Claire Åkebrand introduces her debut novel “The Field Is White”

Guest post by Claire Åkebrand

Though my novel The Field Is White concerns a Mormon missionary and has a very Doctrine & Covenants title, I neither think of it as Mormon literature, nor a book about Mormons. It is a novel foremost about love, death, the purpose of art, forgetfulness, family, and time. My novel is for anyone of any background who is interested in literary fiction and who finds pleasure in slowed pace, figurative language. and self-indulgent ruminations.

I started writing The Field Is White six years ago. My husband and I were living in Frankfurt, Germany for a year. We didn’t have a car and therefore relied on trains and busses. We walked a lot. I remember listening to Rachmaninov often during that time. His Prelude in G Minor, the rapid tempo of it, kept creating this vision for me of a missionary trudging through a heavy blizzard.

I wanted to get to know this imagined missionary. Why did he keep coming back to me? As I began to write my way toward the idea of him, he turned out to be John Eliason from Lethbridge, Alberta serving a mission in Sweden in the 50s.  He baptizes an old poet named Emil Quist (curiously similar to my own grandfather Holger Bergius). Turns out, John is losing his faith. He doesn’t want to go back to Alberta where familial trouble awaits him. He uses his convert’s death as an excuse to escape to the countryside where he seeks out the estranged family. As the snow strands him with the widow and daughter, tensions rise and John learns some uncomfortable things about Emil. Continue Reading →

Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading (2)

Guest post by Lauren Fields

This is the second post from my 2016 BYU English MA thesis titled “Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading.” Part One can be read here. This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between Mormon assimilation, exceptionalism, and their endeavors in secular reading by analyzing Out of the Best Books (OOBB), a 1964–71 five-volume reading guide and reading program on secular reading established by the Mormon Church for its women’s organization, the Relief Society. The thesis can be read in its entirety here.

Part Two:

Discerning Mormon Truths in Secular Texts

In keeping with their proposed interpretive methods, the editors frequently reminded Mormon readers to maintain their sense of distinction as they embarked on secular reading, using their explicatory comments about Mormons’ unique worldview to persuade readers that only they could grasp the full spiritual implications of each author’s message. Thus, their program attempted to position Mormons as the most discerning readers of great literature by demonstrating how the most talented authors shared certain aspects of Mormon beliefs. For instance, in his introduction to several poems by Robert Browning, “probably the greatest English poet since Milton” (1:71), Clark explained that Browning “does firmly believe that God is in Heaven controlling the universe” and that “the potentiality of man in this life is great and the confidence with which he can look forward to live beyond death is equally great” (1:71).

Furthermore, in his explication of Browning’s “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” a portrait of a self-righteous Protestant clergyman, Clark inferred that “Browning believed just as strongly as do members of the LDS Church that faith without works is dead and that an individual has the responsibility through an exercise of willpower to work out his own salvation” (1:237). Thus, by framing these classic texts as works focused on sentiments Mormons were particularly well equipped to recognize, Clark positioned OOBB participants as uniquely perceptive readers. Continue Reading →

Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading (1)

Guest post by Lauren Fields

The following essay is excerpted from my 2016 BYU English MA thesis titled “Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading.” This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between Mormon assimilation, exceptionalism, and their endeavors in secular reading by analyzing Out of the Best Books (OOBB), a 1964–71 five-volume reading guide and reading program on secular reading established by the Mormon Church for its women’s organization, the Relief Society. The thesis can be read in its entirety here.

Out of the Best Books:

Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading

Mormons have long been considered a peculiar people by those outside the faith tradition. According to many scholars of Mormon history and sociology, part of what renders them a distinctive cultural group are the unique tensions or paradoxes that permeate their doctrines and practices. For instance, in People of Paradox, literature and religious studies scholar Terryl L. Givens notes that Mormons paradoxically celebrate both rigid hierarchical structures and individual agency and also emphasize the possibility of both epistemological certainty and eternal learning, creating a mix of “intellectual certitude and intellectual instability” (xv).

Yet one of the paradoxes that scholars have deemed most formative and prevalent is what Givens refers to as “exile and integration” (xv), or Mormons’ perpetual desire to assimilate comfortably into mainstream American society while also retaining a sense of cultural distinctiveness and separateness from the world around them. Many have commented on this specific cultural tension, but sociologist Armand Mauss’s The Angel and the Beehive offers the most comprehensive and oft-cited model of Mormon separation and assimilation. Mauss notes that Mormons experience ever-present pulls toward both the angel (symbolic of the impulse to separate by clinging to uniquely Mormon doctrine and practice) and the beehive (representing the impulse to integrate with mainstream American society). Continue Reading →

Mormon Arts Center Conference on Teaching Mormon Arts

The Mormon Arts Center in collaboration with the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah, is sponsoring a Conference on Teaching Mormon Arts. It is a day for discussion for artists, teachers, scholars, and administrators, with particular attention to literature, music, theater and film, visual arts, and dance. The focus is on teaching in colleges and universities but the same principles apply to teaching at any level. The conference will be held at the Fort Douglas Officers Club, 150 Fort Douglas Boulevard, Salt Lake City, January 20, 2018, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be no charge for conference attendance. Lunch will be provided for registrants. Go to the Mormon Arts Center website to register.

Continue Reading →

Merrijane Rice: Nobody Reads Poetry Nowadays

AML’s Poetry Week continues! Merrijane Rice has participated in most of the Mormon Lit Blitz contests.  In October she published her first poetry collection, Messages on the Water. “A collection of poems written from one LDS woman’s perspective about her family, faith, nature, and the little gifts and insights that make life an experience of continual surprise, learning, and love.” 

Nobody Reads Poetry Nowadays

Well, not literally nobody. I know many fine people who read poetry. I read poetry. But we are living in an age when all sorts of media compete for our attention, and it’s more common for people to fill their need for “poetry” by listening to pop songs with catchy hooks and driving beats. To actually read poetry is more like delving into scripture: it’s rewarding to the persistent, but often time-consuming and difficult. Intimidating.

So why do I write poetry? You’ll laugh, but I mainly chose this art form because it’s short. When I was a girl, I loved all kinds of writing and imagined that one day I would be a famous author of fantasy novels, or sci-fi screen plays, or “very important” novels. It’s easy to expect such things will be a matter of course when you’re too young to worry about what concessions you’ll have to make as you pursue other worthy goals. Continue Reading →

Heather Harris Bergevin: Fairy Tales and Lawless Women

Is is poetry week at AML! Heather Harris Bergevin’s poetry collection Lawless Women will be published later this month by BCC Press. BCC Press says, “In these poems, we encounter some of the “bad girls” from literature and history: Medea, Helen of Troy, Vashti, Gothel (Rapunzel’s witchy mom), Snow White’s stepmother, and la belle dame sans merci. But we get to hear their side of the story, all processed through the marvelous mind of one of Mormonism’s most unique and engaging poetic talents.” In a guest post, Heather describes her interest in and difficulty with fairy tales. 

When I was ten, our library owned a set of gorgeous books, all colors of the rainbow with gold detailed, beautifully illustrated covers. Irresistible, Andrew Lang’s books of fairy tales became foundational to my library obsession. The passing of stories over campfires, at hearthsides, generations upon generations ago, transcribed and written for my enjoyment–this was a real magic. Hero’s Quests and the Golden Three became indelibly part of my psyche, even though, as we all know, many of the old tales simply don’t make a lot of sense. Rarely do you get a new wife from peeling an orange and her appearing from the pips. Generally you don’t get to be a famous musician, even if you are a cat standing on the back of a dog, standing on the back of a donkey. I chalked the parts of the tales which don’t make sense (why can’t Cinderella’s Prince recognize her? I mean, really?) to magic and things lost to multiple retellings. I graduated to many other authors, and many other stories, but the fairy tales linger. Continue Reading →

Robert A. Rees: How I Came to Poetry

Robert A. Rees, one of the doyens of Mormon Studies, will have his first poetry collection, Waiting for Morning, published by Zarahemla Books later this month. He provided us with this essay about his history with poetry. 

How I Came to Poetry

by Robert A. Rees

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men [and women] die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
–William Carlos William

All that can be done with words is soon told.
–Robert Frost

I came to poetry late, or rather it came to me that way. There was no poetry, literal or figurative, in my childhood or my adolescence. My home and culture were what H.L. Menken would have called “The Sahara of the Bozart.” There was no possibility I would have gotten Mencken’s pun until I minored in French at BYU. The beaux arts, which ultimately came to define both my personal and professional life as well as have a profound influence on my spiritual life, would more likely to have been mocked in my home, if responded to at all. Until I went to college. I don’t remember having read a single poem, including in my high school English classes, although it is more than probable that I did. Continue Reading →

In Tents # 83 A Note on Hermeneutics part 3

Ganesh Cherian, from Patheos: KiwiMormon

Black Friday today. How intriguing that we would associate commerce, shopping for Christmas, with blackness, or darkness. We have a lot of negative associations with blackness, which can be problematic, embarrassing and cruel when we attach those associations to people whose skin is is also dark or black. Last month I ended with a quote from Ganesh Cherian of Wellington New Zealand, “A Former Bishop’s Doctrinal Dilemmas

During this particular lesson one of my fellow high-priests informed us that two friends (a former Bishop, and a Stake President) in England had recently left the church over the Race and the Priesthood essay.  As dutiful leaders they had instructed their congregations,  referring to the ‘the seed of Cain’ explanation for withholding the priesthood from Black members of the church until 1978.

And I posed a question about that word dutiful.

If no one with general authority to each doctrine to the Church has been teaching the the seed of Cain explanation for nearly 40 years, who taught those men it was their duty to teach it as doctrine? And who taught whoever taught those men it was his or her duty to teach about the seed of Cain?

Another way to phrase that question would be, “What do we do about teachings we find repellant or troubling?” It’s a very old question. In his Great Courses lectures Lost Christianities Bart Ehrman talks about various controversies in the early church, including docetists who thought it unseemly to imagine that God could suffer as humans do, or would go through the indignity of suffering on a cross, therefore the suffering described in the gospels must be only seeming, docetic, not actual. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, Nov. 29, 2017

Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy Oathbringer lands him a #1 position on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction list. The Ice Front, Eric Samuelsen’s latest and largest-cast play at Salt Lake City’s Plan-B, tells the story of the Norwegian National Theatre actors who were ordered to perform a Nazi propaganda drama. It received strong reviews. Instrument of War is a 90 minute film, directed by Adam Thomas Anderegg, about a WWII B-24 pilot who was captured and held as a POW in Germany. It played without interruption on BYUtv on Thanksgiving. There are a proliferation of interesting Mormon memoirs. Other novels published this month include Children of the Fleet, a new Enderverse novel by Orson Scott Card, Anne Perry’s Victorian Christmas mystery A Christmas Return, Breeana Shield’s debut young adult fantasy Poison’s Kiss, based on Indian folklore and Hindu beliefs, Julie Wright’s contemporary romance Lies Jane Austen Told Me, and Merrijane Rice’s poetry collection Messages on the Water. For suggestions and corrections, please write me at mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News, blogs, and awards

Bert Fuller gives a preview of his detailed review article, “Mormon Poetry, 2012 to the Present“, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of Dialogue, at Fire in the Pasture. Continue Reading →

2018 Preview: What a Crop of Books!

There is an amazing number of novels and other books written by former AML Award winners being published in the first half of 2018. 2017 was a great year for Mormon literature–the judging for the 2017 AML Awards are in full swing, and the winners will be announced at the Mormon Studies in the Humanities Conference that AML is participating in on March 23. You had better get to reading the 2017 books now, however, because the first half of 2018 may very well top what we are seeing this year. They include:

Novels

Tim Wirkus (Novel Award, 2014).  The Infinite Future. Penguin Press, Jan. 16.

A mindbending novel that melds two page-turning tales in one. In the first, we meet three broken people, joined by an obsession with a forgotten Brazilian science-fiction author named Salgado-MacKenzie. There’s Danny, a writer who’s been scammed by a shady literary award committee; Sergio, journalist turned sub-librarian in São Paulo; and Harriet, an excommunicated Mormon historian in Salt Lake City, who years ago corresponded with the reclusive Brazilian writer. The motley trio sets off to discover his identity, and whether his fabled masterpiece–never published–actually exists. Did his inquiries into the true nature of the universe yield something so enormous that his mind was blown for good? In the second half, Wirkus gives us the lost masterpiece itself–the actual text of The Infinite Future, Salgado-MacKenzie’s wonderfully weird magnum opus. The two stories merge in surprising and profound ways. Part science-fiction, part academic satire, and part book-lover’s quest, this wholly original novel captures the heady way that stories inform and mirror our lives.

               Publishers Weekly review. Kirkus reviewBooklist review (starred).

Jennifer Quist (Novel Award, 2015). The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner. Linda Leith, March 10.

Morgan Turner’s grief over her sister’s brutal murder has become a run, and everyday horror she is caught in along with her estranged parents and chilly older brother. In search of a way out, she delves the depths of a factory abattoir, classic horror cinema, and the Canadian criminal justice system, which is trying her sister’s killer and former lover. He is arguing that he is Not Criminally Responsible for his actions because of mental illness. Whatever the verdict, Morgan – with the help of her immigrant coworkers, a Mormon do-gooder, and a lovelorn schizophrenia patient –  uncovers her own way to move on. Continue Reading →

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