WRITING THE AMISH PROJECT: Fact and Fiction by Jessica Dickey

amish project square cardThrough the making of The Amish Project, I learned that the boundary between fact and fiction is a fraught one; it feels appropriate to open a window into my negotiation with that boundary.

The Facts: I absorbed a great deal about the Nickel Mines shooting just from watching the news when it occurred, and so in preparation for writing the play, I focused my attention on researching the Amish themselves. I am indebted to Donald Kraybill for the many books he has written on the Amish; they were the backbone of my research. Once the play was written and the characters firmly established, I included more details of the shooting that I felt would strengthen the texture of the play.

The Fiction: I was highly aware through the entire process that somewhere out there are the real people who went through this event—the widow of the Nickel Mines gunman and her children, the Amish families of the girls who were targeted in the shooting… In an effort to balance the conflicting desires to remain sensitive to the real people who were affected by the shooting, while giving myself creative license to write an unflinching play, I purposefully did not research the gunman or his widow, nor did I conduct any interviews of any kind. The characters in The Amish Project are fictional, and should not be misconstrued as the real people.

The Play: July 28th, 2008, my director and I traveled to Nickel Mines to find the location of the shooting. We had read that without an informed guide, it was nearly impossible to find, as shortly after the event, the Amish tore down the school and replanted the area; it is now a simple field where animals graze. The only indications of where the shooting occurred are three maple trees.

As we drove through the small intersection of farmland that is Nickel Mines, I realized that every person we saw, gardening or hanging clothes on the line, had likely grieved the loss of a child, or the children of friends… As the sun was setting and we stood quietly looking at the three maple trees and the vacant space where they used to shade the one room schoolhouse, I could feel the tragedy that had occurred here, but even more I could feel the presence of those we had passed en route, the people who carry the memory of that day with them… It is my private prayer that this play, should they ever know about it, would not hurt them further, but somehow honor the goodness they forged in the face of such tragedy. In my mind, that is the legacy of the Nickel Mines shooting.


Additional reading:

“Amish School Shooter’s Widow, Marie Monville, Speaks Out” An news article with details about the Nickel Mines shooting and acts of forgiveness demonstrated by the Amish community. http://abcnews.go.com/US/amish-school-shooters-widowmarie-monville-remembers-tragedy/story?id=20417790

“Lancaster County: The Amish” A brief description of Amish culture and beliefs http://www.padutchcountry.com/towns-and-heritage/amishcountry/amish-lifestyle.asp


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