Thursday on Amish Wisdom: Joe Mackall, An Outsider Among the Amish

Tune in on Thursday at 4:00 pm Central! To listen in – go here and just click on the player in the top right corner. 

This week on Amish Wisdom I’ll be welcoming Joe Mackall to the show. We’ll talk about his experiences among the Amish which he’s captured in his book, Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish. Joe’s writing has appeared in a variety of venues, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Leave a comment {HERE} for a chance to win a copy of Joe’s book. Winner will be contacted next week via email.

{More about Joe}

Joe Mackall is the author of Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish and of the memoir The Last Street Before Cleveland. He’s the co-founder and –editor of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. His work has appeared in a variety of venues, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”  Mackall is a Professor of English and the director of creative writing at Ashland University in Ohio.

{More about Plain Secrets}

Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized “running-around time” that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds.

Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady relationship with the Shetler family (Samuel and Mary, their nine children, and their extended family). Plain Secrets tells the Shetlers’ story over these years, using their lives to paint a portrait of Swartzentruber Amish life and mores. During this time, Samuel’s nephew Jonas finally rejects the strictures of the Amish way of life for good, after two failed attempts to leave, and his bright young daughter reaches the end of school for Amish children: the eighth grade. But Plain Secrets is also the story of the unusual friendship between Samuel and Joe. Samuel is quietly bemused—and, one suspects, secretly delighted—at Joe’s ignorance of crops and planting, carpentry and cattle. He knows Joe is planning to write a book about the family, and yet he allows him a glimpse of the tensions inside this intensely private community.

These and other stories from the life of the family reveal the larger questions posed by the Amish way of life. If the continued existence of the Amish in the midst of modern society asks us to consider the appeal of traditional, highly restrictive, and gendered religious communities, it also asks how we romanticize or condemn these communities—and why. Mackall’s attempt to parse these questions—to write as honestly as possible about what he has seen of Amish life—tests his relationship with Samuel and reveals the limits of a friendship between “English” and Amish.


About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.