in verse #69 : Recapitulation, 19th Century

I ended my last post with this sentence:  “I will next take up the question of how three Western writers — Pound, Eliot and Frost — brought in a new poetry for the new century.”  I’m not quite ready to do that.  Those who have read this blog patiently, hoping for new insights every time, may be disappointed — or may be elated.  You may view this post, not as a recapitulation, but as a capitulation to the necessity of cleaning up a house where contractors have been reconstructing our kitchen whilst we traipsed out-of-reach through British Columbia (because our phones don’t work in Canada), and lolled in a small cabin on Gabriola Island in the Salish Sea, me reading Leonard Arrington and the writing of Mormon History[i], followed by Malcolm Lowry’s last novel, October ferry to Gabriola[ii], which I had brought along knowing we would be staying on Gabriola, and which provides a remarkable portrait of his home in Dollarton, north of Vancouver, in chapter 11, “Eridanus” — and Valerie desperate for new reading matter because none of my books interested her, until she started reading Leonard Arrington, etc.

But I wanted to note something some of you may have not noted: Continue Reading →

Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives: Stories of leaving and keeping faith–An interview with Karen Rosenbaum

Karen, your novel Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives is a set of short stories following a collection of families and their experiences. You focus on the experiences of the women in the family, and a strong theme of faith comes out: belief in the afterlife, how belief/faith influences choices, and how this trickles down through posterity.

Mothers-Daughters-Sisters-Wives-197x300First, this is a short story collection, not a novel. The stories explore the concerns of fictional women in four different families, families unrelated to each other.  I wrote the stories over the course of several decades. Sometimes I would return to a character at a different point in her life; sometimes I would focus on a different character in the family story. I have become very attached to the women in these families. Some are roughly modeled after women in my own family history. I am keenly aware of the influences on me of my mother and my grandmothers and wanted to write about family connections.

Thank you for that correction. As a novelist, I can get a little “novel-centric.”  The stories flowed so well together, it read, for me, like a novel and not a collection of short fiction. And I think this speaks a great deal to your writing ability. Continue Reading →

Creative nonfiction is like fiction–how?

At Utah Valley University, I’m at the intersection of two unique situations.

(Or maybe they’re not so unique. Both situations can be found at other institutions of higher learning in Utah, though probably not to the degree that we have here in Happy Valley. But almost certainly they’re not found in other states. Anyway, the intersection itself is pretty remarkable, imho.)

First: a relatively high percentage of our students are LDS. Some are TBMs. Others are happily separated from churchgoing but inextricably yoked to the culture, a condition they either writhe against or roll with. And a fair number can (and do) say, “I was raised that way but I don’t do it any more.” They’re proud of it. Mormon, but not. We have a lot of those.

Second, we have a burgeoning creative writing program. There are more students in this emphasis in the English Department than in literary studies, Writing Studies, or education.

Mormon young people of all stripes, and a blossoming creative writing program—what more exciting intersection could there be?

Continue Reading →

Mormon literary studies and gender balance


Michael Austin. BYUs and the Big 12.

Michael Austin, a university administrator in the Midwest, and a blogger both here and at By Common Consent, has written a fascinating post at BCC, Not Even Close: Faculty Gender Balance at the BYUs. My wife and I spent all morning reading the post and the comments, including from lots of people with experience at the BYUs. The discussion includes not only the issues of low hiring of females at the BYUs, but also the structural and cultural barriers to Mormon women achieving success in high status tenure-like academic positions (women are hired at lower-status adjunct positions in high numbers).

Looking at the BYU-Provo English department faculty page, I count 34 males and 11 females who are listed as “professors” of some type, or 24.4%. So, a little bit higher than at the university in general (20.5%), but still relatively low. Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite–14

The Spirit and the Baroque Sensibility: Clinton F. Larson, Part 1

clinton-f-larson_long_trim**Clinton F. Larson picked up the main themes of Elder Whitney and Merrill Bradshaw’s thinking about art and carried them some steps further. (As with Elder Whitney and Brother Bradshaw, I am drawing here from my 1978 master’s thesis.)
**Professor Marden J. Clark, in whom Brother Larsen privately expressed great confidence as an explicator of his work and his intentions, observed in his foreword to The Mantle of the Prophet and Other Plays (Deseret Book Company, 1966), a collection of five of Brother Larson’s poetry dramas, that through all of the plays in the collection  “run the constant, if not the dominant, themes of the nature of prophecy and the transmission of the power of prophecy,” and further: “Beneath these themes and supporting them, stands a simple and surprisingly orthodox faith that provides a larger, more sublime theme: that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind. On this familiar Christian and Mormon ground Dr. Larson stands without equivocation, using his art to explore and bolster and define both the faith and the fact” (p. viii). Clark continued: “From this standpoint all five plays are didactic, in purpose as well as fact. Dr. Larson makes no apology for this, though he lives and writes in an age when didacticism is belittled as never before in the history of art. The artistic defense of such didacticism as Dr. Larson’s, however, is simple enough: (1) Nearly all art is didactic in effect, and (2) this work is not merely didactic” (p. viii).
Clark explained: Continue Reading →

Award Winners: Essayist Joey Franklin interview

Wife Happily marriedJoey Franklin was the winner of the 2015 AML Creative Non-Fiction Award, for his essay collection My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married (University of Nebraska Press). Today we present an interview with Franklin conducted by Elizabeth Tidwell, a fellow BYU faculty member.

The essay as a creative rather than academic genre can be a foreign concept to some—we’ve often heard “essay” more connected to the five-paragraph essay than the personal essay. But that’s steadily changing as the genre is growing. You’ve just published your first collection of essays, so you’re clearly invested in the form. Why the essay?

I took a fiction class in graduate school and wrote three stories. The first was about a handyman who discovers that a widow in his apartment complex is actually a white-collar criminal. The second involved a disgruntled member of the Japanese mafia who shakes down a local pre-school. The third followed a pregnant Arab woman on a plane who stops a schizophrenic passenger from attacking her (none of those stories ever made it out of workshop). Continue Reading →

Dialogue and the Dangerous, Beautiful Possibilities of Mormon Literature

dialogue-oneDialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought turns 50 this year. This is important for a lot of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with Mormon literature. But some of the reasons have a lot to do with Mormon literature, perhaps the most important being that the advent of Dialogue fifty years ago fundamentally altered the possibility space in which Mormon literature could occur.

This happened in two ways. In the first place, Dialogue was the first venue that regularly discussed Mormon literature as an academic discipline. During its first twelve years, Dialogue published four special issues devoted to Mormon literature  (here, here, here, and here), the last one being the proceedings of the inaugural meeting of the Association for Mormon Letters—an organization that was created largely by Dialogue’s earliest contributors. Continue Reading →

An Interview with Kristyn Crow, AML Picture Book Award Winner

We are pleased to present picture book aficionado Emily Debenham’s interview with Kristyn Crow, the winner of the 2015 AML Picture Book Award. 

kristyn-crowEmily: This interview is to celebrate the fact that Zombelina Dances the Nutcracker won the 2015 AML award.  This is your second book with Zombelina as the main character. Is it different writing a picture book sequel?

Kristyn: With a sequel, the idea is to hold on to what made the first book special and yet create a story that’s new. So writing a sequel is different in the sense that I’m not starting with a brand new character and concept. I’m expanding on something familiar. And with both of the Zombelina sequels there were specific marketing themes that the publisher wanted to craft the books around. That was challenging because prior to these books I had never written a manuscript “to order.” I was nervous I might not be able to make the second book as enjoyable as the first. Continue Reading →

Mormon Letters in the barren wasteland

added-uponIt’s the beginning of the semester again, which means that in my Mormon Literature class, I’m making a halfhearted attempt to look at historical Mormon letters, which basically means anything written before I was born. After 1970, there’s lots of material to choose from, but before that time, we find sermons, poems set to music, biographies, journals and faith promoting stories, along with the occasional epic poem and the even rarer novel (thanks, Nephi Anderson, for representing). There’s plenty of fiction written about Mormons (usually the Mormon in question is an evil polygamist eager to kidnap or convert young virgins and spirit them off to Utah), and even quite a lot of literary fiction written by former Mormons or people familiar with Mormonism, but not a lot of fiction of enduring quality written by Mormons.

I know that part of the reason is that throughout the 19th century, novels were seen as a waste of time, or worse. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg called novel reading “one of the most pernicious habits to which a young lady can be devoted. When the habit is once thoroughly fixed, it becomes as inveterate as the use of liquor or opium.” Brigham Young definitely bought into the idea of novels as a waste of time, condemning all novels as “nonesense, trifling, arising from foolish fancy, vain imaginings and the spirit of lying that will subvert the readers until they do at last find themselves in hell.” In letters to his sons, he even compared reading of novels to swallowing poisonous herbs. However, he seemed to embrace theatrical presentations, saying, “If I were placed on a cannibal island and given a task of civilizing its people, I should straightway build a theatre.” I haven’t been able to find examples of dramatic productions dating from the pioneer era in Utah (are there any?), so I wonder if most of the plays were either informal or brought in from outside. Continue Reading →

In Tents 69 How Prophets Behave Rhetorically, or Don’t Part IX

In every ward we’ve lived in my wife and I have served in the Primary, so when we moved into my parents’ basement in Provo, we were called to the Primary, where we had also served in Seattle. One day the Primary workers were discussing activities, and my ears perked up at the name of Harvey Fletcher, since my father and I had home taught him. (Long retired, he had had a distinguished career at Bell Labs, “the father of stereophonic sound,” then served at BYU as the first dean of the College of Physics and Engineering Sciences.)

leapSeems he had come to visit the Primary one day to tell about his experiences in Primary, where the teachers had taken the children out to a creek, sang “Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?” then helped the children jump the creek to the Lord’s side. The activity had impressed him enough that he had remembered it for about 90 years, but his teachers were not the first to create an activity they hoped would help children establish their commitment to the kingdom of God.

Nor was Moses the first when he instructed Joshua to take the camp of Israel into the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, with “Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin” on Mount Gerizim to shout the covenant blessings, and “Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali,” on Mount Ebal to shout the covenant curses. Continue Reading →

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