Tim Wirkus, the winner of the 2014 Association for Mormon Letters Novel Award, had his second novel, The Infinite Future, published by Penguin Press, and has received very strong reviews. As with his first novel, Mormons and Brazil are central aspects of the story. Tara Westover’s first book, Educated: A Memoir, about growing up in a dysfunctional Mormon survivalist family, has also received strong reviews and significant attention. There are new poetry collections by Heather Harris Bergevin, Lara Candland, and Karen Kelsay, and new YA science fiction novel by Dan Wells. There is a new Spanish-language Mormon literary society and newsletter. Two Mormon literary contests have been announced. The Whitney Awards finalists will be announced later today, and the AML Awards finalists will be announced by the end of February. For suggestions and corrections, please write mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
The year-end “Best of” lists are out, with Mackenzi Lee’s YA novel The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue appearing frequently. There are new novels by Heather Moore, Obert Skye, Kasie West, a posthumous poetry collection by Linda Sillitoe. There are also new short stories and a novel in Spanish and a novel in Danish. Remember to turn in your AML Conference paper proposals by Jan. 5. We note in sadness the passing of the young author Neil Longo. For suggestions and corrections, please write mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Neil Longo passed away in late November, taking his own life. According to an author bio in Dialogue, “Longo was raised in California and attended Brigham Young University. He was baptized into the LDS Church during his first month at BYU and developed a strong interest in Mormon theology, history, and sociology. After graduating with a BS in political science, he interned for the Senate Judiciary Committee Staff of Senator Orrin Hatch in Washington, DC. He lived in Portland, Oregon, loves to hike and camp, and hopes to study Russian religious thought from the late nineteenth century.” Longo had personal essays that appeared in the Summer 2016 (“Palmyra Redemption: July 18, 2015”) and Fall 2017 (“Cry for the Gods: Grief and Return”) issues of Dialogue. He also co-wrote a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, “What’s more conservative than reverence for the Earth?” In a memorial post, BYU professor Ralph Hancock wrote, “I’ve had brilliant students of all kinds in my 35 years of teaching, but never one with the prodigious philosophical-religious imagination that moved Neil. His thinking knew no limits and no disciplinary boundaries . . . He really couldn’t contain his love for a beautiful truth he thought he had glimpsed just beyond the horizon of whatever I was trying to get him to focus on.”
End-of-the-year “Best of” Lists
Mackenzi Lee’s YA novel The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was included on many year end lists, including the NPR Book Concierge list, Publishers Weekly Best YA Books, the Shelf-Awareness 2017 Best Children’s & Teen Books of the Year, Kirkus Best Teen Books with a Touch of Humor, and Buzzfeed’s 28 of the Best YA novels published in 2017. Continue Reading →
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 →
There is an amazing number of novels and other books written by former AML Award winners being published in 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.
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 →
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 →
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.
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 →
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.
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 →
The Mormon Arts Center Festival in New York City was called, by Terryl Givens, “a seminal event in Mormonism’s coming of age artistically.” The Mormon Lit Blitz is a great opportunity to enjoy quality flash fiction on Mormon themes, and the latest issue of Dialogue provides us with a cascade of short stories, poems, essays, and reviews. New books include poetry collections from Claire Åkebrand and Lisa Bickmore, a Mormon alternative history story collection edited by William Morris, Dan Wells’ final John Cleaver horror novel, and well-reviewed juvenile fiction from Julie Berry, Ann Dee Ellis, Emily R. King, Sara B. Larson, Mackenzi Lee, Kate Watson, and Kiersten White. T. C. Christensen’s latest movie Love, Kennedy was released. Finally, BCC Press is swinging into high-gear in July, publishing four literary works with LDS themes: a Book of Mormon novel by Mette Harrison, plays by Melissa Leilani Larson, a memoir by Tracy McKay, and an illustrated poetry collection on Mother in Heaven by Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Ashley Mae Hoiland. Please send news and announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Mormon Arts Center Festival
It has been two months since my last month in review, and a lot has happened. The AML and Storymakers conferences were held, the upcoming Mormon Arts Center Festival was announced, and the Mormon Lit Blitz stories were announced. Mormon literature, the kind that is actually about Mormons, had a huge boost when By Common Consent announced a new publishing house with a strong literary bent, and the New York-based Mormon Artists Group published its first work of fiction, Luisa Perkins’ Prayers in Bath. Other new novels include Richard Paul Evans’ tale of redemption The Broken Road, Rosalyn Eves’ YA fantasy Blood Rose Rebellion, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s middle grade graphic novel/memoir Real Friends, and The Duke of Bannerman Prep, Katie A. Nelson’s YA reworking of The Great Gatsby. Please send news and announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Awards and News
The AML Conference was held on April 21-22 at Utah Valley University and Writ & Vision. The AML Awards were presented, Orson Scott Card was presented with the Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters, and Susan Elizabeth Howe was presented with a AML Lifetime Achievement Award. Both authors were able to attend the awards ceremony and panel discussions of their works. Phyllis Barber presented the keystone address. A Gofundme fundraiser was held for AML, which raised $2685. One of the uses AML will put the money towards is the restart of our literary journal Irreantum. A committee of interested volunteers are currently working on how to restart the journal as an online magazine, hopefully before the end of this year. If you are interested in participating in the process, please contact Andrew at mormonlit AT gmail DOT com. Continue Reading →
Several conferences are coming up, including the AML Conference on April 22. New books include the third in the “Mormon Image in Literature” series, a collection of essays from Matthew James Babcock, fantasy novels by D. J. Butler, Brian McClellan, Bryce Moore, and Brandon Mull, the latest YA novel from Jeff Zentner, and a series of Thomas F. Rogers’ collected plays. New plays by Morag Shepherd and Eric Samuelsen are being staged soon. I got this out in less than a month in the first time in a while. Please send announcements and corrections to: mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
News and blogs
The Association for Mormon Letters Conference will be held at Utah Valley University on April 22. The conference schedule will be released soon. A major national author will be among the participants in the conference. Be sure and check out the AML Award finalists in twelve categories.
The schedule for the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference, May 25-27, in Boston, has been released. The theme is “Wisdom”, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Terryl Givens are the keynote speakers. Continue Reading →