AML Awards 2004 – 2005

2005 Greg Whiteley New York Doll Film New York Doll may well represent the most important contribution to LDS cinema in the last twenty years. On the one hand its restraint results in a propaganda-free production that has been enjoyed by a broad and diverse audience, yet on the other hand it neither eschews Mormon doctrine and culture nor takes a didactic stance against perceived laziness and hypocrisy in the Mormon center, and it thus represents the best Mormonism has to offer. Seeing Arthur Kane’s spiritual journey inspires us to join him in a pilgrimage through Gethsemane and Golgotha until we witness how one of the least of the Latter-day Saints may indeed reach exaltation. The documentary footage proceeds at such a pace that allows it to acquire such syntactic and spiritual density that each phrase, each nuance, comes to resonate with irony, humor, devotion, and pure love. Indeed, Greg Whiteley and his crew have succeeded in creating a film imbued with charity, and there can be no greater praise for a work of art, LDS or otherwise.
2005 Donald Marshall Seeker Marilyn Brown Novel Award An honorable mention award of $200 goes to Don Marshall for i>Seeker, an intriguing story that begins with two missionaries presumed dead in an explosion in their Paris apartment building. The father of one of them, unable to put aside the spiritual feeling that his son is still alive, goes on a worldwide search to the upper Midwest, to New York, to Paris, to the South of France, to the Caribbean, to San Francisco, to Tahiti. The loss this story explores, loss of connection between fathers and sons in LDS culture, or a deep and pervasive bafflement at how a father shall be a father to his son, is a serious matter, and Seeker takes an honest and earnest look at it.
2005 William Morris, P. G. Karamesines, Kent Larsen, and Eric Russell A Motley Vision Criticism The Association for Mormon Letters presents an Award in Criticism for 2005 to A Motley Vision weblog and its principal authors, Patricia Gunter Karamesines, Kent Larsen, William Morris, and Eric Russell. While cultural pundits have been debating the significance of that curious new practice of online journaling known as blogging, the writers at A Motley Vision, a weblog devoted to discussing Mormon art and culture, have proven that this new literary form fulfills the goals of good criticism that the Association for Mormon Letters has long promoted. Like the AML-List that preceded it, A Motley Vision is an online forum where LDS books and movies are reviewed and discussed. Its writers have made serious efforts to give sustained discussion to important issues, rather than simply aggregating fragments and chatter. The organization and coherence of the site, with its archives and references, has made possible the very sort of communal discussion of art and literature that AML encourages at its conferences, but does so asynchronously and electronically, allowing a greater breadth of participation across space and time. We have yet to see where the world of blogging will develop, but any new frontier needs trustworthy pioneers, and the Association for Mormon Letters wishes to encourage through this award the ongoing serious effort shown by A Motley Vision to energize and broaden the discussion of Mormon literature and culture.
2005 Lance Larsen In All Their Animal Brilliance Poetry The Association for Mormon Letters presents an Award in Poetry for 2005 to Lance Larsen for his collection, In All Their Animal Brilliance, published by the University of Tampa Press. Over the past 20 years Lance Larsen has steadily established himself as a poet of national renown, publishing in significant literary periodicals ranging from Paris Review and Salmagundi to Tar River Poetry, Southern Review, and The Times Literary Review. His second published collection, In All Their Animal Brilliance, reflects the vigor and range connoted by its title, and invites critics to recognize Larsen’s sophistication and passion. Larsen’s is a Mormon voice, but not the sort Mormons might recognize from the inspirational verse that decorates homilies. Larsen is courageous enough and disciplined enough to step beyond hackneyed patterns into authentic and thoughtful expression grounded in the paradoxes of Mormon experience and belief. In poems such as “This World, Not the Next” Larsen invokes a Mormon existentialism, but lyrically, not theologically. God pleads with Adam and Eve to return to “a savory forever of his making. / But it was this world, with its tides and machinery / of sweet decay they learned to love.” This describes Larsen’s own poetry, whose mundane settings and situations recall both the puzzles and pleasures of life in a marriage, or as a child. Larsen is unafraid to love the imperfect flesh, literally (in such poems as “Bodies, Terrestrial,” which respects pain, or “Between,” about “replotting desire” in marriage). He is equally unafraid to love the imperfect flesh of language. Several poems turn upon catalyst words: “Moji” or “Planaria” or “Palimpsest”-but as affection, not affectation. To Larsen words are both handy and joyous; curious, and adequate-somewhere between this world and the next, to which he invites us through his chiaroscuro invocations of the quotidian and the eternal.
2005 Arianne B. Cope The Coming of Elijah Marilyn Brown Novel Award This year’s $1000 Marilyn Brown Novel Award goes to a new writer, Arianne B. Cope, for her work, The Coming of Elijah. This ambitious and moving novel might be termed a feminine answer to Brady Udall’s story of a boy in the Indian Placement program, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. This novel might seem ungainly in its ambition to chronicle nearly five decades in the lives of a Native American woman and her daughter; yet none of the judges would urge the writer to take on anything less than this large arc of history and these often painfully mixed and complicated characters, Anglo and Navajo. The work has real gravity, and is bracingly—or even scorchingly—unsparing in its attention to the sheer awfulness and sense of deep cultural and spiritual betrayal, and despair, in the life of a Navajo-Anglo working-class family in happy Utah Valley through the last five decades, and to the larger problems that the story of such a family reveals for a church that has aspired to enlighten the lives of people of all ethnicities. The story looks hard at the gulf between Elder Kimball’s high hopes and glowing reports on the Placement Program and actual cross-cultural reality; and a reader may wonder why, since the excommunication and disgrace of George P. Lee, the Church has been so silent about this phase of its 20th Century history. It may be hard for the writer to revise this book into a novel that doesn’t seem to have an ecclesiastical-political agenda, and yet, as books like N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn and Melanie Rae Thon’s Sweet Hearts demonstrate, it both can and should be done.
2005 Richard Lyman Bushman Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling Biography In Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman has meticulously researched the life of Mormonism’s first prophet to create a compelling and honest portrait of Joseph Smith. Not just a great biography, the book is also a remarkable work of literature. As a renowned historian, Bushman seeks to place Joseph Smith in the context of his 19th-century culture, and in doing so does not shy away from some of the episodes in the Prophet’s life that have troubled many faithful Latter-day Saints: his early treasure-seeking episodes, his preaching and practice of polygamy, his political aspirations. As a faithful Latter-day Saint, he writes of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God who truly did have the spiritual experiences he claimed. In allowing not only the words of the Prophet’s followers, but also those of his detractors, to be heard, Bushman ultimately shows us a great man whose human mistakes do not any less make him a man of God. Exhaustively detailed, with great attention paid to explaining the ideas and attitudes of the mid-nineteenth century, Rough Stone Rolling is indeed the biography of Joseph Smith that has been long awaited by LDS readers. It is greatly deserving of the Association for Mormon Letters’ award in Biography.
2005 Michael and Laura Allred The Golden Plates Special Award Over the years, comic books have been derided as cheap, escapist entertainment, vilified as corrupters of youth, and finally recognized as what they are today: a vibrant, flexible medium for telling stories of all genres. Authors and artists use the graphic novel format to tell stories in which text is wedded to artwork to create a very different kind of literature. Using the text of the Book of Mormon for almost all the dialogue, and working directly from scriptural accounts, the husband and wife team of Michael and Laura Allred have begun retelling this uniquely Mormon epic in the uniquely beautiful medium of the graphic novel. Michael Allred’s artwork is spare of line and detail, evoking the work of comic book legends such as Jack Kirby and Alex Toth without at any time seeming derivative of either. Laura Allred’s astonishing colors complete this collaboration, resulting in art that almost springs off the page. The overall style suits the larger-than-life subject matter of this grand scriptural epic, and one can only wonder that no one ever thought to do this before. The Association for Mormon Letters is proud to present a Special Award to this unusual and beautiful adaptation of the Book of Mormon.
2005 Dean Hughes Children of the Promise Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters Historical fiction has for many years been the mainstay of LDS literature. With novels spanning the years from the Church’s inception to the immediate past, Mormon authors seek to bring Church history to life through fiction and, in turn, to give Mormon readers a glimpse of lives beyond their own. While much of this fiction is set during the early days of Mormonism, some authors have chosen to explore more recent history. None of these has been more remarkable-for content, literary quality, and sheer volume-than Dean Hughes’s double series Children of the Promise and Hearts of the Children. The first five-volume series, Children of the Promise, is set during the World War II era and follows the members of the Thomas family as they deal with separation, war, and turmoil during a time of international crisis. Then, having resolved one story, Hughes takes this family through an even more complicated time period, the 1960s and the Vietnam War, in the second series, Hearts of the Children. By connecting these two eras with the lives of a single widely-spread family, Hughes draws our attention to the similarities between every generation and reminds us that there is never a Golden Age, never a time when it’s easy to live one’s faith. His characters are just like everybody else, ordinary people called upon by circumstance to make extraordinary choices, which leads readers to ask the question that is the essence of historical fiction: What would I have done in their place? The AML would like to recognize Dean Hughes for his outstanding contribution to Mormon letters, which we hope may be an inspiration for others in the years to come.
2005 Roger Terry God’s Executioner Novel
2005 Orson Scott Card Magic Street Novel
2005 David Farland Of Mice and Magic, Ravenspell Book One Young Adult Literature
2005 Dean Hughes Search and Destroy Young Adult Literature
2005 Patricia Wiles Funeral Home Evenings Young Adult Literature Funeral Home Evenings continues the story of Kevin Kirk, a newly baptized Latter-day Saint boy living in Arkansas with his mortician parents. Kevin’s problems are the usual ones of friendship, school, and family, though admittedly more humorous than most: very few people have to try to retrieve an escaped tarantula from a hideous floral arrangement before it’s noticed by the mourners or, worse, Mom and Dad. But it’s Kevin’s struggle with humility that makes this novel stand out as great LDS young adult fiction. In trying to impress a teacher with his love of biology, Kevin forgets that even the most talented can still have a lot to learn, and this lesson comes with a painful and shocking price. Wiles’s depiction of small-town life is witty at times, heartbreaking at others, and her characters are charming without being caricatures. Underlying it all is a story about faith-about having it, keeping it, and gaining it-that is a far better testimony of the gospel than overt preaching could be. The Association for Mormon Letters is proud to present this award for Young Adult Fiction to Funeral Home Evenings.
2005 Shannon Hale Princess Academy Young Adult Literature Writers write to communicate, and fiction writers communicate best when they communicate truths that touch us all. Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy is about communication. Not only does it explore a magical possibility—a form of telepathy through a very special stone used by those who quarry and work that stone—it also shows us how communication can bring pain and cause unnecessary challenges for those who use it poorly or not at all. Hale’s characters take for granted a way to speak to each other through the bones of the earth that they do not realize is unique to them and their community, perhaps because of the very air they breathe. Only when they must deal with the demands of those outside of their community do they begin to see how special they and the stones that give them their livelihoods truly are. Even more than this magical communication, however, the characters of Princess Academy learn the magic of being honest with others, especially those they love. While the truth may hurt, misunderstandings and the false ideas they lead to hurt even more, if for no other reason than that the pain could have been avoided. Hale, in her latest novel for young adults, urges her readers to think about the messages they send, and the interpretations they put on the messages they receive. She shows us the need for true speaking and true listening, and she communicates this in prose that lifts us and sings to us and fills our hearts. The Association for Mormon Letters is proud to present this award in Young Adult Fiction to Princess Academy.
2005 Brandon Sanderson Elantris Novel Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel begins with the story of a godlike race, perfect, beautiful, undying, and possessors of a fabulous magic, worshiped for eternity in the city Elantris. Then comes the simple line: “Eternity ended ten years ago.” With that, we are swept into the present-a time and a place where governments are corrupt, religious zealotry has seen many die by the sword, and the formerly perfect Elantrians are now diseased, undead creatures trapped inside the once-beautiful city that is now their prison. This is the story of three people: the prince Raoden, caught by the disease and secretly taken to Elantris; his betrothed wife Sarene, caught in a marriage of state to a man she believes is dead; and the fanatical priest Hrathen, emissary of an empire that seeks to expand by religious conversion. But underlying this story is a remarkable framework of symbolism that operates on a number of levels, from the nature of the Elantrians’ illness to the political systems created after its fall. Nothing can be taken for granted here, not appearances, not motivations, not even the nature of reality. Each of the three main characters begins the story thrust into an unfamiliar society, forced to learn the rules quickly in order to survive and then gradually to change the rules to accomplish his or her goals. As the story progresses, and each character’s actions begin to affect the others, the three stories turn out to be parts of a greater whole that isn’t what it appeared to be in the first place. With evocative descriptions, deft characterization, a complex grasp of politics and a simple but highly original magic system, Sanderson has created a novel that works not only as excellent fantasy, but as excellent literature. The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to honor Elantris with the award in the Novel.
2004 Adam Abel Saints and Soldiers Film Saints and Soldiers is not just the best LDS film of the past year, but the best LDS film of any year. It is so superior on almost every level, especially in its technical aspects, that it puts some of the more hastily assembled films to shame. Directed by Ryan Little and written by Geoffrey Panos and Matt Whitaker, Saints and Soldiers follows a small band of American and British G.I.s as they sneak through enemy lines following the Malmedy massacre of December 1944. The film powerfully evokes a wintry atmosphere and a sense of foreboding and danger, while drawing characters who earn our sympathy and respect. It also explores the inherent conflict between religion and war, the idea that one must sometimes give up one’s personal responsibility in order to fight for something bigger, even if it means doing things one is normally opposed to. And yet, despite the film’s intense atmosphere, and though distinctly “light” moments are few, it nonetheless is not oppressive or dreary. It is dramatic, in the most complimentary sense of that word. It engages the emotions and the senses subtly and expertly, and the Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to honor it.
2004 Meridian Magazine Criticism The Association for Mormon Letters presents the Award in Criticism for 2004 to Meridian Magazine. “[Mormons] won’t get a great artistic culture,” Wayne Booth once declared, “until we have a great critical culture.” For this ideal to be realized, criticism of literature and the arts must move beyond casual and uninformed responses, and yet not be limited to the specialized discourse of academic scholarship. Meridian Magazine has established itself as an important Internet gateway for many aspects of Mormon life. AML specifically commends the success of Meridian in producing and attracting constructive critical conversations about Mormon literature and Mormon film, and in promoting substantive and sensitive interpretation of the arts generally from an informed LDS perspective. The AML applauds Meridian Magazine, its founders, columnists, and many contributors for helping to shape the aesthetic sensibilities of Latter-day Saint readers, audiences, and artists, and for doing so consistently and attractively through its website, email list, and audio broadcasts. This online journal has proven itself to be a reliable and engaging site for the sort of critical conversations that AML has always encouraged and without which Mormon arts would stagnate. Its articles are thoughtful without being esoteric, timely without being trendy, and its archives reveal a substantial body of criticism that will continue to shape Mormon art and artists well into the future.
2004 John Talbot The Well-Tempered Tantrum Poetry John Talbot’s collection The Well-Tempered Tantrum begins with a light touch in “Kindling,” a love poem of sorts. The beautiful words (pith, kiss, knotty-hearted pine) work both syntactically and aurally to create the physicality the speaker is seeking. The emptiness of the last line comes as a surprise, despite warning in the first stanza that the lover is not present: “and soon the room was warm enough / but I was not.” Considering Talbot’s background, it’s only natural that he would present us with a collection of poems carefully crafted after the classical masters. While Talbot’s subject matter is not explicitly Mormon, his close attention to form coincides with the formal sensibilities of Mormon literature. The ode, the aubade, and the epithalamion all make an appearance. Every word seems to have been carefully weighed and measured before being placed in Talbot’s poetry, creating not the word-chewing one would expect, but a comfortable story-telling rhythm. Even in the classical forms, Talbot shows a keen awareness of contemporary thought. For example, in his “Eight Horatian Odes for the Fourth of July,” we are confronted with US currency, Independence Hall, George Washington, our tendency to enshrine Washington, and WWII’s Pacific Theatre. The marriage of classical form and contemporary subjects creates an intense reverence in the poems, a deep, though questioning and curious respect. The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to present its 2004 Award for Poetry to The Well-Tempered Tantrum.
2004 The J. Willard Marriott Library of the University of Utah Special Award The Association for Mormon Letters presents a special Award in Mormon Literary Studies to the J. Willard Marriott Library of the University of Utah for its digitized collection of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Since its inception in 1966, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought has served as a central point for academic studies of Mormonism. Dialogue has promoted Mormon arts and letters by publishing hundreds of poems, short stories, personal essays, and articles of criticism. However, like many periodicals, Dialogue‘s treasures have generally remained only as accessible as the most recent issue or two. But Dialogue‘s many conversations are being re-opened. Nearly 40 years of back issues—the entire run of this seminal periodical for Mormon studies—have now been completely digitized and made accessible to the public free of charge, thanks to the initiative of the current Dialogue board and the generosity of donors. This is laudable in its own right, but digital objects are often as ephemeral as the electrons that compose them. This collection would not be as valuable or secure for future generations were it not hosted by an academic institution committed to maintaining the accessibility and permanence of this collection. The Association for Mormon Letters commends the J. Willard Marriott Library of the University of Utah for providing a permanent home to this vital digital collection, and by extension, for the university’s commitment to the sustained and critical assessment of Mormon arts and letters.
2004 Randall Wright Hunchback Middle Grade Literature
2004 Patricia Wiles My Mom’s a Mortician Middle Grade Literature The Association for Mormon Letters presents its Award for Middle Grade Fiction for 2004 to My Mom’s a Mortician by Patricia Wiles. Middle grade fiction-stories written for readers ages 8 to 12-straddles a sometimes awkward place in the literary canon, reaching out to readers who are too old for simple stories, yet not quite ready to begin reading as adults. Such novels must be straightforward in structure and language, yet present stories that engage young readers on their own level, all without seeming to lecture or preach. In My Mom’s a Mortician, first-time novelist Patricia Wiles gives us young Kevin Kirk, a boy stuck with the humiliating prospect of moving to an unfamiliar town in Arkansas and living in the mortuary his parents are going to run. Yet Kevin’s real problems are ones that any child can identify with-making new friends, dealing with a bully, learning that his parents are also individuals with pasts and troubles of their own. The more extraordinary parts of his story, about the secrets his parents have been keeping all this time, are balanced against the pleasantly homely aspects of being a twelve-year-old boy, making the story compelling without being unbelievable. What makes this story remarkable as an example of LDS fiction is Wiles’s handling of the LDS characters in her book. There are no miraculous conversions, no lengthy doctrinal conversations, just good believing Latter-day Saint characters going about their lives, unafraid to share their beliefs with Kevin and his family. This portrayal of small-town Mormon life sets an excellent example for future children’s novels set outside the highly-concentrated Mormon communities of the West. The AML is proud to recognize this excellent book.
2004 Amber Esplin Leaving Eden Novel
2004 Janette Rallison Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws Young Adult Literature
2004 Mette Ivie Harrison Mira, Mirror Young Adult Literature
2004 Shannon Hale Enna Burning Young Adult Literature In Enna Burning, Shannon Hale takes the reader further into the fairy tale world of The Goose Girl and explores the consequences of magic more deeply than is usually done in such stories. What seemed at first to be a good thing and to help the hero and heroine to win grows in power and effect until it is out of control. And this is not only with one kind of magic, but all kinds. This is not a story that speaks just to young adult readers. It speaks to anyone who has made choices that have led them down paths they’ve regretted. It examines the idea that we all have gifts we can use to help or hurt others, and in the process, we help or hurt ourselves. Shannon Hale shows as well as tells us how the power of true friendship can overcome challenges even when people aren’t sure who their true friends are. Thank you, Shannon, for taking us back to Bayern and helping us see that while it is not always easy to live happily ever after, with the love of good friends, it is not impossible.
2004 P. G. Karamesines The Pictograph Murders Novel On the surface, The Pictograph Murders is a gripping and intricately plotted murder mystery. In fact, murder is in many ways secondary to the underlying story. The field of play is more than just the desert in which the story takes place—it is the totality of the human experience as reflected in the sometimes uncomfortable coexistence of history, science and myth. The primary digging is not done in the sand, but rather in the levels of consciousness that drive and inform us. At issue here is not the collection of shards and pots unearthed by the archaeologists, but the clarification of the place of truth in both scientific and religious endeavors. The conflict between protagonist Alex McKelvey and the mysterious, malevolent Tony Balbo is one battle in the larger struggle over the meaning of truth, the place of myth, and whether religious faith has any relevance to the world of harsh reality. In the end, The Pictograph Murders challenges the reader to see past the physical into the realm of the mythic, perhaps the realm of the possible. The Association for Mormon Letters is proud to present its 2004 Award in the Novel to this intriguing book.

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