This Month in Mormon Literature, February 2018

Tim Wirkus, the winner of the 2014 Association for Mormon Letters Novel Award, had his second novel, The Infinite Future, published by Penguin Press, and has received very strong reviews. As with his first novel, Mormons and Brazil are central aspects of the story. Tara Westover’s first book, Educated: A Memoir, about growing up in a dysfunctional Mormon survivalist family, has also received strong reviews and significant attention. There are new poetry collections by Heather Harris Bergevin, Lara Candland, and Karen Kelsay, and new YA science fiction novel by Dan Wells. There is a new Spanish-language Mormon literary society and newsletter. Two Mormon literary contests have been announced. The Whitney Awards finalists will be announced later today, and the AML Awards finalists will be announced by the end of February. For suggestions and corrections, please write mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Conferences

The schedule for the LDStorymakers Conference, May 3-5, in Provo, has been announced. Continue Reading →

Why Do I Write? by Diane Stringam Tolley

A guest post by Diane Stringam Tolley, the author of the Book of Mormon novels Daughter of Ishmael and A House Divided.

Why do I write?

I come from a long line of story-tellers, but that is only partially the reason . . .

As one of 36 students in Mrs. Hainsworth’s grade six class, I bent to the assignment with my usual determination.

Okay, you’re right, I was not typically so focused. But when the assignment was for Language Arts and included some or all of the words: Write a story, I was hooked.

Today, some fifty-plus years later, I don’t remember what the actual story was to be about.

Nor, sadly, did I keep a copy of what I wrote that day. I expect it was something pithy and epigrammic like, ‘The Haunted House’. Continue Reading →

The Spirit is a River

By Mette Ivie Harrison

A friend of mine told me once that she felt that the spirit was a river and that there were times when she dipped into it and accidentally came out with revelation that was meant for someone else, and her job was to pass it along—if she could. Or sometimes she found revelation in there that was actually meant for her ten years in the future, and she had to wait until then to understand it. This is not the typical Mormon view of the spirit. Like other Christians, we tend to see the spirit as the direct hand of God in our lives. Mormons even talk about the Holy Spirit being one of the Godhead, an individual distinct from God the Father and Christ, whose sole purpose it is to send us divine revelation in our lives. Continue Reading →

in verse # 85:  Does Christmas Measure Up?

In this post, I will examine two of R. A. Christmas’s poems that are not in Saviors on Mt. Disneyland, looking to see whether, and if, and how, he measures up to his own “Bunk-House Poetics”.  The first is from the first edition of Hungry Sunday (1996, not the one pictured, which is the second edition, of 2006).

GHOST TRUCK

for RHC

Now I lay me down by the freeway,
in a duplex in Cedar City, Utah;

and twenty yards west of these bricks
rides the asphalt, as high as my roof,

where the line-haul drivers trade leads
all night in their big sets of doubles.

I open my window and listen
for morning on grandfather’s freight dock:

hand-trucks thumping past my head;
unloading those box-cars of sno-jel;

Grandpa pissed off at everybody;
my father hunched over the bill-writer; Continue Reading →

A Spanish-language Mormon Literature Newsletter: El Pregonero de Deseret

It might just be that the world wide web makes things a lot more accessible, but it seems that non-English Mormon literature is popping up more frequently these days (e.g., here). Case in point, last weekend saw the launch of a newsletter dedicated to Spanish-language Mormon authors and their work.

The newsletter’s name is El Pregonero de Deseret. A pregonero was, in Spain and its American colonies, a towncrier, someone who walked the streets of town shouting out announcements. (So, the title could be translated as The Deseret Towncrier… which sounds more poetic in Spanish, really). The publication’s name relies on two anachronistic nouns to signal the coming together of two traditions—the Spanish tradition and the Mormon tradition. Along similar lines, the logo for the newsletter cleverly meshes Picasso’s stylized Don Quixote and the iconic trumpet atop LDS temples. These elements are fused by design; they intend to convey that the newsletter seeks to highlight the work of Spanish-language authors who are also Mormon.

The initial issue of El Pregonero de Deseret contains an editorial explaining the publication’s purpose, an author highlight (that of Mario R. Montani), a book review (of R. de la Lanza’s novel Eleusis), a translated excerpt of Orson F. Whitney’s literary battle cry, and a poem (by Elvira Loyola) published in 1970 in the pages of the now defunct Relief Society magazine at Buenos Aires. If you read Spanish and are interested, you can download the newsletter here. Continue Reading →

In Tents # 85 A Note on Hermeneutics part 5

Nineteen-seventy was an interesting year for the Clark family. My brother Kevin, youngest of the pre-doctoral family, graduated high school. The oldest of the post-doctoral family graduated 6th grade, so it was the last year my sister Krista and I attended school in the same building, as she was three grades behind me. As for the adults, my father and his colleagues Soren Cox and Marshall Craig finished their freshman English textbook, About Language, and got word from the publisher that it was ready for use in the fall. But none of them would use it that fall. My father finally took a sabbatical, won an appointment as a Fulbright (he loved the sound of that word) fellow at the University of Oulu, Finland–the northernmost in the world, about 90 miles below the arctic circle. He hadn’t taken one in 1963 because my sister Diane got married, and in 1957 (if I have my family history right) he was in Seattle working on his doctorate.

But 1970 was sabbatical year. The Coxes headed for China–Hong Kong or Taiwan, I think, and the Craigs for London–which is where we rented a car to drive to Westfalia Autowerken to pick up the VW Vanagon my parents had ordered back in Provo. From there we headed north to Helsinki for a week of orientation at the bottom of Suomi before heading up toward the top. At the end of the school year we headed south, traveling through 16 countries in about 3 months, and again renting a car in England to tour in while we shipped the VW home so it would be waiting for us in New York when we got off the plane. Continue Reading →

Ebbe Larsen’s Rejsen til Zion – A Danish novel of Mormon emigrants

Dr. Kim Östman provides us with this review of a new novel written in Danish.  

Ebbe Larsen, Rejsen til Zion: En dokumentarisk roman om danskere på rejse ad Mormon-sporet (Gjern: Hovedland, 2017). Hardcover with dust jacket, 183 pages. DKK 249.95. ISBN 978-87-7070-587-5.

Reviewed by Kim Östman, Turku, Finland

Denmark was Mormonism’s point of entry into Scandinavia and a major source of Mormon emigrants to Utah in the nineteenth century. This flow of people began in the 1850s when transatlantic sailing ships and oxen-pulled wagons on North American overland trails were the main methods of travel. It then continued into the more modern era of steamships and railways, eventually diminishing into a trickle.

Ebbe Larsen’s Danish-language novel Rejsen til Zion (the full title translates into ”The Journey to Zion: A Documentary Novel about Danes Travelling on the Mormon Trail”) depicts the early emigration experience in the 1850s and 1860s. The story is not only about events on the trail, but rather about the life-changing totality that the experience represents: conversion to a new religion and leaving family behind, emigration to a foreign country in dangerous and arduous circumstances, and trying to cope with settling into a strange new ”promised land” with a new language. Continue Reading →

The Infinite Future: An interview with Tim Wirkus

 The Infinite Future: An interview with Tim Wirkus about his novel

by Gabriel González

Tim Wirkus is the author of one previous novel, City of Brick and Shadow (Tyrus Books, 2014), which was a finalist for the Shamus Award and the winner of the Association for Mormon Letters Best Novel Award. He’s currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Southern California’s Creative Writing and Literature Program. His newest novel, The Infinite Future, was published last week, and has had received strong reviews in Publishers WeeklyKirkus, Locus, and Booklist.

Gabriel González has written a review of The Infinite Future that is temporarily available on this website. It will be published in the Spring 2018 issue of Dialogue: A Journal for Mormon Thought.

Publisher’s blurb: “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.”

Gabriel González interviewed Wirkus by email.

Thank you for accepting this invitation to be interviewed for the AML blog. I was asked to review The Infinite Future for Dialogue.  My own interpretations of the novel, however, may be quite removed from the author’s own thoughts and intentions, so I appreciate this opportunity to peek behind the curtain. I have put together some questions regarding the book’s inspiration, characters, and themes. Continue Reading →

In Hollywood but Not of Hollywood, Part 2 – New Directions for LDS Institutional Films

In Hollywood but Not of Hollywood: Cecil B. DeMille, Paul Schrader, and the Evolving Spiritual Aesthetic of the Institutional films of the LDS Church, Part 2

Mark T. Lewis

[This is the second part of an article taken from Mark T. Lewis’s 2016 masters thesis, from Brigham Young University’s Department of Religious Studies, entitled “An Hungry Man Dreameth”: Transcendental Film Theory and Stylistic Trends in Recent Institutional Films of the LDS Church”. Part 1, about the religious film aesthetic of of Cecil B. DeMille, Paul Schrader, and the makers of The Testaments can be read here.]

New Directions

Though seemingly etched in stone, the prevailing status quo for religious filmmaking in Latter-day Saint culture need not belie an inability for aesthetic exploration. In the decade since Testaments, the Church has begun numerous new media initiatives, including but not limited to short documentary profiles of individual members;[1] a feature film focused on Joseph Smith; and short, shareable vignettes depicting the life of Jesus Christ. Stylistically, many of these films decline from the intensity of the DeMillian aesthetic present in Testaments, though there remains much that hearkens back to Hollywood’s aesthetic in general.

Perhaps the most intriguing shift away from DeMille and towards Schrader came during the announcement of The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos (2011). These videos are based on short passages from the New Testament, filmed as vignettes, and uploaded to popular video-sharing websites, such as YouTube. The departure from previous stylistic practices is evident in more than the changed mode of distribution; in his announcement of the new videos at the 2011 First Presidency Christmas devotional, President Henry B. Eyring laid out the stylistic aim of the new project: Continue Reading →

In Hollywood but Not of Hollywood, Part 1

In Hollywood but Not of Hollywood: Cecil B. DeMille, Paul Schrader, and the Evolving Spiritual Aesthetic of the Institutional films of the LDS Church, Part 1

Mark T. Lewis

[This is the first part of an article taken from Mark T. Lewis’s 2016 Masters Thesis, from Brigham Young University’s Department of Religious Studies, entitled “An Hungry Man Dreameth”: Transcendental Film Theory and Stylistic Trends in Recent Institutional Films of the LDS Church”.]

“It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite” (Isaiah 29:8).

To the religiously minded, few things carry greater importance than a connection to the Divine. For centuries the literature of prophets and the work of gifted artists have served to create a liminal space where man and Maker can meet. As technology and art have advanced, new opportunities for communion have been unveiled. The advent of cinema and the creation of the Internet pose unique questions for the artist seeking to lead an audience toward an encounter with God. Evangelists like Cecil B. DeMille and theologians like Paul Schrader both see the opportunities presented by cinema to stir viewers towards transcendence. However, the aesthetic, or overall stylistic efforts, of DeMille and Schrader differ markedly and reveal a fruitful point of tension: a filmmaker’s portrayal of the spiritual on film reveals much about his or her beliefs about God, the viewer, and how the two achieve correspondence.

As an institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been heavily involved in using film and new media to further its spiritual ends, generally favoring the style of missionaries like DeMille. Comparing the DeMillian aesthetic for spiritual filmmaking and Latter-day Saint beliefs about how man and God communicate reveals spiritually rewarding areas for stylistic exploration in institutional films of the LDS Church.

Aesthetic of Cecil B. DeMille

In Cecil B. DeMille’s entire body of work, his “religious epics”—such as his 1956 masterwork, The Ten Commandments—were by far the most impressive and presented the most enduring impact.[i] Continue Reading →

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