“If You Want a Future, Darlin,’ Why Don’t You Get a Past?”: Mormon Literature and the Importance of Canon-Building

In order to have Mormon literary criticism, Mormon literary critics need something to criticize. That is how the process works, and it is why constructing (and deconstructing) literary canons is one of the most important jobs that literary critics do. Canon-building, of course, is messy, controversial, and inexact, but that’s OK. These things are supposed to be fluid and controversial; indeed, the controversy itself gives us something to write about. Without a manageable body of texts to study, though, Mormon literary criticism generally descends into self-referential arguments about whether or not Mormon literature exists.  Continue Reading →

So, Is There Such a Thing as Mormon Literature or What?

By my own rough count, the question in my title has been asked and answered about six thousand and three times in the past 50 years or so. Almost always, the answer has been “yes.” This makes sense. It is not the sort of question that anybody would bother asking if they thought the answer was “no.”

I have not exactly spent my academic career trying to answer the question, but I have made two fairly public attempts at an answer at two very different points in my academic career. As a new Ph.D. student, I gave a paper with the audacious title, “How to Be a Mormo-American” at an AML-sponsored session of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association conference in 1994. Here I argued for a very expansive view of “Mormon Literature” and called on critics to use that view as the basis for more and better literary criticism. When Dialogue published it later that year (my first ever publication in an academic journal), they changed the title to the much more respectable “The Function of Mormon Literary Criticism at the Present Time.” Continue Reading →

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