Claire Åkebrand introduces her debut novel “The Field Is White”

Guest post by Claire Åkebrand

Though my novel The Field Is White concerns a Mormon missionary and has a very Doctrine & Covenants title, I neither think of it as Mormon literature, nor a book about Mormons. It is a novel foremost about love, death, the purpose of art, forgetfulness, family, and time. My novel is for anyone of any background who is interested in literary fiction and who finds pleasure in slowed pace, figurative language. and self-indulgent ruminations.

I started writing The Field Is White six years ago. My husband and I were living in Frankfurt, Germany for a year. We didn’t have a car and therefore relied on trains and busses. We walked a lot. I remember listening to Rachmaninov often during that time. His Prelude in G Minor, the rapid tempo of it, kept creating this vision for me of a missionary trudging through a heavy blizzard.

I wanted to get to know this imagined missionary. Why did he keep coming back to me? As I began to write my way toward the idea of him, he turned out to be John Eliason from Lethbridge, Alberta serving a mission in Sweden in the 50s.  He baptizes an old poet named Emil Quist (curiously similar to my own grandfather Holger Bergius). Turns out, John is losing his faith. He doesn’t want to go back to Alberta where familial trouble awaits him. He uses his convert’s death as an excuse to escape to the countryside where he seeks out the estranged family. As the snow strands him with the widow and daughter, tensions rise and John learns some uncomfortable things about Emil. Continue Reading →

Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading (2)

Guest post by Lauren Fields

This is the second post from my 2016 BYU English MA thesis titled “Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading.” Part One can be read here. This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between Mormon assimilation, exceptionalism, and their endeavors in secular reading by analyzing Out of the Best Books (OOBB), a 1964–71 five-volume reading guide and reading program on secular reading established by the Mormon Church for its women’s organization, the Relief Society. The thesis can be read in its entirety here.

Part Two:

Discerning Mormon Truths in Secular Texts

In keeping with their proposed interpretive methods, the editors frequently reminded Mormon readers to maintain their sense of distinction as they embarked on secular reading, using their explicatory comments about Mormons’ unique worldview to persuade readers that only they could grasp the full spiritual implications of each author’s message. Thus, their program attempted to position Mormons as the most discerning readers of great literature by demonstrating how the most talented authors shared certain aspects of Mormon beliefs. For instance, in his introduction to several poems by Robert Browning, “probably the greatest English poet since Milton” (1:71), Clark explained that Browning “does firmly believe that God is in Heaven controlling the universe” and that “the potentiality of man in this life is great and the confidence with which he can look forward to live beyond death is equally great” (1:71).

Furthermore, in his explication of Browning’s “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” a portrait of a self-righteous Protestant clergyman, Clark inferred that “Browning believed just as strongly as do members of the LDS Church that faith without works is dead and that an individual has the responsibility through an exercise of willpower to work out his own salvation” (1:237). Thus, by framing these classic texts as works focused on sentiments Mormons were particularly well equipped to recognize, Clark positioned OOBB participants as uniquely perceptive readers. Continue Reading →

Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading (1)

Guest post by Lauren Fields

The following essay is excerpted from my 2016 BYU English MA thesis titled “Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading.” This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between Mormon assimilation, exceptionalism, and their endeavors in secular reading by analyzing Out of the Best Books (OOBB), a 1964–71 five-volume reading guide and reading program on secular reading established by the Mormon Church for its women’s organization, the Relief Society. The thesis can be read in its entirety here.

Out of the Best Books:

Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading

Mormons have long been considered a peculiar people by those outside the faith tradition. According to many scholars of Mormon history and sociology, part of what renders them a distinctive cultural group are the unique tensions or paradoxes that permeate their doctrines and practices. For instance, in People of Paradox, literature and religious studies scholar Terryl L. Givens notes that Mormons paradoxically celebrate both rigid hierarchical structures and individual agency and also emphasize the possibility of both epistemological certainty and eternal learning, creating a mix of “intellectual certitude and intellectual instability” (xv).

Yet one of the paradoxes that scholars have deemed most formative and prevalent is what Givens refers to as “exile and integration” (xv), or Mormons’ perpetual desire to assimilate comfortably into mainstream American society while also retaining a sense of cultural distinctiveness and separateness from the world around them. Many have commented on this specific cultural tension, but sociologist Armand Mauss’s The Angel and the Beehive offers the most comprehensive and oft-cited model of Mormon separation and assimilation. Mauss notes that Mormons experience ever-present pulls toward both the angel (symbolic of the impulse to separate by clinging to uniquely Mormon doctrine and practice) and the beehive (representing the impulse to integrate with mainstream American society). Continue Reading →

Merrijane Rice: Nobody Reads Poetry Nowadays

AML’s Poetry Week continues! Merrijane Rice has participated in most of the Mormon Lit Blitz contests.  In October she published her first poetry collection, Messages on the Water. “A collection of poems written from one LDS woman’s perspective about her family, faith, nature, and the little gifts and insights that make life an experience of continual surprise, learning, and love.” 

Nobody Reads Poetry Nowadays

Well, not literally nobody. I know many fine people who read poetry. I read poetry. But we are living in an age when all sorts of media compete for our attention, and it’s more common for people to fill their need for “poetry” by listening to pop songs with catchy hooks and driving beats. To actually read poetry is more like delving into scripture: it’s rewarding to the persistent, but often time-consuming and difficult. Intimidating.

So why do I write poetry? You’ll laugh, but I mainly chose this art form because it’s short. When I was a girl, I loved all kinds of writing and imagined that one day I would be a famous author of fantasy novels, or sci-fi screen plays, or “very important” novels. It’s easy to expect such things will be a matter of course when you’re too young to worry about what concessions you’ll have to make as you pursue other worthy goals. Continue Reading →

Robert A. Rees: How I Came to Poetry

Robert A. Rees, one of the doyens of Mormon Studies, will have his first poetry collection, Waiting for Morning, published by Zarahemla Books later this month. He provided us with this essay about his history with poetry. 

How I Came to Poetry

by Robert A. Rees

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men [and women] die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
–William Carlos William

All that can be done with words is soon told.
–Robert Frost

I came to poetry late, or rather it came to me that way. There was no poetry, literal or figurative, in my childhood or my adolescence. My home and culture were what H.L. Menken would have called “The Sahara of the Bozart.” There was no possibility I would have gotten Mencken’s pun until I minored in French at BYU. The beaux arts, which ultimately came to define both my personal and professional life as well as have a profound influence on my spiritual life, would more likely to have been mocked in my home, if responded to at all. Until I went to college. I don’t remember having read a single poem, including in my high school English classes, although it is more than probable that I did. Continue Reading →

Michael Andrew Ellis on Douglas H. Thayer

On October 17, 2017, my teacher, my mentor, and my friend, Doug Thayer, passed away. In the area of Mormon literature—literature by, for, and about Mormons—Doug was a big deal. Mormon literary critics call him the “Mormon Hemingway” for his spare style of declarative sentences building the story period by period, as well as his interest in the natural world around him and a Mormon’s place in it. He was a master of the coming-of-age story. One of his main themes was that of innocence being cast out into the world and of necessity facing the realities of everyday existence. Many times, a young man who had grown up in the sheltered life of Utah Valley, and who was thus rather innocent and naive, would be forced to confront the evil, pain, and suffering of the World for the first time, and would have to learn to deal with it with what faith and light he had. If you have ever wondered what Mormon Literature has to offer, then Doug’s work is among the best.

I met Doug for the first time as a creative writing student back in the early 90s at BYU. Taking the creation of fiction seriously, he had settled opinions about what it was supposed to be. At the time, I was enamored of James Joyce’s fiction and his verbal gymnastics, as well as that of the postmodernists, and of one in particular who made an art of obscurity, but Doug would have none of it. Continue Reading →

Review of Mahonri Stewart’s The Drown’ed Book

Reviewed by Hillary Stirling

Photo by Emily Bawden Drew

In Mahonri Stewart’s The Drown’ed Book; or the History of William Shakespeare, Part Last, I felt as though I was watching a play the English-speaking world has been waiting 400 years for. Though William Shakespeare became so famous, we have precious little knowledge about his life. We’re not even entirely sure about the order his plays were written in. We have a handful of facts: names of family members, when they were born, when they died, and a few documents beyond Shakespeare’s literary works. Much has been made of his will and the fact that he left his “second-best bed” to his wife. From these bare threads of William Shakespeare’s known history,  Stewart weaves a rich tapestry that even The Bard would delight in. Continue Reading →

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By Emily Bleeker

I took all of my kids with me to Target today. Yeah, you all know what that is like–lots of requests, lots of “where is your brother?” and plenty of forgotten items on my list. As I was checking out, there was a woman ahead of me on the phone, clearly in a hurry, and the cashier wasn’t moving fast enough for her. She rolled her eyes, first to herself and then she looked at me as though I was going to play along with her “can you believe this” game. I gave her a smile and a shrug as I managed my kiddos who were blissfully unaware of the drama ahead of us and placed my last items on the belt. Then the woman slammed on the counter, making us all jump, and said “COME ON!!!! Push the button!”

The cashier was a young woman with dark, curly hair and adorable glasses and looked vaguely familiar. When the woman slammed on the counter, she jumped and turned around, confused. Then taking it all in she said, “I’m deaf!” and pointed to a small handwritten sign on her register that said: HELLO, I’m deaf.

The angry woman didn’t seem to care. She rolled her eyes at me again, and this time I looked at my feet. The cashier also looked to me with tears in her eyes, and I tried to give her a little okay sign and smile. I wish I’d done or said more. When the woman snatched her receipt and walked off in a huff, I took my place in front of the register. The young woman looked at me and mouthed, “I forgot my badge today. Everyone keeps getting mad. That’s why I made the sign.”

I remembered why she looked familiar. She’d checked me out before but with a little tag under her name that said: “I’m Deaf.”

I felt terrible about the way she’d been treated and tried to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. I tried to find a way to show her that she was doing a good job, but I don’t know that I helped much. We were both shook up, and I’m sure she went home feeling heavier that day. Continue Reading →

Introducing Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical

Introducing Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical

by Jerry Argetsinger

Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical
Edited by Marc E. Shaw & Holly Welker
Roman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016
Hardcover, 196 pages, $75.00 (Kindle $56.80)

Now in its 7th year, having opened March 24, 2011, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon is still one of the most popular shows on Broadway.  Two national tours have been crisscrossing North America for five years. Productions are also running in London, since 2013 and Melbourne, since earlier this year. Even as I write, a National Tour is performing for the second time in Salt Lake City.

An excellent collection of critical essays on the musical was published last year but seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Mark E. Shaw and Holly Welker’s Singing and Dancing to the Book of Mormon: Critical Essays on the Broadway Musical has yet to be reviewed in any theater or academic venue. I was invited to write a brief introduction to the book for AML, even though I authored one of those essays. To be completely transparent, I do not know any of the other contributors and the first time I read their essays was when I received my author copy of the book May 3, 2016. When I finished reading the volume, I wrote this general response in my journal: “Six brilliant, two very good, and two all right essays on the Musical.”  Of course I included my own as one of the six, so there may be a bit of exaggeration on that point. I was honestly amazed at the quality of scholarship and am very proud to be included. Among the “reader reviews” at Amazon.com and Mormon Main Street, it is clear that essays are valued differently by individual readers who point out their own favorites. Continue Reading →

Interview with McArthur Krishna, AML Picture Book Award winner

McArthur Krishna, along with Bethany Brady Spalding and Caitlin Connolly, were the recipients of the 2016 AML Picture Book Award for Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families (Deseret Book). McArthur is interviewed here by Rachel Davis, who often reviews LDS children’s books and teaching materials.

I know you and Bethany worked together before on a pair of Girls who Choose God books. How did your collaboration with Caitlin Connolly come about?

Continue Reading →

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