulsive. Motherhood soon follows. Tatsea accepts her fate but only learns to embrace it after a horrific tragedy and an abduction separate her from he husband, Ikotsali, and her infant daughter. What follows is a trek through the subarctic wilderness as Tatsea struggles to return home and Ikotsali the “frog-man,” searches for her with their daughter in tow.

Armin switches from the comic voice of his earlier novels to the stirring voice of Tatsea as deftly as a skilled character actor slips from one role into the next. Although this feat confirms his talent, he remains modest. “I didn’t find writing in this style much different than writing my other novels,” he says. Yet Tatsea is a unique piece, one that breathes with its own life and spirit.

When asked how he would describe the spirit of Armin Wiebe, Armin’s answer was simple and to the point. “The spirit of Christmas past on training wheels for the future.”

Ride on, Armin—and write on.

about Deborah Froese

Deborah Froese is the author of the children's book, The Wise Washerman(Hyperion, 1996), and the young adult novel, Into the Fire(Sumach Press, 2001).


This profile first appeared in WordWrap Vol. 21 No. 1 January-February 2003. WordWrap is published by Manitoba Writers’ Guild Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Deborah Froese. Used with the permission of the author.