The Aborted Legacy of Mormon Art, or Why there will be no Mormon Shakespeare

The following is a guest post by Mette Ivie Harrison. Mette is a former BYU “Benson Scholar” and high school seminary Scripture Chase champion. She now writes Mormon mysteries about Bishop’s Wife Linda Wallheim starting with The Bishop’s Wife. She is an All American triathlete and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is the ward historian and nursery teacher, has five children and lives in Layton, Utah. Her most recent published novel, The Book of Laman, was published in July by the By Common Consent Press.

In 1888, Orson F. Whitney, gave a speech entitled “Home Literature” in which he claimed “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” At the time, Mormons were struggling with the US government on many levels, including polygamy. Church leaders were imprisoned for the practice, the holy temples were being threatened with desecration or even destruction. Mormons had already faced a long history of persecution, being chased out of Kirtland, Ohio and then Nauvoo, Illinois, the prophet Joseph Smith being martyred in 1844 in Carthage Jail. The Mormon pioneers fled to the Salt Lake Valley in part because it was not part of the United States at the time. Mormons intended to create their own government of Deseret and their own identity, but it was difficult to get the legitimacy they craved for their own faith community. Put into this context, Whitney’s speech makes the goal of a Mormon Shakespeare or Milton that much more poignant and urgent. Continue Reading →

Introducing Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical

Introducing Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical

by Jerry Argetsinger

Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical
Edited by Marc E. Shaw & Holly Welker
Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016
Hardcover, 196 pages, $75.00 (Kindle $56.80)

Now in its 7th year, having opened March 24, 2011, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon is still one of the most popular shows on Broadway.  Two national tours have been crisscrossing North America for five years. Productions are also running in London, since 2013 and Melbourne, since earlier this year. Even as I write, a National Tour is performing for the second time in Salt Lake City.

An excellent collection of critical essays on the musical was published last year but seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Mark E. Shaw and Holly Welker’s Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical has yet to be reviewed in any theater or academic venue. I was invited to write a brief introduction to the book for AML, even though I authored one of those essays. To be completely transparent, I do not know any of the other contributors and the first time I read their essays was when I received my author copy of the book May 3, 2016. When I finished reading the volume, I wrote this general response in my journal: “Six brilliant, two very good, and two all right essays on the Musical.”  Of course I included my own as one of the six, so there may be a bit of exaggeration on that point. I was honestly amazed at the quality of scholarship and am very proud to be included. Among the “reader reviews” at Amazon.com and Mormon Main Street, it is clear that essays are valued differently by individual readers who point out their own favorites. Continue Reading →

Interview with McArthur Krishna, AML Picture Book Award winner

McArthur Krishna, along with Bethany Brady Spalding and Caitlin Connolly, were the recipients of the 2016 AML Picture Book Award for Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families (Deseret Book). McArthur is interviewed here by Rachel Davis, who often reviews LDS children’s books and teaching materials.

I know you and Bethany worked together before on a pair of Girls who Choose God books. How did your collaboration with Caitlin Connolly come about?

Continue Reading →

Melissa Leilani Larson: The Theatre of the Uncomfortable

Shakespeare is great and all, but, on the list of best playwrights in the history of ever, I only consider him #3. In second place is the Greek master Euripides, author of some 92 plays, only 19 of which have survived. Two of them—Medea, the story of a woman who murders her own children in revenge for her husband’s decision to abandon her; and The Trojan Women, a conversation among the noble women of Troy who have been condemned to death or concubinage at the end of the Trojan War—flay me to the core every time I watch or read them.

And in first place is the Norwegian genius Henrik Ibsen, who has been responsible for some of the most uncomfortable evenings of my life. A stage version of Ghosts that I saw in Salt Lake City was two hours of sheer physical discomfort causedby the plot. The Glenda Jackson film version of Hedda Gabler that I used to show students in my World Literature courses was like sitting on the edge of a cliff from start to finish. Continue Reading →

In Tents #80 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 5

This Sunday, August 6, would be my mother’s 98th birthday, but she died in January of last year. Fifty-one years ago her birthday was on a Saturday. That morning our family went to the south Relief Society room of our double chapel on 9th East in Provo across the street from Deseret Towers. The south Relief Society room was the one with the font, and as we sat there in our white clothes some priests (which will have an entirely different connotation to someone unfamiliar with Mormon culture) gave us a demonstration, standing in the middle of the room, of how the baptisms would proceed, how to hold our fathers’ hands, how to lean back under the water.

People born in June were normally baptized the first Saturday in July, but we had been on vacation that day. (That may have been the day we climbed Boot Hill. Disappointing. First, not much of a hill. Second, only six men had been gunned down and buried there. Six was the first 30 minutes of a John Wayne film, not a legendary event in the American imagination.)

Sometime during that first week of August I walked across the street to Beverly Broadbent’s, the Primary president, to pass off the Articles of Faith, including this one,

 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Or maybe it was four years later, when I graduated from Primary, that I memorized and recited the Articles of Faith. At any rate, for half a century now I have associated the word translate with words like BibleBook of Mormon, and scripture. In that time I’ve read a fair number of translators’ prefaces, a fair amount about the problems of taking words from one language and setting them down in another. (And I did some work on the manual for Book of Mormon translators.)

I’m comfortable with the idea that translations are incomplete, that things can be lost and gained in translation, and that translation can have a wider meaning than simply finding word equivalences between languages, such as transforming from a lower state to a higher state.

No piece of writing, my father had said, is perfect.

What if you got a perfect essay from a student?

I guess it would be translated.

Into what language? Continue Reading →

Award Winners: Essayist Patrick Madden interview

Patrick Madden was the winner of the 2016 AML Creative Non-Fiction Award, for his essay collection Sublime Physick (University of Nebraska Press). Today we present an interview with Madden conducted by Elizabeth Tidwell, a fellow BYU faculty member.

Patrick teaches creative nonfiction at Brigham Young University. His essays have appeared in the Iowa Review, Portland Magazine, Fourth Genre, Hotel Amerika, and other journals, as well as in the Best Creative Nonfiction and the Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. His first essay collection, Quotidiana (Nebraska, 2010), also was given an AML award. He co-edited After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays (Georgia, 2015) with David Lazar and co-translated Eduardo Milán’s Selected Poems (Shearsman, 2012). He maintains an anthology of classical essays and essay resources at quotidiana.org.

As your second collection of essays, what was unique or new this go-round? Did you go about the process differently, mentally or otherwise? Take us into some of the behind-the-scenes elements ofSublime Physick.

This book is actually quite a lot like my first book from a big-picture point of view. They’re each collections of about a dozen essays that derive from my personal experience and meditate, sometimes humorously, always with research, on abstractions. They’re different in their specifics, though. Sublime Physick looks into repentance, loss, worry, empathy, middle-agedness, moments of time, mimicry, the ripple effect, unrecognized endings, points of reference, and originality (oh, boy, does it look into originality, for nearly 100 pages), plus a lot more (if you subdivide the essays, which you should; I do).

One element that carried over from your first collection, Quotidiana, is illustrations throughout the text, which is rather rare in books of essays. Can you talk about that choice? What effect do you hope illustrations have on readers’ experience of this collection?

I hope pictures will become less rare in essay collections (and books in general) for the simple reason that images give readers something different and interesting to focus on and puzzle about, as both supplement and complement, and even as subversion to the text. I include images because 1) it’s easy to do nowadays (with computers for typesetting, instead of lead blocks) and 2) W. G. Sebald and Eduardo Galeano, two of my favorite writers, did it in some of their books, and I found their use of images to be deeply enriching. I hope that readers will pause a bit at the pictures in my books and think of them not only as illustrations showing what the words are already saying, but as another language that accompanies the text in order to enhance and challenge it. For instance, in each book, I’ve included images that give the lie to, that betray, what the text claims. This is one of the little silly games I play when I make a book. Maybe nobody notices, but I have fun with it anyway. Continue Reading →

in verse # 79 : Swift and Pound

In 1732 Jonathan Swift published “The Lady’s Dressing Room,[i]” a poem commenting on contemporary vanity.  At 144 lines, it might not seem too long to enter into this post, and I might be willing to enter it in its entirety, but Swift, as anyone who has read Travels into several remote nations of the world, in four parts / by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, will know, Swift was, not to put too fine a point on the matter, a satirist.  That work was first issued in a bowdlerized edition in 1726, and then in an amended edition in 1735[ii], after “The Lady’s Dressing Room” was published.

But Swift was a satirist, not a satyrist, although a lady named Satira appears in the poem.  It has been controversial from the first, being considered sexist.  But at least one of the problems with that view is that the satire is more anti-humanist, which allows Swift to vent in 144 lines on every human vice, folly and defect.  He was, after all, a clergyman, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  But before that, he was born, in Dublin, to Anglo-Irish parents who had come to Dublin to seek their fortune.  His father died seven months before he was born,[iii] and his mother left him in Dublin and returned to England.  I’m sure that had nothing to do with “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” in which a swain, one Strephon, steals into his lady Celia’s dressing room and finds all in disarray and gross display.  After 114 highly descriptive lines laying all that out, Strephon finds himself in a bind.  As Swift has it:

Thus finishing his grand Survey, [115]
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia  Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, July 2017

The Mormon Arts Center Festival in New York City was called, by Terryl Givens, “a seminal event in Mormonism’s coming of age artistically.” The Mormon Lit Blitz is a great opportunity to enjoy quality flash fiction on Mormon themes, and the latest issue of Dialogue provides us with a cascade of short stories, poems, essays, and reviews. New books include poetry collections from Claire Åkebrand and Lisa Bickmore, a Mormon alternative history story collection edited by William Morris, Dan Wells’ final John Cleaver horror novel, and well-reviewed juvenile fiction from Julie Berry, Ann Dee Ellis, Emily R. King, Sara B. Larson, Mackenzi Lee, Kate Watson, and Kiersten White. T. C. Christensen’s latest movie Love, Kennedy was released. Finally, BCC Press is swinging into high-gear in July, publishing four literary works with LDS themes: a Book of Mormon novel by Mette Harrison, plays by Melissa Leilani Larson, a memoir by Tracy McKay, and an illustrated poetry collection on Mother in Heaven by Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Ashley Mae Hoiland. Please send news and announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Mormon Arts Center Festival

The first Mormon Arts Center Festival was held June 29 to July 1 at the Riverside Church, New York City. Glen Nelson and Richard Bushman were the main organizers. Continue Reading →

Mormon missionary in Sweden inspires Jens Lekman to begin his “mission”

Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman opens up his latest album, with the song “To Know Your Mission”.

The song is based on an experience that Lekman had when he was approached by a Mormon missionary in Gothenburg when he was 16 years old. The first part of the song is told through the missionary’s eyes. Lekman has commented in an “Under the Radar” interview, “I was fascinated that he had this mission; he had this purpose already in life. He knew exactly what he was going to do, and I was this super confused 16-year-old. I think it’s not until right at this very moment [when the song was written] that I figured out where things were going and what my mission is.”

The article continues, “By the end of the song, Lekman has concluded that his mission is to be a musician who tells his and his fans’ stories through his songs. (Or, in the words of the song, ‘In a world of mouths, to be an ear.'”

The song opens the alternative dance-pop album titled Life Will See You Now. It’s a good song, take a listen.

Here is the song as it appears on the album.

Here is a live acoustic version of the song. Continue Reading →

Seven Times Mormon Women’s Memoirs Changed the Conversation (#6 Will Blow Your Mind)

Last week, Tracy McKay published a remarkable memoir entitled The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope.  I think it is a game changer. Full disclosure: I was one of the main editors of By Common Consent Press on this project. Even fuller disclosure: I became one of the main editors for this book because, the second I heard about it, I knew that it would be a game changer. Here’s why.

In the first place, The Burning Point is a beautifully written memoir. Those who have followed Tracy on her own blog, Dandelion Mama  or as a regular contributor to BCC, know that she is a graceful, lyrical writer with a profound moral depth and a varied body of experience. It is a good book.

But it is also an important book. For one thing, it deals head on with the problem of opioid addiction, which was at the root of the family crisis that Tracy narrates. As this becomes a major epidemic in the United States–and make no mistake about it, it is becoming a major epidemic in the United States–books like Tracy’s will become a more and more important part of the solution. Continue Reading →

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