The Founding and Early Years of Irrreantum

Christopher Bigelow shared with me several old Irreantum documents, including these two from 2000, during the magazine’s second year. First an interview with Chris and Benson Parkinson about the founding of the magazine, and second the text of a presentation given by Chris at the August 2000 Sunstone Symposium, part of a panel entitled “Little Mormon Magazines: Sinking, Swimming, And Treading Water“. Tory C. Anderson, who founded and ran the independent Mormon literary magazine Wasatch Review International in 1992-1996, also spoke at that session. Someone should republish and do a retrospective of that forerunner of Irreantum sometime. The post closes with some words of praise for the magazine from Irreantum readers. I am working on getting all of the back issues of Irreantum up on the AML Publications area of this website.

Unpublished interview with Chris Bigelow and Benson Parkinson, cofounders of Irreantum

Q: Tell us how Irreantum got started.

BP: I see Irreantum as largely an outgrowth of AML-List, the Association for Mormon Letters’s e-mail discussion list, which I’ve been operating for the past five years. We ran the online AML-List Magazine there for several years and developed a number of writers that have gone on to publish elsewhere. The first issue of Irreantum was more or less a guest issue of the AML’s old paper newsletter by AML-List columnists and subscribers. But I knew that Levi Peterson, the newsletter editor, was looking to retire and that our writers and editors might turn into a permanent staff. Chris Bigelow, then an Ensign editor, was the one to really make it happen. He’d been doing small magazines as a hobby since his teen years, when he got the subscription for one of his fantasy gaming magazines up over a thousand. He served as managing editor for the first issue or two of Irreantum, and I did my best to lie low and keep AML-List going, which was running me ragged. But I was in on all the early Irreantum meetings, and he and I talked extensively about content and tone and how to promote the magazine and reach the large potential LDS audience that reads literary fiction but isn’t currently interested in Mormon literature. Plus I’d help with editing tasks and drum up submissions to fill in gaps, and before long he asked me to come on as co-managing editor. It’s kind of been a joint production since, with Chris the first among equals.

CB: I would add that I have been wanting to do some kind of Mormon literary magazine for quite some time. While I was at BYU, I thought it would be fun to do a Provo-based literary magazine called Provocation (get it?). I sat in on the last few editorial meetings and smothered-burrito gorgefests of the now-defunct Wasatch Review International, but I got the feeling the magazine had already peaked and was struggling to find good stuff to print, so I declined an informal invitation to take over as managing editor of that literary magazine. However, the ideas floating around on AML-List seemed exciting and varied and deep enough that I was delighted to take the lead role in channeling AML-List’s strengths into a printed magazine. Indeed, all six of the staff editors were recruited through AML-List, and many of the reviews and essays first run on AML-List before reaching print in Irreantum.

Q: Irreantum seems to be more popular in orientation than what the AML has done in the past. How did that come about?

BP: Well, AML-List has had a more popular orientation too. The AML held readings from time to time, mainly of academic writers, but mostly sponsored literary criticism. My motivation for getting involved with the list was to try to create an audience for the kind of fiction I was writing, which tried to reach that great untapped mainstream LDS readership with character-driven, spiritually-informed writing that was nevertheless accessible. We quickly learned that there are all kinds of approaches to LDS literature, lots of kinds of readers, lots of vigorous thinking and writing going on (the whole pulsing world of LDS science fiction and fantasy was my biggest personal discovery). Nor were they talking to each other. Since I was moderating, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to promote my kind over anyone else’s, but I felt if I could create an atmosphere where all could come together and feed off each other’s energy, we’d all grow, and what was good for one was good for all.

Jerry Johnston, who’s long been a champion of popular LDS writing, came on the AML board soon after, and he and others made efforts to nudge the AML out of its ivory tower. We knew that the AML membership was aging and our numbers were shrinking—AML-List quickly surpassed its parent organization in subscribers. Finally, under Neal Kramer’s leadership and after a lot of background discussion, we held a day-long retreat to hammer out the AML’s direction. There we decided that, while we need to keep our scholarly moorings, we would amend the bylaws and add as one of our purposes to promote the interests of LDS readers. Soon after that, we launched our annual writers’ conference and Irreantum.

CB: Although I personally hold a master’s degree in English from BYU, I do not traffic much with heavy-duty academics (speaking of the field, not the people). I don’t think I would have been drawn into doing Irreantum through merely attending AML scholarly conferences, but AML-List had the right balance of academics with more popular, commercial, and down-to-earth concerns. My personal interest in Mormon literature has to do with breaking Mormon characters and themes into the national literary scene, picking up on the cultural momentum started on the national scene by writers such as Tony Kushner and Walter Kirn, both of whom have enjoyed critical and commercial success with Mormon content. I am interested in things that sell and entertain but retain literary value and interest. I guess you would call that category “commercial literary,” reflected on the national scene by award-winning, best-selling authors such as John Updike, Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Anne Tyler, and Philip Roth. My deepest hope for Irreantum is that the Mormon John Updike (or fill in the blank with your favorite nationally successful, literary writer) might be nurtured and discovered—or at least vigorously explored and appreciated—by the magazine.

Q: Where do you see Irreantum fitting in the literary landscape?

CB: The mailing list I’m trying to pull together reflects where I hope Irreantum will fit into the literary landscape. First of all, I am aggressively recruiting any national editors, agents, journalists, scholars, authors, or other literary-minded, influential people who have shown any interest in Mormon literature, people ranging from Harold Bloom to Tony Kushner to Jana Riess to Anne Sowards. I would like to see Irreantum become the premiere source for information about, analysis of, and actual samplings of the best that is available along Mormon lines. I personally believe that Mormonism represents the next American subculture that can be profitably mined by national publishers in the same way that American subgroups in the past have been mined, ranging from Jewish to Catholic to Southern to African-American to Asian. As Mormonism rises in cultural heat—and the forthcoming Olympics certainly won’t hurt—I want literary people to turn to Irreantum to get plugged in. I want New York agents to be thinking, “Mormon stuff is starting to sell. Where can I find some good author leads and insights into that scene?”

At the same time, we are mailing sample copies and soliciting subscriptions from LDS-market publishing professionals, people who work at or write for companies such as Deseret Book. The influence I hope Irreantum has on them is that they consider new ways to approach Mormon literature and begin to believe in a more sophisticated, demanding audience that won’t put up with a lot of the saccharine, preachy, antiseptic stuff that passes for Mormon fiction today. I take the large LDS-specific market very seriously, and I have even put some time into placing copies of Irreantum into LDS bookstores nationwide, in hopes that we can attract and influence some rank-and-file readers to start expecting more from Mormon literature published by LDS-market companies.

Just as authors such as Orson Scott Card and Anne Perry publish novels in both the national and LDS markets simultaneously, I believe these two main goals can be pursued at the same time in Irreantum. Indeed, to some extent the two co-managing editors embody these two goals: I am nationally oriented, and Benson is LDS oriented (Benson calls these two emphases the “missionary” and “Deseret” schools of literature). I hope that anyone with any interest in novels, stories, poems, plays, and films by, for, or about Mormons can find a lot of stimulating reading in Irreantum.

BP: To expand a bit on Deseret school writing, if your goal is for Mormon art to leaven American culture the way Jewish and Catholic art have, you’ve got to have something richer than roadshows at home. Adopting the broader culture’s discourse can be treacherous business. Do so too thoroughly and you never speak from your own heart. Do it halfway and you sound watered down. We need to develop our own voice. Irreantum can help there. Now is a good time. Mormonism is ascendant. As Kristen Randle pointed out, the Mormon market is a national market, and potentially an international one. Nor is it just a matter of voice. Great literature has to be about something. Richard Dutcher said he thought it was a mistake to remove Mormon elements from a story and that the more specific the characters are, the more universal the story. I agree, but beyond that, the most powerful moments in life all have religious components: birth, death, coming of age, marriage, sin, redemption, finding your way in life. Our literature’s got to embrace that if it’s going to have any of that power.

Q: I understand your editorial staff is quite spread out geographically. How do you keep things running?

CB: Although Irreantum is a traditional printed magazine, it is put together completely by e-mail. The editorial staff is scattered from California to Utah to Wisconsin to Atlanta to New York City. All collaborative work is done via e-mail, and all text is shuttled back and forth via e-mail. The magazine is so reliant on e-mail that we have a policy of not accepting submissions except in electronic form, so they can be easily passed back and forth in the course of editorial review and preparation.

BP: It occurred to me a little while ago that we’re into our second year and have never run a story or article we didn’t receive by e-mail. The magazine is typeset electronically, of course, and we’ve recently switched to a DocuTech print process, so we go from disk to final output in a single step. I suppose we’re about as paperless as you can get a print magazine. The printer keeps our files on a tape we rented and prints back issues for the same price as the originals, even in small quantities.

CB: As co-managing editors, Ben and I are about equally involved in managing the magazine’s overall vision, organization, and approach. Ben acts as our first reader of material gathered by department editors and works with them as needed to refine material. I pick up most of the back end stuff, such as paginating, line editing, and getting stuff ready to go to the designer and press. I also do a lot with the publishing end, such as doing promotional mailings, trying to round up retailers and advertisers, and applying for grants available to nonprofit organizations such as the AML.

As far as our professional backgrounds, I work as a book and magazine editor and writer and hold a bachelor’s degree in professional writing from Emerson College in Boston and a master’s degree in creative writing from BYU. Ben works as an editor, has published two novels and other books, moderates AML-List, and holds a degree in comparative literature from BYU.

Our all-volunteer staff includes a lot of good people with professional-level talent. Fiction editor Tory Anderson has worked for book publishers and was founder and managing editor of Wasatch Review International. Photographer Susan Barnson is a stay-at-home mom with degrees in photography and English. Poetry editor Harlow Clark holds degrees in English and is a writer. AML-List highlights editor Jonathan works as an educational writer and holds degrees in English. Publishing news editor Kent Larsen works for a New York book publisher and runs several Mormon-related e-mail discussion groups and websites. Book review editor Jana Bouck Remy, a stay-at-home mom, has written columns and coordinated book reviews for AML-List for several years. Essay editor Edgar C. Snow Jr., a lawyer, has been a columnist for AML-List and recently published a book of humorous essays with Signature Books.

Q: How has the response to Irreantum been?

BP: Well, we’re still small, but what buzz we hear has been good. We’ve certainly helped the AML out.

CB: Membership in the AML has almost doubled since we made Irreantum a benefit of membership, and we are now poised to launch a new marketing effort offering Irreantum subscriptions independent of AML membership. We have been receiving enough worthwhile material for publishing by having our editors track down writers, but we have been disappointed so far by the lack of unsolicited submissions and letters responding to things in the magazine. As far as retail sales of the magazine go, we sell copies in about 20 stores, where sales seem comparable to other periodicals.

Q: What are your goals for the future of Irreantum?

CB: Besides what I’ve already talked about, I hope Irreantum reaches 1,000 circulation within a year or so. I hope we can upgrade to nicer printing and get more of a bookstore presence, perhaps circulation in some of the national bookstore chains that carry other literary magazines. I hope to see people writing provocative reviews, essays, and fiction just because they are stimulated by Irreantum and want to get more aggressively involved in Mormon literature as a cultural movement. I hope to see Irreantum serve as a catalyst for a new blossoming of Mormon literary accomplishment and outreach, harnessing the strengths and energies of the AML, AML-List, and the myriad devoted readers, writers, editors, and publishers of Mormon literature.

BP: I’ve felt most Mormon intellectual movements either started out off-kilter or moved that way. I’d like Irreantum to be in the middle of a broad-based cultural movement from the heart of Mormonism. Early on our editors decided to focus on mainstream rather than popular or academic because that’s what most of the people making the magazine were interested in. For myself at least, I carry it a step further. I want Irreantum to give broad coverage and support to every sort of Mormon literature and to promote all kinds. But my strongest personal interest is in what might be called the literature of Zion. That implies consecration, serving with all one’s heart, might, mind, and strength—and to do that you have to integrate those four qualities instead of letting them always head off in different directions or do battle with each other. For a lot of us, Mormon art is always going to be about that integration. And I want Irreantum to reflect that too.

I believe the 1,000 mark is reachable in the near future. Like I say, I’d like to see Irreantum help Mormondom define its voice. To do that the magazine needs to find just the right editorial stance and drum up lots and lots of excellent submissions. And it needs to reach more than 1,000 subscribers. But the potential exists. There are no other LDS literary magazines in the arena right now. Mormon mainstream fiction—that is, fiction aimed at educated, faithful LDS readers—is making significant inroads. There are great numbers of just this sort of reader out there. Mormons value education, almost by definition. Most educated Mormons I know do not read LDS fiction because they don’t feel it is aimed at them. I’d like to see Irreantum grow big enough to help that audience define itself. When it does, I believe it will at least match the audiences for LDS young adult, romance, and doctrinal writing, and it just might dwarf them.

The Adventures of Irreantum Magazine

By Christopher K. Bigelow. A presentation given at the 2000 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, on a panel titled “Little Mormon Magazines: Sinking, Swimming, and Treading Water”. Chris’s presentation was published in the 2001 AML Annual.

I’m going to do a minimum of shilling up here. But I did want to show you the new issue of Irreantum, which is the magazine I’m representing today. As an incentive to come up here after and perhaps purchase a copy for three dollars, the first one up here may have this little coupon I just pulled off my drink: Free Chick-Fil-A Char-grilled Caesar Salad. It’s right here—first come, first serve. I have other dinner plans.

I’ve titled my paper “The Adventures of Irreantum Magazine.” Irreantum is a Book of Mormon word from somewhere in First Nephi that means “many waters.” We thought it was a nice symbolic name to play off of for a literary magazine.

From the time I took Eugene England’s Mormon literature class at BYU in 1993, where I first learned about Wasatch Review International and the Association for Mormon Letters, I have been fascinated by the idea of Mormon fiction, drama, and film¾I mean stuff both by and about Mormons. That fascination has been kept alive for me mainly through AML-List, the active, well-moderated e-mail discussion group sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters, which I highly recommend if you haven’t come across it yet. About 30 posts a day go across this e-mail list, and it’s about all aspects of Mormon literature you can imagine.

Irreantum, the literary quarterly I founded last year and coedit with Benson Parkinson, is very much an outgrowth of relationships, ideas, and approaches that first arose¾and continue to arise¾on AML-List. Irreantum skims the cream off AML-List but offers things an e-mail list cannot, mainly because of length restrictions but also because of other strengths print media still have over electronic media (I’d much rather hold a magazine than read one on screen). While the magazine is inspired by AML-List, Irreantum is hopefully breaking new ground by offering original fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, interviews, and literary news that hasn’t appeared elsewhere.

The first issue of Irreantum in March 1999 was more or less a guest issue of the AML’s old paper newsletter, and it was put together by AML-List columnists and subscribers. In fact, I believe I responded to a call for volunteers that went out over AML-List. We knew that Levi Peterson, the previous newsletter editor, was looking to retire and that our AML-List writers and editors might turn into a permanent staff.

I have been doing small magazines as a hobby since my teen years, when I got the subscription for one of my fantasy gaming magazines up over a thousand (Dungeons and Dragons and that sort of thing). I had been wanting to do some kind of Mormon literary magazine for quite some time, because it would reflect my main interests as an adult. I sat in on the last few editorial meetings of Wasatch Review International, some wonderful burrito dinners as I remember, but the magazine was sort of on the way out, and I hadn’t yet tapped into AML-List. I was offered the opportunity to help as even a managing editor as some kind, but I wasn’t quite ready yet, so I stepped aside, and other people stepped aside, and that was not my opportunity.

Gradually I came to realize that the ideas floating around on AML-List seemed exciting and varied and deep enough that I was eager to take a role in channeling those strengths into a printed magazine. We have six staff editors, and they were all recruited through AML-List. Many of the reviews and essays that we run first appear on AML-List before they get printed in Irreantum; sometimes they’re revised, sometimes they’re run as is. It’s really hard for me to imagine ever starting Irreantum without the readymade communities of AML-List and the Association for Mormon Letters, which sponsors AML-List. I’m sure I wouldn’t have started a magazine without those to draw on.

Let me say a little about our audience. Right now, another magazine devoted exclusively to Mormon literature doesn’t currently exist, as far as I know. Irreantum appeals to an educated, literate audience, but my influences are as much Entertainment Weekly and Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life as high-brow literary journals. I don’t consider Irreantum an academic journal as much as a general-interest magazine aimed at anyone who reads, writes, or otherwise has an interest in imaginative Mormon storytelling in all forms.

We are trying hard not to let Irreantum become pigeonholed as either culturally liberal or conservative. That is difficult when one issue we have Dean Hughes on the cover, a successful Deseret Book author, and we may have Brian Evenson on another cover. That’s a little bit of a dichotomy, and it remains to be seen if we lose or gain subscribers because of the broad spectrum we’re trying to cover. We try to give orthodox books, authors, and presses as much attention and respect as we give so-called liberal books, authors, and presses. We consider ourselves more free to explore a wide range of Mormon literature than a magazine sponsored by BYU, for example, and yet we do not want to make mainstream LDS readers and writers too uncomfortable with our publication. We’re seeking the middle ground, the temperate zones between the equator of Church-sanctioned publishing and—I hope I don’t offend anybody—the nether poles of Sunstone and Dialogue. This temperate zone has room for active Mormons writing orthodox literature, active or semiactive Mormons writing culturally liberal literature for the Mormon market, active Mormons writing for national audiences (Orson Scott Card is probably the most prominent), inactive Mormons or people with Mormon heritage writing for national audiences (such as Walter Kirn), and members of other faiths writing about Mormon characters and themes (Tony Kushner and several others).

Irreantum has a large potential audience, as long as we don’t alienate everyone by trying to please everyone. So we try to include reviews, essays, interviews, poetry, and fiction from a wide variety of cultural perspectives. We hope that if readers encounter something that is either too spicy or too bland for their tastes, they will trust the magazine to offer an overall satisfying mix as time goes forward. We’re trying to do a nice roundup of all kinds of literary news related to fiction, film, drama—that’s another new service I think we’re offering; it’s pretty wide ranging and interesting. Personally, I am most interested in how Mormon authors and subjects are breaking into the national literary scene. But I and other Irreantum staffers are also keenly interested in the large and healthy industry that publishes for the mainstream LDS audience, and we hope that Irreantum can influence the developing tastes of those readers. So far the magazine is carried in about 20 bookstores that carry LDS products. That’s not a lot, but it’s something. Total circulation through these retail sales, subscriptions, and also AML memberships that include Irreantum is nearing 500 now.

Let me tell you a little bit about the mechanics of the magazine. Although Irreantum is a traditional printed magazine, it is put together completely by e-mail. The editorial staff is scattered from California to Levan, Utah, to Wisconsin to Atlanta to New York City. All collaborative work among the editors is done via e-mail. All text is shuttled back and forth via e-mail. Our fiction editor just got one of his first hard-copy stories in the mail to consider, and it’s been difficult for us to figure out what to do with that—I think he’s going to have his son type it or something. The magazine is so reliant on e-mail that we have a stated policy of not accepting submissions except in electronic form, but we make exceptions, of course. We’re into our second year and I don’t think we’ve yet run a story or article that we didn’t receive via e-mail, so it’s really the central way that we run. The magazine is typeset electronically, of course, and we use the DocuTech printing process, which allows us to go from a disk to final output in a single step. We’re about as paperless as you can get a print magazine to be. The printer keeps our files on a tape that we rented, and we’re able to print back issues on demand for the same price as the original run, even if it’s in small quantities. That’s nice for a small magazine to be able to do.

As co-managing editors, Benson Parkinson and I are about equally involved in managing the magazine’s overall vision, organization, and approach. When first recruiting the editorial staff, I originally set things up as a loose confederation of fiefdoms. Benson came on board and helped organize things into more of a developed nation-state, with democratic safeguards against despotism. To avoid burnout, I delegated the different departments to trusted editors, and I don’t even personally read the magazine until it’s being copyedited. The department editors are responsible for making contacts, going out and soliciting material, getting it ready for publication, which we still need to do a lot of because we aren’t exactly overwhelmed with unsolicited manuscripts yet—so if you or anyone else you know has stories or reviews or essays, we’re very much in a mode of reading everything closely, almost with an attitude of “we’ll print it unless we see a reason why not to.” Maybe not quite that bad, but we’re not overwhelmed yet.

Ben Parkinson—he’s the one who founded and ran AML-List for five years, so he’s been deeply involved with things—acts as the first reader of the material gathered by our department editors and works with them as needed to refine the material. It’s nice to have him doing that because I just was going to say, “You send me the stuff, and I’ll read it on the way to the press.” That was to protect myself from having to do too much work, because the burnout issue is a big one. I do personally so far handle most of the magazine’s backend stuff, such as paginating, line editing, getting stuff ready to go to the copy center. I would love to get a reliable desktop publishing volunteer on board the staff. To keep things from getting too mundane for myself, I did take one editorial department: I coordinate the magazine’s interviews, which have been a lot of fun and I think are one of the magazine’s most valuable offerings. We have some interesting interviews planned for upcoming issues: we’re going to do Robert Kirby, the humorist, and Dave Wolverton, the science fiction writer who doesn’t yet rival Orson Scott Card, I don’t think, but is on the way to getting as much of a readership and a reputation. It sometimes seems like what I’ve done most of is envelope stuffing, and I recently have been trying to hold postal parties to get some other volunteers to help stuff envelopes. I do as much as I can find the time and energy for on the publishing end, such as promotional mailings, trying to round up retailers and advertisers, applying for nonprofit grants. The Utah Humanities Council and the Utah Arts Council have both been hesitant to support the magazine because of the church-state concern.

That brings up the issue of funding. I’ve recently read with great interest about the founding of both Sunstone and Dialogue. In comparison with those, our origins have been considerably lower key. The Association for Mormon Letters—which has actually been around for 20 years; I believe Eugene England was one of the founders, and Stephen Sondrup—has been quite cooperative about spending more on the magazine than I believe they were initially expecting. I think they had envisioned a glorified newsletter, but the magazine I feel has become a real magazine, at least in page count and quality of content if not yet in graphics and production values. I hope that we’ve returned some value to the AML by tripling their membership since the magazine’s been going.

It remains to be seen if the magazine will continue to be in line with the AML’s goals as an organization. It does cost a lot of money even at the level that we’re doing it. The AML has been largely an academic organization; they have held an academic conference every year that’s quite scholarly. I think that Irreantum is helping them branch out beyond the academic crowd. We’re trying to go into all kinds of Mormon literature instead of just the more so-called literary or academic. I believe there’s something for everyone in the magazine that has any interest in reading imaginative Mormon storytelling.

One of the nice things about working with this association is I just turn in the receipts, and all of the checks and mail go to the treasurer of the AML, and I honestly don’t know and don’t want to know what the financial health of the magazine is. We cut costs everywhere that we can and we don’t spend a whole lot on promotion yet. I can’t imagine doing what the Wasatch Review International did and taking the full burden of financing the magazine on our own backs. Not that I don’t feel responsible for drumming up as much advertising revenue as I can, but it’s just nice to work from the base of an association. If any of you are interested in publishing magazines, it’s the way to go to find some kind of a group or organization that wants some kind of magazine.

Our goal is for Irreantum to reach 1,000 circulation within a year or two. We hope that we can upgrade to nicer printing, maybe a color cover, at least. We’d like to get more of a bookstore presence, maybe even circulation in some of the national bookstore chains that carry literary magazines. I hope to see people writing more provocative reviews, essays, and fiction just because they are stimulated by Irreantum, are excited that there is a venue for imaginative Mormon literature, and want to get more aggressively involved. We’d like to see Irreantum be in the middle of a broad-based cultural movement, which I believe God’s Army is also part of and leading the way in, from the heart of Mormonism.

Q: If Sunstone and Dialogue are the nether regions and Irreantum is the temperate zone, is there a body of literature that’s too orthodox or too conservative for you to consider real Mormon literature?

A: I would hesitate to put any kind of a limitation on it. In the current issue of Irreantum, we have a chapter excerpt from a new Deseret Book novel by Margaret Young and Darius Gray. You don’t get a lot more orthodox than Deseret Book. I believe that’s indicative that we will go in the direction of so-called orthodox literature, but we’ve also run some other things that would not pass muster for Deseret Book. We’ve turned away one thing that was too explicit about the temple rites, and that actually caused some controversy on the staff, so we set up a system of democratic voting. When a story is of concern, the whole editorial board votes, and I think that’s probably the best way to handle it, because there’s no right or wrong answer, I don’t believe.

Q: Is the magazine going to be large enough to include plays?

A: We’ve done one long one-act play by Eric Samuelsen, and it was a wonderful opportunity and a very good play. That, frankly, did strain our resources page count wise at our present level. We’re not talking about a huge magazine yet. I think it would take a little bit more page count, which means a little bit more money, to be able to run plays. But I could see us setting a goal of one or two plays a year. It’s something we’re very much paying attention to because we count it as part of our editorial focus.

Q: What about poetry?

A: I think in this issue we have five or six pages of poetry, which is a pretty good proportion, I believe, for a 64-page magazine.

Q: How much Mormon content must writing have for Irreantum?

A: We call Irreantum a magazine of literature by Mormons and also about Mormons. That would mean that if a Mormon novelist who wrote in a genre such as mystery or romance sent us a chapter from an upcoming novel that did not have any Mormon characters in it, we would still seriously consider it because they have identified themselves as having a Mormon background. We feel that that can’t help but possibly come out in their writing in less explicit ways sometimes. At the same time, I have to say that if we had two submissions from LDS writers, active or not, and both were well written, and one of them had more explicit Mormon content than the other, I think as a magazine we would tend to lean toward that one. But if the other were far and above better in writing style, I think we’d run that one.

Q: What kinds of costs are involved with producing Irreantum? And what about the magazine’s page size?

A: This is a 76-page issue, just stapled. We paid to have it trimmed so it looks a little sharper, but just on one edge. This is done on DocuTech, which I think is basically like a large Xerox machine that has laser-print quality. The cover photo looks quite good, I think, for essentially a glorified photocopy. This probably cost about $1.80 per copy in a quantity of 400. We don’t have bells or whistles; we have one photo inside. I laid this out myself in Quark Express, which I have access to at work. It’s a desktop publishing program that probably costs eight or nine hundred dollars to buy, so I wouldn’t ever buy it on my own. I’ve recently come across an interesting group called the Small Press Co-op that has a very organized approach to helping small magazines join their print runs in such a way that they can reduce their costs. The price I saw for a 64-page, white-wove magazine in a quantity of 1,000 is about 700 dollars. That’s a direction we might go if we can figure out what to do with 1,000 copies of our magazine—we’re only mailing 300 or 400 now. I frankly haven’t shopped around much, and so I’m not sure we’re getting the very best deal, but we like the flexibility of DocuTech, where we can keep running smaller quantities later. When you get around 500, when is it more cost effective to go offset printed as opposed to photocopied or DocuTeched?

We started out using 8.5×11 paper folded over, but then we went to legal-sized paper folded over. I think we just wanted to look more substantial, not so digest sized. Sometimes when we go to get it printed, they don’t have that size of paper in stock. With this size we get some more words in, and the cost isn’t much higher. It’s a nice size for us now. It gives us two columns instead of one, which is reader friendly. I don’t know if we’ll go to the full size or not—no hurry, I don’t think.

Q: Does Mormonism need another magazine?

A: It’s kind of a sensitive point for me because the AML just edited the new issue of Dialogue and may have siphoned off some nice material we could have used in Irreantum. I think we’re trying with Irreantum to start a little bit of a fresh brand name. It’s been funny when I’ve called some of these LDS bookstores around the country, they’ll ask, “Is this like the Sunstone?” The honest answer might be, “Well, maybe not yet.” But there is some branding that goes on, and some people are uncomfortable with both the Sunstone and Dialogue names. I’m a faithful subscriber to both magazines and quite enjoy them, but there are some articles that I’m just not as interested in. I look at Sunstone and Dialogue in the Mormon community as being sort of the general-interest intellectual magazines, sort of like Look or Life were to this country in the earlier days of magazines. But magazines have been specializing more and more over the years, and I think there’s room for that even in the Mormon intellectual community with a magazine devoted only to literature. All of our interviews are with imaginative authors who write fiction or poetry, and all of our news is about film, fiction, or drama only. We are a little bit of a house organ for the AML; we run AML news and award citations. We’re hoping to create a little bit of a community.

Personally I think it’s dangerous to get out there in the doctrinal and the historical areas. That where you run afoul more, I think, with Church administration. Not that the arts are free of pitfalls as well, but it’s just nice not to have to worry about reinventing Church history or doctrine or policy. Not that it’s not interesting and I don’t read that myself.


Comments from Irreantum readers:

I was ecstatic when I discovered Irreantum. Not only do I love reading each issue’s well-crafted creative works—poetry and short stories—that speak to my interest in expressions of Mormon art and faith, but I also look forward to the interviews, reviews, and publishing notes. Since I live on the West Coast, I don’t have access to all the Mormon-related media and events that those who live in the Intermountain West enjoy. With Irreantum, I feel more connected to the Mormon arts scene. Over the holidays I had a chance to share the latest issue with my siblings and parents, who are all educated, avid readers but who have, for the most part, avoided the Mormon publishing scene because what they’ve been exposed to in the past didn’t match their interests and live up to their expectations. Every single one of them devoured the magazine, and we had some lively discussions about Mormon art. It was obvious to me that they (and me) are starving for a publication that seeks to capture all facets of the Mormon experience. My family members would never read Sunstone because they don’t have any desire to filter through work that in their point of view actively challenges or is condescending toward their orthodox-in-living, liberal-in-thinking brand of Mormonism. But they all have enjoyed Irreantum.

—William Morris

As a covert to the LDS church and a long-time writer, I was delighted to find Irreantum. Your magazine introduced me to the fascinating genre of Mormon literature and encouraged me to begin writing a novel filled with LDS characters. Thank you for setting high standards and for the LDS fiction, essays, interviews, and letters you publish.

—Sammie Justesen

I think Irreantum is great! It tells you everything that’s going on in Mormon literature. To those of us out here amongst the gentiles in Pennsylvania, it’s really wonderful to know what is being written and to have reviews to help us decide what to buy. But Irreantum also publishes some excellent stories and poems. I’ve been very impressed with a number of them. They are intellectually and artistically interesting and still accessible. I also like the general tone of Irreantum. Although I consider myself to be liberal, I believe in the church. I get very annoyed at the low intellectual level of Sunday School and priesthood classes, but I also get tired of hearing apostates tell me how stupid they think the church is. Irreantum is both spiritually and intellectually valuable without harping on tired arguments about the shortcomings of religion.

—Edward R. Hogan

How does a woman feel when she is released as Relief Society president after years and years of dedicated service? How does she fill up the hole in her life? When a teenager girl watches one of her friends die in an accident, how can her father help her deal with the conflicting emotions she goes through as she tries to understand an apparently meaningless tragedy? Do our pets have spirits? Can a pet care enough about its owner to die for him? These questions have all been explored by Mormon authors in short stories that have recently been published in Irreantum. These stories have helped me think about what I value and believe. They’ve also offered me the special gift of good literature—a glimpse into another human being’s heart and mind.

—Gae Lyn Henderson

We have publishing companies, like Deseret Book, that cover the faith-promoting aspect of LDS literature. We have companies that push the limits at the other end of the spectrum, like Signature Books, which explores the fringe aspects of Mormon culture and doctrine, some might say to a negative degree. And we have anti-Mormon publications—clear attacks on the Church and its beliefs. But where is the middle ground? Where is the LDS literature that explores the hypocrisies of Mormons, the deep struggles of morality, spectacular failures at living the gospel, spectacular changes of heart from despicable lifestyles, the real day-to-day struggle of working out one’s salvation through fear and trembling, all while remaining true to the gospel? Where is the LDS literature that examines the multi-faceted experience of faith from new and fresh points of view? To my knowledge, Irreantum is the only publication dedicated to the entire spectrum of LDS literature. While avoiding any attempt to be critical of eternal truths, Irreantum allows all voices to be heard among the increasingly diverse community of Latter-day Saints. Irreantum provides a forum for the publication of literature and ideas that might receive no other forum. If you are interested in LDS literature and do not read Irreantum, you will be the poorer for it.

—D. Michael Martindale

Irreantum has everything I like: good fiction of all genres, essays on the craft of producing that fiction, interviews with the leading voices of the LDS literary scene. And it’s remarkably, refreshingly balanced, like no other Mormon publication I’ve read. I eagerly look forward to each new issue.

—Melissa Proffitt

I read and reread the interviews. It’s captivating to learn about some of the most intriguing people in contemporary LDS culture. Irreantum is subversive in all the best ways. I wish everybody read it. The quality of the literature published in and highlighted by Irreantum is phenomenal for a culture the size of Mormonism. Most small countries don’t have a literary organ of comparable quality and breadth. I consider Irreantum indispensable for any Latter-day Saint who reads avidly. It has no political agenda and doesn’t push any one religious viewpoint. It’s simply about presenting the best writing by and about Mormons.

—Preston Hunter

Irreantum has its finger to the pulse of Mormon drama, poetry, and fiction. If you want to know what’s going on in Mormon letters, you can’t afford to be without it.

—Jonathan Langford

Irreantum opens wide the door of LDS literature and its many possibilities. Never stagnant and always inclusive, Irreantum gives hope to writers and pleasure to readers. Original interviews, news, and reviews give everyone an inside look at what’s going on in Mormon letters. Plus, fiction and essays! Who could ask for more?

—Dallas Robbins

Not so many years ago, if Mormons wanted to read fiction they had to choose something written by someone who knew nothing about being a Mormon. That has changed! And Irreantum, the New Yorker of Mormon letters, is the tool that will help us make choices and develop taste in the flourishing Mormon publishing market.

—Marilyn Brown

One Thought on “The Founding and Early Years of Irrreantum

  1. I’d forgotten that I’d provided a testimonial. That was a long time ago.

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