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 →

In Which I Solve a Maurice Sendak Mystery, by Mackenzi Lee

Below is a blog post by the author Mackenzi Lee, from August, 2013. I thought it was delightful, and asked Mackenzi to allow us to reprint it here. Lee has since had two YA novels published to great acclaim, including The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and Booklist, and which debuted at #8 on the New York Times Young Adult Hardcover list last week. I will include more about Lee and her books at the end of this post. For now, enjoy her 2013 post, which she wrote while she was working as an intern at the Friend magazine. 

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

Image

The cover of the November 1969 issue. Continue Reading →

In Tents #79 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 4

What did Stewart Glutmeyer name his boat?
Stewardship.

Bless our Seminary teachers for giving us silly sayings to help remember complicated concepts. The multiple choice answers to a test question like “What is stewardship?” don’t really define the concept as much as they highlight its importance.

The concept of Stewardship has become much more important to me in the last few years, particularly since I read Steven C. Harper’s Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants  in 2008. Harper’s discussion of agency in the Doctrine & Covenants, of what it means to act as an agent for the Lord, gave me something to carry in Bro. Glutmeyer’s boat.

(A lot of the value I got from Seminary I got in spite of the political rhetoric it was couched in, rhetoric that might lead one to think the gospel resided in a political party or one wing of the national bird–which Ben Franklin thought would better have been a turkey. One of the valuable lessons I learned was from a comment that Jephthah should not have sacrificed his daughter, but should have fallen down before the Lord and asked forgiveness for making a rash vow. (See #33 for a fuller discussion.) That comment, together with a dramatic monologue of Pontius Pilate in Hell–Spirit Prison?–taught me that I didn’t have to accept what characters in scripture say about themselves or others as the Lord’s viewpoint, that I could question their motives and assumptions. A great gift.)

My historian cousin Joe Soderborg has also talked with me about the concept of being agents or stewards, particularly about the parable of the man traveling into a far country as a parable about leadership as stewardship: Continue Reading →

An interview with Matthew James Babcock, AML Poetry Award winner

Matthew James Babcock is the recipient of the 2016 AML Poetry Award for his collection Strange Terrain (Mad Hat Press, 2016). He is interviewed here by Dayna Patterson, who runs the Psaltery & Lyre poetry website.  

DP: Can you talk about the title of your collection, Strange Terrain, and how you arrived at it?

MJB: The title comes from a line in the poem “Five Laotians.” It has no special meaning, but I liked the way the words went together, and I liked the way they described the collection as a whole: a ramble through some strange psychological, emotional, visual, and textual switchbacks and sloughs. The book is a bit form, a bit formless, more unformed than formed, and so given its harum-scarum approach to a kind of evolutionary, organic poetics, I thought I’d call it that. It’s a weird book, in the same way some landscapes in the Rocky Mountain Northwest are weirdly beautiful, and don’t seem to go together until you stare long enough to see they do.

DP: Why the almost restless experimentation with form? What drives you to attempt new forms in a poetic age that largely eschews formalism?

MJB: One luxury of being a writer of no consequence is that you can ignore editorial bias.  You can eschew those who choose to eschew you. Such stylistic stoicism, however, has its cost, as it’s taken me a quarter century to bring out this book. Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know two things: 1. that it would take twenty-five years to write this book, and 2. that I was writing a book. In my twenties, I think, I was just sounding off my pop-gun of poems, trying prose, trying forms, trying anything to figure out what kind of writer I was. In my late forties now, I’m not sure I’ve figured that out. That “restless life unchanged” in “Cherry Tomatoes: A Rhapsody” is most certainly mine. Continue Reading →

An interview with Jeff Zentner, AML YA Novel Award winner

An interview with Jeff Zentner, winner of the 2016 AML Young Adult Novel Award for his debut novel, The Serpent King. Jeff’s book shares the stories of three teenagers living in a small town in Tennessee who each, in their own way, look for escape from the constraints they see limiting them. It’s been widely praised in numerous starred reviews and was also awarded the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award for a debut YA novel. He came to writing books for young adults after a career in music, and his second book, Goodbye Days, was published earlier this year. His website (jeffzentnerbooks.com) has more on his books, hosts some of his music, and features one of the better FAQs on the Internet. Jeff is also an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.

The interview was conducted by Jon Ostenson, an assistant professor in English Education at Brigham Young University.

Can you tell us more about what inspired the writing of The Serpent King? Why this book, this setting, these characters?

I wrote The Serpent King as I was transitioning over from being a musician. I based the concept of the book on two songs that I had written, that I thought had more of a story to them than I had told in the original songs. I chose this setting and these characters because they had been in my head for a long time, producing songs without my knowing it. Continue Reading →

in verse #78 : Pound, and Moore

I was reading The Alfred Smurthwaite family, a family history self-written and self-published, and came across this gem of youthful enthusiasm:

Rooty toot toot, Rooty toot toot
We are the boys from the Institute!
We don’t smoke and we don’t chew
And we don’t go with the girls that do
(Whispered in a quasi-pious voice)[i]

That last line appears to be a characterization of the style of the singer, rather than a fifth line of the song.  I’m not sure what a “quasi-pious voice” is, whether it means a jocular self-mocking voice, or a voice halfway between the pious and the profane.  But my interest in this song is the rhythm of the first line, and its contrast with another poem.  The rhythm is militant, not suppliant (and there was no indication of what kind of institute was meant, whether military or religious).  It matches the rhythm of the third and fourth lines of the following ditty:

Rented a tent, a tent, a tent;
Rented a tent, a tent, a tent.
Rented a tent!
Rented a tent!
Rented a, rented a tent.
*****—  Snare Drum on Mars[ii]

The attribution is part of the savage jocularity of the source, Continue Reading →

AML History: The Founding, 1976-1980

I was asked to be the secretary of the Association for Mormon Letters last year. There had not been anyone filling that post for a few years, and there were no records that were passed down to me. I felt a responsibility to try to get the organization back in touch with its records, so while in Utah for the AML Conference, I discovered that there are three major deposits of organization records. They are:

  1. Association for Mormon Letters Records, 1975-1983. Utah Historical Society. Utah State History: MSS B 47, Box 1. Deposited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Linda Hatcher.
  2. Association for Mormon Letters Records. 20th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. MSS 2205/1. 4 boxes, containing 25 folders. Records for the years 1979-2000, including the AML Newsletters, correspondence, incorporating documents and bylaws, board minutes, and emails. Deposited by John Bennion.
  3. Records in the possession of Darlene Young, covering the years 2004-2012.

I visited the BYU Library, and copied many of the documents in that collection. In August I plan to visit the Utah Historical Society and access those records. Darlene showed me her records, and she says she plans on organizing them for archiving.

Based on these records, as well as other sources, I am going to do a series of posts about the history of AML. I will start with the founding in 1976, and its earliest years. The Utah Historical Society achieves should have the best records on this period, so this post may be altered after I read them. There is enough information available, however, to at least make a start of it.

The Founding of AML

Although Mormon literature goes back to the start of the movement, serious study of Mormon literature was beginning in the decade before AML was created. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought was founded in 1966, and it provided the first stable independent platform for Mormon literary work and criticism. Sunstone magazine joined Dialogue in 1974, and it published Mormon plays, as well as short stories and poetry. Also, in 1974 the first Mormon literature anthology, A Believing People,[1] was produced by BYU professors Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert for the BYU Mormon Literature course. [2]

Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (1935-), a scholar then working at the LDS Historical Department in Salt Lake City, sketched the start of AML in an introduction to the first Proceedings of the Association for Mormon Letters, which appeared in Dialogue in 1978.[3] Continue Reading →

An interview with Anthony Holden, AML Comics Award winner

An interview with Anthony Holden, the winner of the 2016 AML Comics Award for his collection Precious Rascals. The interview is conducted by Brittany Long Olsen, the winner of the 2015 AML Comics Award. Precious Rascals is a collection of comics chronicling the life and times of the Holden family, encapsulating the last 8 years of their lives raising a house full of wild children. Anthony Holden lives in Oregon, where he spends his daytime hours trying to balance playing with children while making art for film, television, comics, and books. His favorite breakfast food is waffles. His comics  and drawings can be found at: twitterfacebookinstagram, and tumblr.
As seen in Precious Rascals, you’ve been making comics about your family for many years. What made you decide to collect them into a book at this point in time?
I’ve shared the strips with family and friends for years and years. Many of those people have prompted me to consider putting them in a book for some time. I never felt like the audience was large enough until recently when my online following had grown to a point that I felt like I could justify having boxes of books taking up half our garage.

Continue Reading →

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