Artists Biography - Rudy Wiebe
Rudy Wiebe was born into a
Mennonite family in Fairholme, Saskatchewan in 1934.
He was the youngest of seven children. As a Mennonite, Wiebe spent the first
years of his life speaking low-German. He did not learn English until the age
of six, when he entered school. Instead of viewing his lack of English as an obstacle, Wiebe used his experience to his advantage, ultimately exploring issues of cultural identity in his work.
At 12 years old, Wiebe moved with his family to Coaldale, Alberta, a town just east of
Lethbridge. The region has been the final destination of various religious groups
such as Mormons and Hutterites, as well as thousands of Japanese-Canadians who were interned
outside of the town during the Second World War. Wiebe
attended school in the region until he decided to enrol in university. He moved north,
first to Calgary for his bachelor’s degree, and then to Edmonton to take his master
of arts degree at the University of Alberta. It didn't take long for Wiebe to incorporate his experience into his writing, his Mennonite upbringing becoming the subject of his creative writing thesis. In addition
to his literary study, Wiebe also attained a bachelor of theology degree from the
Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Manitoba. In 1962, Wiebe turned his thesis
into his first novel, And Peace Shall Destroy Many. The book sharply divided the
While Wiebe’s third novel, The Blue Mountains of China, was to once again plunge
into the world of the Mennonites. His second novel, First and Vital Candle,
explored the relationship between European-Canadians and Aboriginal peoples, introducing a subject that Wiebe was to return to again and again. It
was for his fictional accounting of Big Bear, a Cree leader, in the novel, The
Temptations of Big Bear, that was to cement Wiebe’s name and reputation, as well
as bring him his first
Governor General’s Award for Literature in 1973.
Rudy Wiebe talks about his direction after writing A Discovery of Strangers and winning a prestigious literary prize.
He explored the Aboriginal experience again in his novel, the Scorched Wood People
and A Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman, a work of non-fiction he co-authored
with Yvonne Johnson, an imprisoned Cree woman and descendent of Big Bear himself.
As Wiebe wrote his novels, plays and essays, he continued to teach at the University
of Alberta. He has been professor emeritus with the department of English since 1992.
Like many of the other writers profiled on this site, Wiebe has devoted a large
portion of his time to train the next generation of writers in the province.
Rudy Wiebe reads from the 'Shells of the Ocean' his story included in the anthology, Due West.
In 2003, Wiebe returned to his southern Alberta childhood home (in a creative sense) when he
collaborated with Geoffrey James on Place: A City on the Prairie. The book features
James’ photographs of Lethbridge and area. Wiebe contextualized the images with his
words and gave meaning once again to the Canadian experience.