AML Awards 2000 – 2001

2001 A. Jeff Call Mormonville Marilyn Brown Novel Award Mormonville by A. Jeff Call is the story of an eastern journalist who is assigned by a rather sadistic newspaper executive to come to Utah to discover the “real dirt that must be there” about the Mormons. When the jaded journalist arrives, he begins to discover the truth. Jeff Call admits the truth is sometimes very hilarious. He is to be congratulated for writing a first novel that not only deals with every cultural phenomenon of the Mormon ethos, but in a way that makes us smile, laugh at ourselves, and love what we see. This is a remarkable work, one of a kind, a theme that future writers may not be able to repeat. It’s now been done, and well. The AML is honored to present Jeff Call with the Marilyn Brown Novel Award in honor of his achievement.
2001 Thomas F. Rogers Honorary Lifetime Membership Playwright, Linguist, Essayist, Scholar The Association for Mormon Letters honors Thomas F. Rogers with its Lifetime Membership Award for his commitment to creative work that conveys Latter-day Saint values under pressure. Standing among its first dramatists, Tom caught the imagination of Church audiences with his historical play Huebener, depicting a Mormon youth’s active resistance to Nazi propaganda. It is only fitting that as a mission president in Russia from 1993 to 1996, Tom had his district members perform that play along with the Brothers Karamotzov, while a professional group presented a Russian translation of his play on religious dissidents in Stalinist Russia, Journey to Golgotha or God’s Fools. Tom, as educator and creative writer, has written short stories and personal essays, has encouraged young artists through his work with the Mormon Festival of the Arts, has led study-abroad programs to Eastern Europe and Russia. He has served AML as a judge for awards and himself received the AML drama prize in 1983. He has lectured for the Utah Council of the Humanities on Soviet and earlier Russian culture. Through his studies of languages, namely German, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, and Hindi, he has become an interpreter, not only of idiom but of ideology, for peoples often neglected by western humanists. Through his scholarly and creative efforts, he has intensified the expression of Mormon values in our region and represented them superbly abroad. Tom Rogers, now emeritus professor of Russian language and literature from Brigham Young University, continues his distinguished career as an internationalist and spokesman for humane letters. It is appropriate that he returns to Nanking this spring to study Mandarin in order to further understand this important culture and hoping to connect with the brilliant graduate students he taught last year in Beijing. His plays and his essays persistently illustrate the motif scripture he printed on the frontis page of God’s Fools, “let every man” esteem his brother as himself (Doctrine & Covenants 38:24).
2001 Louise Plummer A Dance for Three Young Adult Literature As my two daughters became teenagers and their relationships with boys became more complicated, they struggled to decode the confusing cultural signs of romance. Reading Louise Plummer’s modern-day novels of manners helped my daughters walk through the forest of adolescence. Her voice is like that of a friendly aunt who knows plenty of stories about love. The latest in this line of novels is A Dance for Three, the story of a young woman who is nearly destroyed by her illusions about the boy she loves. Pregnant and physically abused by him, she experiences a psychotic break. The narration in three voices is as sophisticated as Virginia Sorensen’s best work; the prose has the grace and power of poetry. As Hannah, the protagonist, puzzles over the memory of her own seduction, readers puzzle with her. By the end of the book the meaning of the scene is transformed and our ethical outrage is focused. Like classic writers since the invention of the novel, Plummer unmasks illusion in the form of dishonesty, exaggeration, and self-deceit. Her voice is certain and steady, telling young women that they can trust their heads, trust their ability to judge.
2001 Jeffrey Needle Review The Association for Mormon Letters presents an Award in Review for 2001 to Jeffrey Needle for his collected book reviews appearing on AML-List: An Email List of Mormon Literature (reviews available through the AML-List Archives.). “How then shall they read the books of which they have not heard?” Reviewers play an important, and largely unsung, role in the life of a literary community. This is true not only of those who voice judgments of new works, but equally of those who reach back into the past, bringing to our remembrance a knowledge of what has gone before. In so doing, they serve as our collective memory, allowing us to build bridges across time to our half-forgotten literary forebears. Jeff Needle provides an outstanding example of just such service. Over the past five years, this self-described Jewish Protestant with a sympathetic interest in “all things Mormon” has published over 70 reviews for AML-List — 23 in 2001 alone. His choices have spanned the range from doctrinal works to Mormon history, historical fiction, detective novels with Mormon settings, biography, and more. New and old, well-known and obscure; all have come under his roving reading and reviewing eye. Jeff brings to his reviews a careful concern for accuracy, clear sense of plot, and finely tuned sensitivity to authorial style. He consistently, and charitably, recounts authors’ successes, while with soft-spoken insight noting areas for improvement. It is part of his understated skill that we come away from each review feeling that we have learned about—and from—an author’s work, through Jeff’s mediation.
2001 Brady Udall The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint Novel In The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint Brady Udall writes of a world where miracles happen and religion has the power to change people. The title character, Edgar, has enormous physical, social, and cultural hardships, but he maintains a natural innocence and morality that enable him to persevere. Through Edgar’s experience in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Udall draws an easily recognizable portrait of everyday Mormons—people who still have struggles in spite of their belief in Christ and membership in His Church. In this novel, the Church exists as part of the relevant cultural setting and not as a religion that needs explanation, justification, or additional proselyting tools. Throughout Edgar Mint, Udall employs vivid, evocative descriptions that conjure the visual images, sounds, smells, and moods of the situations that make up Edgar’s miracle life. Udall doesn’t shrink back from describing the horrors of Edgar’s life, but he also never takes on the tabloid and voyeuristic view prevalent in much of today’s entertainment. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint extends the possibilities of Mormon literature into new arenas and does so with quality storytelling and unforgettable characters.
2001 Carol Lynch Williams My Angelica Middle Grade Literature In the past three years, Carol Lynch Williams published four middle-grade books—three in the national market and one for Mormon readers. Her humor, storytelling ability, facility with language, and courage to consider difficult issues place her at the top of her field. Her protagonists are generally young women who face a web of serious challenges. Through the course of her experiences the protagonist discovers the power to resist the trouble confronting her. Christmas in Heaven explores the tension between family and friends as the protagonist’s brother is drawn away from himself by an emotionally disturbed girl. Carolina Autumn shows a young woman facing adolescence after losing her father and sister through death and her mother through emotional isolation. My Angelica, lighter than most of her books, has a male protagonist and deals with the issues of first love and distorted self-concept. Tish, shows a pioneer girl struggling with her grandparent’s anger about Mormonism. Her books embrace the values of the best Mormon literature—respecting each person as a child of God, building solid relationships with friends and family, and progressing toward maturity.
2001 J. Scott Bronson Stones Drama Stones is a perfect example of the three keys to playwriting: Story, Character, and Dialogue. Both acts, thousands of years apart in real time, appear outwardly to tell two different stories. But the similarities in the themes of faith and family reach across the years to bind the play into one coherent story that is relevant today and will always be as long as humans walk the earth. Playwrights of lesser ability would have seen the task of putting thoughts into the mind and words into the mouth of the Savior of Mankind as somewhat daunting, if not downright sacrilegious; yet Bronson’s Christ speaks words that are simultaneously human in their pain and divine in their solace. No less expertly delineated are the characters of Abraham and, especially Mary. The scene where she becomes aware of her Son’s eventual sacrifice on the cross is one of great dramatic and spiritual power. Bronson’s dialogue successfully and seamlessly bridges two worlds. His characters speak plainly in the modern syntax and vernacular and yet slip effortlessly into lyrical soliloquies of great poetic force. Stones sets a new standard for Mormon drama in the universality of its theme, the depth of its characterization, and the poignant beauty of its words.
2001 Dian Saderup Monson “Believing in the Word” Criticism In “Believing in the Word” Dian Saderup Monson brings a Mormon sensibility to a larger national audience, challenging the skepticism of contemporary literary theory and boldly claiming that language and literature, reading and writing are inherently acts of faith. The indeterminacy of language does not make true communication impossible, but any communication miraculous. The inaccessibility of an author’s intention does not make an absolute gulf between reader and writer, but an opportunity for unusual and compelling communion. And the ease with which critics can dissipate literary meanings by reference to political or cultural conditions may simply be sophisticated dodges from the spirit of a text. This is the case with a critic Monson describes who, in reading a short story by Catholic author Andre Dubus, looks so narrowly at gender issues that the protagonist’s experiences of crisis and grace are lost to her. Just as the protagonist in Dubus’s story must learn to submit to God’s grace, so must we readers, according to Monson, be willing to surrender ourselves and our convenient interpretive lenses to the mystery and manners of an author’s work. It is only on the basis of such trust that language and literature become mediating and not maddening. “As I read fiction and teach it,” Monson concludes, “ I will seek to maintain a certain faith, not only in the precarious reliability of words, but in the notion that authors use words with purpose that readers may, by a combination of wit and grace, divine.” [Full text of the article avaliable at First Things.]
2001 Don H. Staheli The Story of the Walnut Tree Children’s Literature In the first session of the April 2000 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley told a story about a black walnut tree he had planted many years ago. When the tree died, rather than having it destroyed, he asked experts whether its wood might still be useful. That walnut tree became the pulpit that stands at the front of the new Conference Center, the pulpit from which President Hinckley spoke. “It is an emotional thing for me,” he said. “I offer my profound thanks for making it possible to have a small touch of mine in this great hall where the voices of prophets will go out to all the world in testimony of the Redeemer of mankind.” In The Story of the Walnut Tree, Don Staheli has transformed President Hinckley’s simple, heartfelt story into a modern fable about unexpected beauty. The walnut tree, planted on a whim, seems to lack all the qualities that make the other trees special; it is not as tall as the maple, not as beautiful as the quaking aspen, not as full and richly scented as the evergreen. But, as the “kind man” of the story reminds us, sometimes things we discount as unworthy turn out to be the best of all. Though this statement, and other morals, are stated explicitly in the story, the parallel to Christ’s life is more powerful for never being overtly stated. Robert Barrett’s rich illustrations, with their predominance of trees and foliage, suggest vitality and strength, a fitting complement to the simple yet beautiful text. While Mormon children’s literature has many stories about Church history, and many stories of powerful metaphor, it has very few that are both at once. The Story of the Walnut Tree combines deep gospel principles with an engaging story, simply told. It depicts a true story from contemporary Church history without resorting to hagiography or saccharine perfection. This is an exceptional book.
2000 Alan Mitchell Angel of the Danube Marilyn Brown Novel Award
2000 Richard Cracroft Honorary Lifetime Membership The problem with honoring Richard Cracroft is that such an encomium deserves the eloquence and good humor that he alone is most qualified to give. To list his many contributions to Mormon letters falls short of conveying his passion, his verve, his back-handed satire and his front-loaded humor. For Richard Cracroft has not simply been a scholar advancing our field; he has been a captain boldly leading us into it-organizing, quelling, and presiding over the skirmishes that have kept Mormon letters such an interesting panorama. On one front Richard has been a literary scholar, credentialed in American and Western studies, bringing LDS literature under the legitimizing aegis of those more established fields. On another front he has been a popular and accessible critic, explaining the history of LDS fiction to the church at large in the pages of the Ensign or guiding readers of BYU Magazine to the best of current LDS literature. As a kind of literary diplomat, Richard Cracroft has for many years directed BYU’s Center for Christian Values in Literature, bringing LDS literature and criticism into contact with larger, non-LDS audiences through the journal Literature and Belief and bringing together faculty and literary scholars from across campus and the country through colloquia and conferences aptly named “Literature and Belief” and “Spiritual Frontiers.” But Richard has been no literary pacificist. His passionate loyalty to the Mormon faith and to a conservative Mormon aesthetics has caused him to speak out with typical lack of timidity against backsliding opinions and encroaching secularism. As he concluded his year as president of AML in 1991, for example, he issued a stirring call to LDS writers and critics to return to the core values of an LDS worldview. Whether or not Richard has succeeded in stemming the sophic tide of Mormon literature, his authentic Mormon voice has created no enemies. To the contrary, it has always commanded respect, as all great passion does, especially from someone who so genially combines religious testimony and literary acumen. Richard has been justly called the father of modern Mormon literary studies, but we might even call him its godfather-substituting for images of violence the force of Richard’s constant good humor and good will as he has presided over a dynasty of contributions to our common cause. Not only did Richard inaugurate the first courses in Mormon literature at BYU, but just prior to the founding of the AML he edited (with Neal Lambert) the first anthology of Mormon literature, A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints. That seminal work has been repeatedly celebrated both for charting a course for future LDS literary studies and for reviving genres and authors otherwise passed over. That early work has paid off in a heritage of renewed attention to the genres and figures that he and Neal Lambert salvaged from obscurity. He has more recently defended “home literature” and popular genres, convincing literary scholars to take seriously what mainstream Mormons are reading. Richard is an advocate and a champion, a literate voice for works considered by some as less literary, both in the past and the present. He is a leader who rouses and rallies his audiences from their stupors of thought, motivating them toward more profound engagement of both their religion and its literary expression. For his mediation and advocacy as critic, for his countless articles and presentations that have shaped the field, for his inimitable eloquence and humor, and for his many years of tireless reading and writing on behalf of Mormon letters, the Association for Mormon Letters proudly confers upon Richard Cracroft honorary lifetime membership.
2000 Patricia Terry Holland A Quiet Heart Devotional Literature On a beautiful day, Patricia T. Holland sat overlooking the Sea of Galilee, wondering whether life should be as hard as it was and worrying that she had not succeeded in her stewardships. As she felt the healing rays of the sun, she seemed to hear Heavenly Father whisper to her, “You don’t have to worry over so many things. The only thing that is truly needful is to keep your eyes toward the sun-my Son.” Against the backdrop of experiences such as this, Sister Holland leads the reader of A Quiet Heart on a search for wholeness and holiness. Sister Holland soothes the troubled mind, encouraging the reader to “turn a few things down and turn a few things off” in order to seek solutions and comfort from the one true source. With warmth, wisdom, and humor, she explains that joy will only be ours when our actions and our aspirations match God’s plan for us, not God’s plan for somebody else. Her honesty about her feelings and her willingness to discuss personal challenges assure readers that their own challenges can be met with courage and serenity. With her friendly style, she inspires readers toward more consistent spiritual strivings without making them feel more frenzied and guilty. She invites readers to feel and enjoy the Lord’s love for them. “Rest in that love. . . . Let it relax, calm and comfort you.” A Quiet Heart is the quintessential inspirational book. It leads readers gently, quietly, and steadily toward having hearts filled with charity-for themselves, for others, and for God. This thought-provoking and well-crafted work instills peace and hope in its readers and leaves them with Sister Holland’s stirring reassurance that “God will not fail or forsake us.”
2000 Benson Parkinson Criticism The first award established by the Association for Mormon Letters in 1978 was in the category of criticism, and no activity can be considered more central to the mission and vision of this body than enabling meaningful conversations. As Wayne Booth has said, Mormonism “will never attain a great artistic culture until we have achieved a great critical culture.” That critical culture is indeed developing, and it has grown exponentially in recent years due to the pioneering vision and indefatigable efforts of Benson Parkinson. Back in 1995, before e-mail became so widely used, Benson foresaw the utility of establishing an online conversation about Mormon letters and in May of that year inaugurated AML-List. Since that time, hundreds and hundreds of scholars, students, church members, and the casually interested from all over the world have become part of an online community dedicated to analyzing the aesthetic, cultural, pragmatic, and spiritual aspects of Mormon-related literature. The membership of the Association for Mormon Letters has swelled as a direct consequence of AML-List, and our meetings now reflect the influx of many younger writers and critics and the broader variety of literary genres represented by AML-List subscribers. For all but two or three days of the year when our live events take the foreground, AML-List is the Association for Mormon Letters. It has become a clearinghouse for news about LDS literature, a resource for budding writers, a forum for literary experts and lay readers, and a vehicle for announcing and promoting readings, book signings, conferences, and online resources of interest to AML members. The guiding force behind the list has been Benson Parkinson. As moderator of the list until last year, Benson not only solved many technical problems, especially before e-mail became more established, but he also read every post to the list-literally thousands-to screen out both digressions and diatribes, continually reminding the participants of the goals and texts central to this body. AML-List could have had a shorter and less meaningful life if it had not been overseen by a well-read, good-natured, and articulate critic who knew how to tame this novel medium and turn it to account. Benson established regular columns, including outlets for news, bibliographies, new creative writing, and especially reviews. To date, some 400 reviews have appeared on AML-List, most of which were made possible through the mediation and editing of Benson Parkinson. The AML’s literary quarterly, Irreantum, was born out of the vision and the community of personnel Benson Parkinson has fashioned over the last five years. As Robert Hogge adumbrated in his recent AML presidential address, the Association for Mormon Letters has been reborn electronically, and Benson Parkinson has been the midwife to that great renewal.
2000 Margaret Blair Young I Am Jane Drama I Am Jane produced for The Genesis Group, March 2000; in Springville, Utah’s Villa Theater in Spring 2001, at the AML Writer’s Conference at Utah Valley State College in November, 2000; in Chicago, Illinois in 2000; and at Brigham Young University, February 2001. Jane Manning James was one of our most remarkable pioneer ancestors. She was a woman of tremendous courage and faith, and she survived personal tragedies that would have destroyed many. And she was black, a former slave. The fact that she was a convert to Mormonism, a pioneer and a Saint makes her a compelling subject for drama; the fact that she was African-American gives her story resonance and power far beyond the facts of her life history. Margaret Young, together with her writing partner, Darius Gray, have begun to explore the sad legacy of LDS race relations in what promises to be a groundbreaking trilogy of historical novels, “Standing on the Promises,” book one of which, One More River to Cross was recently published by Deseret Book. Now, with I Am Jane, Young has taken the same body of research, and created a theatrical event of the first rank. Using gospel music from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and employing a free-flowing theatrical style that moves the story throughout time and space, I Am Jane is an exciting piece of theatre. Although the writing is direct and eloquent, Young has made the difficult choice to mute her own strong, poetic voice, and give us instead the voice of her subject. The play’s title is no accident; I Am Jane is clearly intended as a tribute to a remarkable subject, instead of the subjective vision of a masterful artist. And, as such, the play becomes a vehicle not only for Jane James’ testimony, but also the vehicle through which we also hear the testimonies of our living brothers and sisters. The written texts of plays are merely the blueprints for performances, and a fine play needs to be seen and heard, and not merely read. This is doubly true for I Am Jane. One cannot mention the power and impact of this text, and not mention the dedication and commitment of the members of the LDS theatrical community, black and white, who have sacrificed to present it in so many venues. I am Jane is a wonderful play. But by bringing together present and past, black and white, brothers and sisters, this play becomes more than a work of art. It becomes an act of goodness.
2000 Richard Dutcher God’s Army Film When considering Richard Dutcher’s film God’s Army, the immediate temptation is to focus on this film more for what it seems to herald than for what it actually is. Since LDS filmmaking has now so clearly taken such a major step forward with the release of God’s Army, cinema can now be said to have joined the conversation with our culture that so many LDS novelists, playwrights, poets and essayists have been engaging in for generations. God’s Army seems to presage a movement, a renaissance, in which Richard Dutcher, in the best LDS tradition, plays the role of pioneer. And yet we ought not allow the God’s Army event to overshadow the film itself. And it’s such a lovely, intimate film, a film of understatement and modesty. A powerful miracle scene is treated quietly, without intrusive underscoring or acting histrionics. A prayer scene is accompanied, not by violins or choral angels, but by the simple sound of a car engine sputtering to a start. The camera work is inobtrusive, and yet the camera is always in the right place, and the lighting convincingly captures the shabbiness of missionary apartments. Dutcher’s writing has the same understated complexity as we find in the best fiction of Doug Thayer or John Bennion. His characters are rich, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional. Dutcher’s missionaries are believable both as young men and as God’s servants, easily confused and yet also idealistic, given to practical jokes, but also capable of great faith. The story of the making of God’s Army, the struggle to raise funds and to find a distributor, is in many ways as inspirational as the film itself. God’s Army is a fine and an important film, but it was also a commercial success. That may be the most encouraging thing about it. And so, the Association for Mormon Letters honors not only a remarkable piece of LDS writing, but also the work of a producer of courage and tenacity, a director of vision and imagination, an actor of sensitivity and insight, and a marketer of creativity and skill. It is not hyperbole to declare God’s Army the most remarkable and important film in the history of Mormon letters. It is a pleasure to honor this extraordinary movie.
2000 Gordon B. Hinckley Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes Personal Essay Once in a great while, a book comes along that makes such a significant contribution to our culture that it really needs to be recognized in a significant way. This past year, Latter-day Saints witnessed an unimagined phenomenon as the president of the Church wrote a book that ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. That book, Standing for Something, is a forthright, unflinching call for society to return to its moral moorings. In a day of rationalizations and redefinitions regarding family and morality, here is a book that says, without apology, that married couples ought to stay married, that parents have actual responsibilities to teach their children, and that the way to find happiness and personal freedom is to embrace such values as integrity, civility, and hard work. That President Gordon B. Hinckley would say such things is no surprise to anyone in our culture. That a national publisher would produce his book, that Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes would write a foreword for it, and that hundreds of thousands of people across the country would buy copies of it-those are unforeseen and unprecedented events. President Hinckley has always been an opener of doors, and Standing for Something has opened new doors for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in ways that will affect the world’s view of us for years to come. It has built a bridge between Zion and New York, demonstrating that Mormon views and Mormon writings are welcome in the national culture.
2000 Darrell Spencer Caution: Men in Trees Short Fiction Writers judging writers. Whoever thought this one up? As if one writer could judge another’s work without bias. On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss something that doesn’t actually fall within your own genre or violates one of the seven deadly sins that you’ve taught against all these years. It’s easy to dismiss one of those. But when the writer is particularly good and competes with your own space, breathes the air that should have been yours, a writer-judge has to swallow pride and say, damn that’s good. Because when you have pulled apart at all the critical edges and the center still holds, what else is there to say? So this year, the award in short fiction goes to a collection that is totally without humility. You might expect a writer to find one good metaphor or image and play with it for a while like a cat. No economy there. You might expect a writer to have one story out of a collection that easily leads the pack. You might at least expect him to stumble every once in awhile, please. But not so. The language of this collection never lets up. Every story is a downpour of image, a deluge of metaphor, a torrent of detail. In fact, it is a flood of everything that the judge holds sacred. So what else is there for the judge to do, but to fall and be washed away, to struggle and then cling again, and finally crawl, and gasp, and in a whisper with that last breath of air say — “Awe. I could never have written this.”
2000 Margaret Blair Young One More River to Cross Novel In One More River to Cross, Margaret Young and Darius Gray have created a haunting, beautifully written, carefully documented story that describes the lives of black saints in the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pioneer stories often neglect these saints of color. This novel reminds us of their presence and prominence among the early saints, including close association with the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family. Many black saints had only recently attained their freedom, and they found some relief in the company of the saints. We would hope that the early saints had treated all men as equals, but we learn that-like today-prejudice often appears even among people who should know better. In the fine people of One More River to Cross, you find a strength and an integrity that served them well in their long trek across the nation — escaping from slavery in Maryland, joining the Saints in Illinois, and traveling across the plains to the Mountains of Zion. You’ll likewise find a deep humanity that extended beyond the boundaries of their own culture to those around them, setting an example for our growing, multicultural church today. One More River to Cross is an important addition to both Mormon and African-American literature, with the story of a people who learned to reach deeply within themselves to find a sense of purpose, a sense of worth, that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring.

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