Though Shirley means “bright meadow,” fitting for a “plain” (Mennonite) girl growing up in the 1950s and ’60s on a Pennsylvania dairy farm, Shirley Hershey Showalter was actually named after Shirley Temple. The divided roots of her first name epitomize the tensions that animate her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.
Showalter’s faith community both nurtured and frustrated her as she sought to reconcile its conservative values with her desire for gaudier self-expression. Caught between her plain church and the glittering world, in her discomfort Showalter often blushed. The depiction in the life of a fortunate Mennonite girl of this everlasting human conflict, essentially between communal duties and individual ambition, is what makes her story both universal and timeless.
Showalter has said her riskiest words in Blush are its first:
“Ever since I was little, I wanted to be big. Not just big as in tall, but big as in important, successful, influential. I wanted to be seen and listened to. I wanted to make a splash in the world.”