An interview with Matthew James Babcock, AML Poetry Award winner

Matthew James Babcock is the recipient of the 2016 AML Poetry Award for his collection Strange Terrain (Mad Hat Press, 2016). He is interviewed here by Dayna Patterson, who runs the Psaltery & Lyre poetry website.  

DP: Can you talk about the title of your collection, Strange Terrain, and how you arrived at it?

MJB: The title comes from a line in the poem “Five Laotians.” It has no special meaning, but I liked the way the words went together, and I liked the way they described the collection as a whole: a ramble through some strange psychological, emotional, visual, and textual switchbacks and sloughs. The book is a bit form, a bit formless, more unformed than formed, and so given its harum-scarum approach to a kind of evolutionary, organic poetics, I thought I’d call it that. It’s a weird book, in the same way some landscapes in the Rocky Mountain Northwest are weirdly beautiful, and don’t seem to go together until you stare long enough to see they do.

DP: Why the almost restless experimentation with form? What drives you to attempt new forms in a poetic age that largely eschews formalism?

MJB: One luxury of being a writer of no consequence is that you can ignore editorial bias.  You can eschew those who choose to eschew you. Such stylistic stoicism, however, has its cost, as it’s taken me a quarter century to bring out this book. Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know two things: 1. that it would take twenty-five years to write this book, and 2. that I was writing a book. In my twenties, I think, I was just sounding off my pop-gun of poems, trying prose, trying forms, trying anything to figure out what kind of writer I was. In my late forties now, I’m not sure I’ve figured that out. That “restless life unchanged” in “Cherry Tomatoes: A Rhapsody” is most certainly mine. Continue Reading →

An interview with Jeff Zentner, AML YA Novel Award winner

An interview with Jeff Zentner, winner of the 2016 AML Young Adult Novel Award for his debut novel, The Serpent King. Jeff’s book shares the stories of three teenagers living in a small town in Tennessee who each, in their own way, look for escape from the constraints they see limiting them. It’s been widely praised in numerous starred reviews and was also awarded the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award for a debut YA novel. He came to writing books for young adults after a career in music, and his second book, Goodbye Days, was published earlier this year. His website (jeffzentnerbooks.com) has more on his books, hosts some of his music, and features one of the better FAQs on the Internet. Jeff is also an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.

The interview was conducted by Jon Ostenson, an assistant professor in English Education at Brigham Young University.

Can you tell us more about what inspired the writing of The Serpent King? Why this book, this setting, these characters?

I wrote The Serpent King as I was transitioning over from being a musician. I based the concept of the book on two songs that I had written, that I thought had more of a story to them than I had told in the original songs. I chose this setting and these characters because they had been in my head for a long time, producing songs without my knowing it. Continue Reading →

2016 AML Awards

The Association for Mormon Letters Awards were presented at Utah Valley University, April 22, 2017.  In addition to the awards below, Orson Scott Card was presented with the Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters, and Susan Elizabeth Howe was presented with the Association for Mormon Letters Lifetime Achievement Award.

Comics

Anthony Holden. Precious Rascals

Precious Rascals by Anthony Holden is a delightful book. Featuring short journal comics about Holden’s life from his time as a newlywed to his firstborn son and each increasingly rambunctious child, the antics in “Precious Rascals” should be familiar to every parent. Church is a small but consistent facet of the Holden household, including rousing renditions of “Book of Mormon Stories.” Holden combines charming artwork spanning a decade, advice about life and cartooning, bonus animations, and, of course, bathroom humor. His comics are a reminder that parenthood, much like childhood, should be full of laughter and play (and waffles).

Other finalists:

Scott Hales. Mormon Shorts, Vol. 1.

Brandon Sanderson (story), Rik Hoskin (script), Julius Gopez (art), and Ross Campbell (colors). White Sand.

Creative Non-Fiction

Patrick Madden. Sublime Physick. University of Nebraska Press.

Mormonism is in many ways dominated by scriptural stories, narratives comprised of, more often than not, personal essays and memoirs, but which become, by virtue of their central importance to the religion, essentialized and canonized. Nephi isn’t often read as he is, an aging man reinterpreting his youthful experiences decades after the fact; he is read as an everyperson, his experiences a template and a touchstone for our own, his version of events the “true” reading of history. In judging this contest of “Mormon letters” and creative nonfiction, therefore, we found ourselves drawn to the pedestrian rather than the political, the mundane rather than the massive, to specific people responding to specific situations where faith figures into the narrative but the choices need not be pointed to as right or wrong or examples of virtuous living or its opposite. While all the finalists provided such stories, the winner and honorable mention did so in ways that made them stick with us, invading our thoughts and conversations for weeks after reading. Continue Reading →

Susan Elizabeth Howe: AML Lifetime Achievement Award

The Association for Mormon Letters presented Susan Elizabeth Howe with the AML Lifetime Achievement Award at the AML Conference on April 22, held at Utah Valley University. Susan attended both the award ceremony and a panel discussion about his career after the award ceremony.

Citation

It is hard to imagine anyone more deserving of AML’s Lifetime Achievement Award than Susan Elizabeth Howe.  After teaching for nearly 30 years, Susan recently retired from BYU.  Thus 2017 affords an excellent occasion for looking back and celebrating her many contributions: as an editor and literary citizen, as a university professor, and as an award-winning writer. Continue Reading →

Orson Scott Card: Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters

The Association for Mormon Letters presented Orson Scott Card with the Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters two lifetime achievement awards at the AML Conference on April 22, held at Utah Valley University. Orson Scott and Kristine Card attended both the award ceremony and a panel discussion about his career after the award ceremony.

Citation

In celebrating Orson Scott Card’s lifetime of achievement in Mormon letters, the Association for Mormon Letters recognizes what is self-evident truth. In both the range and the success of his work, both as a Mormon writer and as a writer who happens to be Mormon, Scott has few if any peers.

For more than forty years, Scott has explored the possibilities for Mormon-inspired literature across genres, modes, and literary types: from plays to short stories, graphic novels, novels, pageants, and poems; in contemporary realistic fiction and historical fiction as well as the science fiction and fantasy for which he is best known; in stories explicitly by, for, and about Mormons and others where only readers who are “in the know” would ever detect the Mormon elements. Scott has produced work that is thematically Mormon, exploring ideas such as the responsibilities that accompany the potential for human divinity and the necessity for pain, suffering, and evil. He has explored characters and settings from the Mormon past and imagined Mormon futures, from his historical novel Saints—winner of a previous AML award—to his Folk of the Fringe stories, describing what Mormons look like both to others and to ourselves. Continue Reading →

AML Fundraising Campgain

Founded in 1976, the Association for Mormon Letters is a nonprofit organization seeking to promote a rich tradition of creative writing “by, for, and about Mormons.” Each year AML holds an annual conference and awards ceremony to encourage scholarship in Mormon arts, literature, and culture and recognize excellence in the work of Mormon writers and scholars.

While smaller than other Mormon scholarly associations, AML fills a unique niche in Mormon studies with its attention to Mormonism’s long and often rich literary and artistic tradition. No other Mormon scholarly organization is as committed to fostering Mormon literary criticism and academic inquiry into Mormon literary arts. Without the Association for Mormon Letters, the work of many Mormon creative writers would go unrecognized, uninvestigated, and unrewarded.

Operating costs for the Association for Mormon Letters are typically low, but the organization currently has no formal practice for collecting membership dues or fundraising. To continue its support of Mormon letters, AML requires donations to maintain its website and blog and fund its annual conference and awards ceremony.

Please consider making a generous donation to support AML and its ongoing commitment to advancing Mormon arts and letters.

https://www.gofundme.com/mormon-letters-fundraiser

Harrell, “Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism” (reviewed by Tyler Chadwick)

Review
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JHarrell_-_Writing_Ourselves_desk_cover_largeTitle: Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism
Author: Jack Harrell
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books, Draper, UT
Genre: Writing and Style Guide, Literary Criticism
Year Published: 2016

Reviewed by Tyler Chadwick for the Association for Mormon Letters

Notes Toward a Mormon Theology of the Word: A Working Response to Jack Harrell’s Writing Ourselves.

See Tyler’s full AML review here.

Also see a conversation about the first part of Tyler’s review at A Motley Vision.

Next Steps for the Association for Mormon Letters

12821479_10208619656309855_8028213710295661584_nThe AML Conference at BYU Hawaii last weekend was a wonderful experience. There appeared to be nearly 100 attendees, including a healthy number of people from both the islands and “overseas”. A number of high quality papers were presented, and the keynote speeches, from BYU Hawaii President John Tanner (how great to have such a literary-minded university president!) and Terryl and Fiona Givens were inspirational. We were thrilled to present the AML Awards, and honor the careers of Phyllis Barber and Don Marshall. The film presentations of Freetown and The National Parks music video were wonderful ways to cap off the evenings. BYU Hawaii was very generous as a host, providing rooms and tech support, paying for the Givens’ travel costs, and providing meals that went far beyond the $50 registration fee. We should defiantly have our meeting in Hawaii again soon in the coming years.

An ad hoc planning committee, made up of Joe Plicka, Trevor Alvord, Scott Hales, Andrew Hall, Sheldon Lawrence, and Margaret Blair Young, met for a business meeting on Saturday, and discussed the next steps for the organization. Here are some points we discussed. Nothing is set yet, but we want to get a conversation started.

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BYU-Idaho

1. We would like to have the next major AML conference in the Rexburg area. We were impressed by the participation of BYU-Idaho people this weekend, and would like to do more to link together the various communities. There are some good possibilities of facilities we could use. Having it away from the Wasatch Front was seen by some as a good idea, since there are so many writer/literary events on the Wasatch Front already. Having a writer’s conference as part of the event was also discussed. Continue Reading →