Heather Harris Bergevin: Fairy Tales and Lawless Women

Is is poetry week at AML! Heather Harris Bergevin’s poetry collection Lawless Women will be published later this month by BCC Press. BCC Press says, “In these poems, we encounter some of the “bad girls” from literature and history: Medea, Helen of Troy, Vashti, Gothel (Rapunzel’s witchy mom), Snow White’s stepmother, and la belle dame sans merci. But we get to hear their side of the story, all processed through the marvelous mind of one of Mormonism’s most unique and engaging poetic talents.” In a guest post, Heather describes her interest in and difficulty with fairy tales. 

When I was ten, our library owned a set of gorgeous books, all colors of the rainbow with gold detailed, beautifully illustrated covers. Irresistible, Andrew Lang’s books of fairy tales became foundational to my library obsession. The passing of stories over campfires, at hearthsides, generations upon generations ago, transcribed and written for my enjoyment–this was a real magic. Hero’s Quests and the Golden Three became indelibly part of my psyche, even though, as we all know, many of the old tales simply don’t make a lot of sense. Rarely do you get a new wife from peeling an orange and her appearing from the pips. Generally you don’t get to be a famous musician, even if you are a cat standing on the back of a dog, standing on the back of a donkey. I chalked the parts of the tales which don’t make sense (why can’t Cinderella’s Prince recognize her? I mean, really?) to magic and things lost to multiple retellings. I graduated to many other authors, and many other stories, but the fairy tales linger. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, Nov. 29, 2017

Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy Oathbringer lands him a #1 position on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction list. The Ice Front, Eric Samuelsen’s latest and largest-cast play at Salt Lake City’s Plan-B, tells the story of the Norwegian National Theatre actors who were ordered to perform a Nazi propaganda drama. It received strong reviews. Instrument of War is a 90 minute film, directed by Adam Thomas Anderegg, about a WWII B-24 pilot who was captured and held as a POW in Germany. It played without interruption on BYUtv on Thanksgiving. There are a proliferation of interesting Mormon memoirs. Other novels published this month include Children of the Fleet, a new Enderverse novel by Orson Scott Card, Anne Perry’s Victorian Christmas mystery A Christmas Return, Breeana Shield’s debut young adult fantasy Poison’s Kiss, based on Indian folklore and Hindu beliefs, Julie Wright’s contemporary romance Lies Jane Austen Told Me, and Merrijane Rice’s poetry collection Messages on the Water. For suggestions and corrections, please write me at mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News, blogs, and awards

Bert Fuller gives a preview of his detailed review article, “Mormon Poetry, 2012 to the Present“, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of Dialogue, at Fire in the Pasture. Continue Reading →

2018 Preview: What a Crop of Books!

There is an amazing number of novels and other books written by former AML Award winners being published in the first half of 2018. 2017 was a great year for Mormon literature–the judging for the 2017 AML Awards are in full swing, and the winners will be announced at the Mormon Studies in the Humanities Conference that AML is participating in on March 23. You had better get to reading the 2017 books now, however, because the first half of 2018 may very well top what we are seeing this year. They include:


Tim Wirkus (Novel Award, 2014).  The Infinite Future. Penguin Press, Jan. 16.

A mindbending novel that melds two page-turning tales in one. In the first, we meet three broken people, joined by an obsession with a forgotten Brazilian science-fiction author named Salgado-MacKenzie. There’s Danny, a writer who’s been scammed by a shady literary award committee; Sergio, journalist turned sub-librarian in São Paulo; and Harriet, an excommunicated Mormon historian in Salt Lake City, who years ago corresponded with the reclusive Brazilian writer. The motley trio sets off to discover his identity, and whether his fabled masterpiece–never published–actually exists. Did his inquiries into the true nature of the universe yield something so enormous that his mind was blown for good? In the second half, Wirkus gives us the lost masterpiece itself–the actual text of The Infinite Future, Salgado-MacKenzie’s wonderfully weird magnum opus. The two stories merge in surprising and profound ways. Part science-fiction, part academic satire, and part book-lover’s quest, this wholly original novel captures the heady way that stories inform and mirror our lives.

               Publishers Weekly review. Kirkus reviewBooklist review (starred).

Jennifer Quist (Novel Award, 2015). The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner. Linda Leith, March 10.

Morgan Turner’s grief over her sister’s brutal murder has become a run, and everyday horror she is caught in along with her estranged parents and chilly older brother. In search of a way out, she delves the depths of a factory abattoir, classic horror cinema, and the Canadian criminal justice system, which is trying her sister’s killer and former lover. He is arguing that he is Not Criminally Responsible for his actions because of mental illness. Whatever the verdict, Morgan – with the help of her immigrant coworkers, a Mormon do-gooder, and a lovelorn schizophrenia patient –  uncovers her own way to move on. Continue Reading →

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. Continue Reading →

Irreantum, Issue #1, March 1999. Magazine of the Association for Mormon Letters

I just posted a copy of Irreantum: Magazine of the Association for Mormon Letters, Issue #1, March 1999, in the AML Publications section of this website. Irreantum was AML’s literary journal and news report from 1999 until it ceased production in 2013. We have plans to resurrect the magazine as an on-line literary journal, starting in 2018. In preparation for that, I will be posting many of the old volumes. Elizabeth Beeton scanned in several of the issues, especially from the later years, a few years ago. I recently got my copies out of storage, and I will start scanning in the issues Elizabeth did not have.

Irreantum was a replacement and expansion on the AML Newsletter, which was published from 1977 until its final issue, Vol 22, No. 3 & 4, in December 1998. Chris Bigelow was asked to edit the next issue of the newsletter early in 1999. He expanded the newsletter and renamed it Irreantum. Benson Parkinson, who had created the online discussion group AML-List in 1995, and served as its moderator, came on board as Irreantum‘s co-managing editor, and stayed in that position until Summer 2000. Bigelow served as a managing editor until he stepped down in 2004. Bigelow’s name is not on the first three issues, and he used a pseudonym, “Alexander Hyde,” in the third issue. This was because Bigelow was still working as an editor at The Engisn until 2000, and “they didn’t want us involved in any other publishing without approval, which I didn’t want to try to get.” Chris was the one who came up with the name “Irreantum“. He commented, “I wanted it to be Mormon but also a little bit obscure. Plus, I loved the idea of “many waters” to describe a literary scene. I tried to live up to the name by looking at the full spectrum of Mormon literature, from Deseret Book authors to former Mormons creating literature.” Continue Reading →

Mormon Memoirs Roundup, Fall 2017

There has been a string of memoirs written by Mormon authors published in the last few months. All of them focus on a central trial the author faced or is facing, and all have received strongly positive reviews. The degree to which Mormonism is presented as factoring into the struggle varies with each book. Tom Christofferson, Kari Ferguson, and Tracy McKay all present struggles that are under-discussed or embarrassing to many Mormons, and try to bring greater understanding of the issue to the wider Mormon society. Michael Hicks and Charity Tillemann-Dick certainly reference their Mormon identity, but that identity is less of a central aspect of the story.

Tom Christofferson. That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family. Deseret Book, October. Blurb: “A happy gay Mormon.” That’s the shorthand I often use to describe myself,” writes Tom Christofferson. “Some of my gay friends–as well as some of my LDS friends–are a little surprised that I think it’s possible to be a gay Mormon.” Christofferson shares perspectives gained from his life’s journey as a gay man who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then returned to it. After having asked to be excommunicated from the faith he was raised in, Tom spent two decades in a loving relationship with a committed partner. But gradually, the love of family, friends, and strangers and the Spirit of the Lord worked on him until he found himself one night sitting in his car in front of the bishop’s house. This book is about the lessons Tom, his family, and his fellow Saints learned while trying to love as God loves. It is about the scope and strength of this circle of love and about how learning the truth of our relationship with God draws us to Him For anyone who has wondered how to keep moving forward in the face of difficult decisions and feelings of ambiguity; for anyone who needs to better understand the redeeming power of our Savior, Jesus Christ; for anyone who seeks to love more fully; this book offers reassurance and testimony of God’s love for all His children. Continue Reading →

In Memoriam: Douglas H. Thayer

We note with great sorrow the passing of author and educator Douglas H. Thayer. Born April 19, 1929 in Salt Lake City, he passed away on Oct. 17, 2017 after a battle with liver cancer. Thayer grew up in Provo, where he spent his boyhood largely running free and hunting, fishing, and hiking in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. He swam naked in the Provo River and polluted Utah Lake. He later said that swimming in the poisoned lake gave a quick, cheap immunization against every known disease, if you survived.

Thayer dropped out of high school in 1946 to join the U.S. Army, serving in Germany. He came home, attended Brigham Young University for a year, and then returned to Germany for 30 months as a missionary for the Church. While on his mission he was called up to fight in Korea, but was allowed to continue his mission. He later said that while he had no desire to kill or be killed, he felt he missed his war, a great deprivation for a writer who liked Hemingway.

After his mission Thayer returned to BYU, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. He applied to law school, but then decided not to attend and started a doctorate in American literature at Stanford. Finding that he had little interest in research, he left the program after finishing a master’s degree. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, October 9, 2017

This month a feature film, Mitch Davis’ family film The Stray, and CYUtv’s science fiction series Extinct were released. Among the new novels are Claire Åkebrand’s Mormon literary novel The Field Is White, and Josi Kilpack’s All that Makes Life Bright, about Harriet Beecher Stowe. There were two notable YA debuts, McKelle George’s Speak Easy, Speak Love, and Caitlin Sangster’s Last Star Burning. Two notable Middle Grade novels are Elaine Vickers’s Paper Chains and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown’s Mustaches for Maddie. This month two multi-author anthologies will be released. Shelah Mastny Miner and Sandra Clark Jorgensen edited Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition from the Writers of Segullah, a collection of essays. Stephen Carter edited Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death, which includes essays, fiction, poetry, and a play. Several of the works were previously published in Sunstone. Speeches given at the Mormon Arts Center Festival have been collected in The Kimball Challenge at Fifty: Mormon Arts Center Essays. Please send updates to mormonlitATgmailDOTcom.

In Memoiram

Elouise M. Bell, one of the greats of Mormon literature, education, and feminism, passed away on September 30, 2017.  Bell taught in the BYU English Department from 1963 to 1994. She authored hundreds of magazine articles and newspaper collumns. Here most well known collection is Only When I Laugh (Signature, 1990). She married Nancy Jefferis in 2015. You can read the obituary that I wrote, and this memorial article in the Salt Lake Tribune, which includes quotes by friends like Susan Elizabeth Howe and Robert Kirby. Continue Reading →

In Memoriam: Elouise M. Bell

We note with great sorrow the passing of Elouise Mildred Bell, one of the greats of Mormon literature, education, and feminism, on September 30, 2017. Elouise was born on September 10, 1935, in Scranton Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Alexander Hurlow and Esther Myra (Beppler) Bell. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and journalism at the University of Arizona in 1957, graduating magna cum laude, and earned her master’s degree at Brigham Young University in 1959. She served an LDS mission in Paris, France in the very early 1960s.

Bell taught in the BYU English Department from 1963 through 1994. She served as composition coordinator and also received the Karl G. Maeser Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 1986, she received BYU’s Alcuin Award for excellence in teaching, and in 1990, she was awarded a General Education Professorship for contributions to the university’s general education curriculum. She eventually became Associate Dean of General and Honors Education. On various sabbaticals, she taught at the University of Arizona, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Berzenyi College in Hungary. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, Late August 2017

This month we mourn the passing of author Rulon T. Burton, anticipate a new Stephen Peck novel, and look forward to a new Mahonri Stewart play. There is also a slew of new nationally published novels, and a well-reviewed movie, We Love You, Sally Carmichael!, made largely by Mormons, which gently satirizes Utah culture and the Twilight phenomenon. And a Mormon filmmaker gets jail time. Please send news and announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com. Also, we are looking for more people to write for the blog, including essays and book reviews. Please send your writing or ideas to that address.

In Memoriam

We note with sadness the passing of Rulon T. Burton, on Monday, July 24, 2017, at age 91, in Draper, Utah. Burton, a lawyer, authored six novels and nine non-fiction works. Most were self-published, usually at Tabernacle Books, an imprint run by his son Gideon Burton. The books include:

We Believe: Doctrines and Principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tabernacle Books, 1994. Continue Reading →

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