Here are the results of the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Awards, presented at the AML Conference at BYU Hawaii on March 5, 2016.
See this page for the two lifetime awards citations:
Both Phyllis and Donald attended the conference.
Brittany Long Olsen. Dendo: One Year and One Half in Japan
A wonderful blending of the modern missionary narrative mixed with a traditional comic style, humor, and feel-good moments throughout Dendo by Brittany Long Olsen is the first-of-its-kind autobiographical Mormon missionary graphic novel. Visually engaging, Olsen’s brings to life her missionary service with simple and elegant illustration in a unique and transcendent experience. We witness her journey from the ups and downs of the MTC, struggles with companionships, burgeoning bike skills, to the inevitable denouement of her time as Sister Olsen; all while helping us learn a little Japanese culture along the way.
Brian Andersen, creator. James Neish, Illustrator. Stripling Warrior.#1 and #2
Noah van Sciver. My Hot Date
Joey Franklin. My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married. University of Nebraska Press.
Joey Franklin’s My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married is like its cover: unassuming, honest, with all the earnestness of a t-shirt wearing T-ball parent trying to make good in this life. But while many of the essays in this debut collection chart the familiar territory of family and marriage, the high artistic rendering of its subjects is anything but familiar. Each of the 14 essays reveals a fascination with language, whether it be in the profane-sounding Japanese word Shukufuku on a new missionary’s tongue or in a toddler’s first acquisition of words. At times lyrical or self-deprecating, Joey Franklin guides us through young family life, through fast-food jobs and crappy cars, through T-ball and male-pattern baldness and teaching a child to pray. My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married is a beautiful book—sharp and clear, like a jewel under light.
William Shunn. The Accidental Terrorist
Jamie Zvirzdin, editor. Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women
Special Award for Scholarly Publishing
Eric W. Jepson, editor. Dorian, Nephi Anderson: A Peculiar Edition With Annotated Text & Scholarship. Peculiar Pages.
Special Award for Scholarly Publishing
Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism. Oxford University Press.
Jana Riess. “Mormon Popular Culture”. In The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism. Oxford University Press.
The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism is certainly the central showpiece of Mormon scholarship for the year, as evidenced by its receiving a special award. Within that volume were several excellent articles that address Mormon letters, and the best of these is “Mormon Popular Culture” by Jana Riess. The article is the perfect tool to bring new scholars of LDS popular culture up to speed by giving an overview of the field. But Reiss goes beyond simply informing us of the state of the field as she adds to it introducing a convincing historical narrative of the development of Mormon popular culture. The article is very inclusive, but also controlled and directed. She leads us from an era that was suspicious of the church, especially of Mormon sexuality to the resulting suspicion of institutions by church members and beyond to an era of rebound in which the Church assimilated and became a “model minority.” Finally, she leaves us with a people that consciously shapes its own image through crafted popular culture. The result prepares the reader for further study while engaged in an example of what good current scholarship should look like.
Eric W. Jepson, editor. Dorian, Nephi Anderson: A Peculiar Edition With Annotated Text & Scholarship
Melissa Leilani Larson. Pilot Program.
Plan B Theater Company, Rose Wagner Theatre, Salt Lake City, April.
The Association for Mormon Letters is proud to honor Melissa Leilani Larson for her play, Pilot Program. Her play, produced in 2015 at Plan B Theatre in Salt Lake, is lyrically lovely and achingly uncomfortable, a meditation on polygamy, a fascinating what-if fantasy, and a deeply moving chronicle of three people in point of crisis.
Abby and Jake are a committed, happy, LDS couple. As the play begins, they’ve been asked by an Area Authority in the Church to what’s described to them as a Pilot Program. They’ve been asked to reinstitute the practice of polygamy. And it’s Abby who feels prompted to accept, thinking that this sacrifice might help resolve their continuing struggle with infertility. And she knows who she should invite to join their marriage; her favorite former student, Heather. And Heather, likewise prompted, she thinks, accepts. And she and Jake fall in love. And at no time, does their love, again, shared love, for Abby diminish.
The rest of the play shows us, with a kind of compassionate ruthlessness, Abby’s retreat into what one reviewer called ‘a kind of distanced misery.’ It’s a play without villains, a play in which Jake, the husband, as decent and kind-hearted a man as ever depicted in Mormon drama, a spiritual giant, nonetheless unwittingly participates in the destruction of his wife’s (his first wife’s) happiness. It’s excruciating to watch. It’s also marvelously compassionate. And quite completely horrifying.
The play is not a diatribe against polygamy. Larson’s work is always too intensely human to work as polemic. But it’s also a powerful depiction of the agony of a life in plural marriage. It’s a play that can only lead to conversation, to dialogue, and to empathy. And, in production, it made for a marvelous night at the theatre, followed by the most intense post-play discussions in the house. For this splendid achievement, the Association for Mormon Letters is happy to honor Melissa Leilani Larson.
This is Melissa’s third AML award in Drama, as well as an honorable mention.
Matthew Ivan Bennett. A/Version of Events
Lisa Hall Hagen and Shannon Hale. Princess Academy
Peace Officer – Directed by Brad Barber & Scott Christopherson; Written by Brad Barber, Scott Christopherson, David Lawrence and Renny McCauley; Produced by Brad Barber, Scott Christopherson and David Lawrence.
Recipient of some of documentary’s most prestigious honors in 2015, Peace Officer is also one of the most politically influential LDS films in history. The timely and tragic tale begins when former sheriff Dub Lawrence witnesses his son-in-law’s death at the hands of the SWAT team he founded 33 years prior. What follows is a taut detective story, full of tension and twists. And it’s all true. In the wake of Ferguson, Mo., such an up-to-the-minute incendiary topic could easily—and maybe justifiably—have created total monsters of law enforcement, and a one-note polemic against the second amendment. Instead, filmmakers Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber tread through this difficult territory thoughtfully, skillfully, and most importantly, charitably. While their examination of the militarization of law enforcement (since the late 1970s, SWAT raids have increased 15,000%) and its impact on individuals and society remains unblinking, it also emphasizes that this is an extremely complex problem. Their charitable restraint may be why the film was honored by the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at South by Southwest, the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at Full Frame, the David Carr Award and Audience Award at Montclair, and was handpicked by Alec Baldwin for his Summer Docs Hamptons International Film Festival…just to name a few. Or why it received glowing reviews in Variety, the Washington Post, the New York Times and many more. It may be why the Hollywood Trade paper, Variety, named Christopherson and Barber to their 10 Documakers To Watch List for 2015. Or, unlike many contemporary issues docs that masquerade the celebration of hopelessness as insight, the real key to its success may be that Peace Officer hopes to improve rather than condemn, it hopes to heal rather than hate. Such a spirit makes this rare film a standout in the field, one that exemplifies all that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy found in the restored gospel.
Christmas Eve – Directed by Mitch Davis
Freetown – Directed by Garrett Batty
Just Let Go – Directed by Christopher S. Clark & Patrick Henry Parker
Once I Was a Beehive – Directed by Maclain Nelson
Brandon Flowers, The Desired Effect
Mormons have a long tradition of songwriting, but until now the Association for Mormon Letters has not honored any achievement in song lyrics. This year, however, songwriters with Mormon ties have produced an unprecedented number of quality songs that have achieved critical and commercial success with Mormon, national, and international audiences.
While recent albums from Low, Imagine Dragons, and The National Parks feature song lyrics that deserve recognition from the Association for Mormon Letters, no work merits the award more than Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect. With songs that speak with insight and maturity to themes important to Mormon world views—love, marriage, millennial yearning, and atonement—the album can be read as a meditation on being Mormon in the twenty-first century.
Indeed, in “Dreams Come True,” the song that opens the album, Flowers greets his listeners with a good faith statement of belief and respect:
A natural believer
I don’t carry any bones
If you see things a little different
I’m not casting any stones.
It is an invitation to join his musical exploration—and celebration—of what matters most.
Imagine Dragons, Smoke and Mirrors
Low, Ones and Sixes
The National Parks, Until I Live
Christine Hayes. Mothman’s Curse. Roaring Brook Press
The Mothman’s Curse doesn’t try to change the world. More and more middle-grade fiction tries to make us confront deep societal woes and prejudices, come to terms with history and its effect on us, or make us see ourselves and our world in significantly new ways. Mothman does none of these things, but it is a really, really good book despite it. It starts with a camera that takes pictures without film, each of which contains a picture of a sinister man that the children involved cannot otherwise see. Solving the mystery takes all of the courage and intellect Josie, Fox, and Mason can muster, but they must make it happen to save their lives and their family. It’s edge-of your-seat stuff. I could say that it asks us to think about how the past needs settling, about how siblings need to stick together, or about how we can’t escape the consequences of our actions. But that’s not why this is the best of Mormon middle-grade fiction this year. It was the best because it was a great read, one that you wanted to read again, that gave us a great relationship between three great siblings and let us watch them do great things together. If you get your hands on a copy, all of your kids will read it twice.
Jennifer A. Nielsen. A Night Divided
J. Scott Savage. Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention
Krista Van Dolzer. The Sound of Life and Everything
Jen White. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave
Jennifer Quist, Sistering. Linda Leith Publishing
In her debut novel, Love Letters of the Angel of Death (2013), Canadian writer Jennifer Quist introduced a new and compelling voice to the world of contemporary literary fiction. The novel is equal parts comedy and tragedy, with a sophisticated narrative technique and a big-hearted love of the human condition. Such a powerful debut created high expectations for Quist’s next novel, and Sistering easily meets and exceeds these expectations, firmly establishing Quist as one of the most talented Latter-day Saint novelists writing today.
Sistering tells the stories of five adult sisters—Heather, Suzanne, Tina, Ashley, and Meaghan—whose lives and families are entangled together in strange and surprising ways. The sisters take turns narrating the story, each with a distinct and compelling voice of her own. A dozen small plots weave their way throughout the narrative—plots involving husbands, jobs, boyfriends, children, in laws, and other parts of their lives that they share. However, when one of them faces a shocking and dangerous crisis in her own family, the sisters come together in ways that only close family members can—and all of the subplots feed into the final, and equally shocking resolution.
In constructing her narrative, Quist draws thoughtfully on several literary traditions—such the family drama, the novel of manners, and the black comedy. But Sistering is a wholly new and original work of fiction. Quist is a master storyteller with a sophisticated approach to narrative and the ability to dazzle us with her prose. And in a year that boasts a number of strong fictional works by and about Latter-day Saints, the Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to name Jennifer Quist’s Sistering the Best Novel of 2015.
J. Scott Bronson, The Agitated Heart
Larry Correia, Son of the Black Sword
Mette Ivie Harrison, His Right Hand
Kristyn Crow and Molly Idle, Zombelina Dances the Nutcracker. Bloomsbury
Zombelina Dances the Nutcracker is delightful and original mashup that juxtaposes the spooky fun of Halloween with the traditional Christmas ballet the Nutcracker. The story opens with Zombelina nervously auditioning for the part of Clara in the ballet. She steals the part from a girl named Lizzy, who ends up becoming her friend. On opening night Zombelina’s Grandfather Phantom decides to pull some pranks and only she knows how to deal with him. Letting Lizzy take her place as Clara, Zombelina distracts her Grandpa Phantom so the show can go on.
Zombelina is a delightful read not only for the ingenious juggling of so many story concepts, but also for the charming text that is clever, rhythmic, and just plain fun. Zombelina demonstrates genuine friendship and creative problem- solving skills that make her a beloved heroine.
Teresa Bateman and Chris Sheban. Job Wanted
McArthur Krishna. Talon Wrestles an Anaconda
McArthur Krishna, Bethany Brady Spalding, and Kathleen Peterson. Girls Who Choose God: Stories of strong women from the Book of Mormon
Christina Stoddard. Hive. University of Wisconsin Press.
This year’s AML award goes to Hive, a no-holds-barred poetry collection by Christina Stoddard, who dramatizes what it’s like to come of age in unvarnished America, specifically Tacoma. In this portrayal, lawlessness simmers just under the surface in the form of violence, gang life, drive-by shootings, promiscuity, rape, murder. These poems document and testify, in the process speaking truth to power. The narrator happens to be Mormon, or more precisely, happened to be ensconced in Mormonism during her turbulent teenage years. She thus examines middle-class America through a religious lens and weighs in directly on a number of familiar Mormon beliefs and practices, including the plan of salvation, agency, the preexistence, baptism for the dead, LDS teen culture, etc. If you’re expecting conventional sweetness and light a la Deseret Books, look elsewhere. For the protagonist in this collection, belief provides little comfort and less illumination. She searches but doesn’t find. Still these poems have undeniable compensations for the astute reader. As Dan Albergotti, puts its, “In the end—by their sheer courageous existence—these fierce poems soothe as much as they sting.”
Colin Douglas. Glyphs
James Goldberg. Let Me Drown With Moses
Brant A. Gardner. Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History. Greg Kofford Books
This outstanding contribution synthesizes cutting edge Book of Mormon scholarship in a compelling addition to the discussion on Book of Mormon historicity. Himself a seasoned scholar of the Book of Mormon, Gardner adds depth and nuance to the intricacies surrounding Book of Mormon historicity and provides both laypersons and scholars alike with an excellent resource on this topic. With the Book of Mormon receiving increased scholarly attention both inside and outside of Mormon circles, including scholarly investigations into the narrative, theology, reception history, and transmission of the text, Traditions of the Fathers should rightfully take center place in the discussion on the book’s historicity.
Gardner convincingly argues that the Book of Mormon can be taken seriously as an ancient record. His fruitful methodology of seeking “convergences” (not “proofs”) between the text and the archaeological record is illuminating. Whether it is geographical, cultural, or linguistic convergences with the ancient Near East or pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Gardner has marshaled a substantive body of correlations between the Book of Mormon and the ancient world that should raise important questions for readers of the text on all sides of the debate. For these and other reasons, Traditions of the Fathers is essential reading for any student of the Book of Mormon, and is this year’s winner of the Non-Fiction Award.
Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism
Patrick Q. Mason. Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt
Brent J. Schmidt. Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis
Spencer Hyde, “Remainder”. Bellevue Literary Review, Fall 2015
Set in Germany in 1994, “Remainder,” tells the story of Klaus Wagner, whose job it is to diffuse bombs left over from World War II bombing raids. During World War II, millions of tons of ordnance fell from the skies. In the decades since, Klaus Wagner and his crew of detonation specialists have diffused the dormant bombs found by construction workers and farmers and children at play. Nine years before the story’s opening, Klaus was driving with his wife and 14-year-old son when their car crashed with a truck. Klaus was the only survivor. Now his wife and son come to him in beautiful visions when he works on the bombs, when he is “inside the adrenaline pocket where nothing is seen or heard but the thrum-thrum of the vein pulsing in his own head.” Klaus can’t bring himself to retire from this dangerous job, since that would mean losing his wife and son forever. The car accident nine years before was a bomb dropped on Klaus Wagner’s world, a bomb that never exploded. Perhaps it never will. And this might be the worst part of being a “remainder.” In this short story, Spencer Hyde presents us with a portrait of survivor’s guilt written in beautiful prose and grounded in thoughtfully researched subject matter. Hyde shows us a life in delicate stasis, just like those dormant bombs, leaving readers to question the bombs that have fallen in their own worlds, bombs that must carefully be diffused, lest worse tragedies occur.
Theric Jepson, “The Naked Woman”
Scott Parkin, “Absolute Zero”
Eric James Stone, “An Immense Darkness”
Karen Rosenbaum, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives. Zarahemla Press
The main characters of Karen Rosenbaum’s Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives are all western women who wrestle with their Mormon faith, a faith that their families and native places anointed upon them long ago. As they explore the links between heritage and religion, these women forge and sever family ties and ultimately find connection in a universal feminine soul.
Showcasing elegant technical skill, Rosenbaum’s stories (composed over four decades) offer their readers prose that is graceful and meticulously crafted. Written with elegant simplicity, each story reveals characters who are complex, authentic, and profoundly human. As Angela Hallstrom put it, “Rosenbaum writes with a wisdom and kindness that binds readers to her characters. The mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives in this collection, as well as all the men who surround them, will linger in your imagination long after you finish the book.”
William Morris, Dark Watch and Other Mormon-American Stories
Steven L. Peck, Wandering Realities: Mormonish Short Fiction
Becky Wallace. The Storyspinner. Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster
In an increasingly competitive field, Becky Wallace’s debut novel, Storyspinner, emerged as the winner of the 2015 AML Award for Young Adult Novel. Her book combines adventure, magic, and romance in an innovative and fast-paced third-person narration set in an imaginary medieval world. The story of Johanna Von Arlo, a young, nomadic storyteller, is told from the points of view of an interesting array of characters, each of whom has a stake in her future and in the survival the world she knows—and one she doesn’t. Though she doesn’t realize it, Johanna is more than storyteller; she’s a strong and smart young woman who faces tragedy and threat with a courage that surprises her. As the plot accelerates and complicates, Johanna grows matures into a young woman well-prepared to face the inevitable adventures that lie ahead. This multiple-narrator approach had the potential to bog down the story, but Wallace’s compelling plot and deft handling of the narrative showed that, like Johanna, her protagonist, she too is a talented storyteller.
Courtney Alameda. Shutter
Valynne Maetani. Ink and Ashes
Brandon Sanderson. Firefight
Natalie Whipple. Fish Out of Water