Children’s Lit Corner: The Inevitability of Change

As a young mother, I would sometimes read a little book to my children about a boy and a girl who planted a packet of seeds in some carefully prepared soil. They watered the ground and removed weeds and let the sun shine on the earth. The seeds sprouted and grew and bloomed into beautiful flowers. Eventually the plants produced seeds of their own that the children collected and saved to plant the next year. The book ended with the suggestion that if the reader wanted to know what happened the next year, just read the book again, substituting the seeds the children had collected for the packet they used the first year. The book said that the boy and the girl would have grown older and would eventually grow up. And, said the last sentence in the book, eventually so will you. Continue Reading →

In Tents #76 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives

The Friday before I post I usually get a note from Jonathan Langford: “You’re up for Tuesday.” Instead, Friday after work I opened up my email and saw a whole bunch of letters with the ominous subject line “Jonathan Langford.” My phone shows the first few words of each letter below the subject line, so I saw the word heartbroken in Margaret Young’s letter, which confirmed the omen. (I wondered if anyone had told my brother Dennis, then found out from my sister that Dennis was in the hospital after back surgery.) So I’ve been thinking about Jonathan off and on all weekend. On the bus Monday morning I realized I’ve probably also been waiting for someone to say, “April Fools.”

This column was a gift from Jonathan. Continue Reading →

Children’s Lit Corner: The Inherent Loneliness of Existence

One day when I was nine or ten years old I was walking to school on a frosty morning. The water in the gutter had frozen into bright silver glass, etched with swirls and crystals. It was so satisfying to step onto those fragile surfaces and feel them crack and hear the delicate chime and tinkle as the ice splintered into glittering shards. Children should be allowed, even encouraged, to walk in the gutter on the way to school. Every step can be an adventure!

This particular morning I was crunching through that delicate lacework when I noticed a white paper, folded into the shape of a note, that had frozen into the ice. I have always, I think, been a treasure hunter, so when I saw the paper I reached down and lifted up the long thin pane of ice it was trapped inside. I dashed the whole thing to the ground and the splinter shivered into a thousand tiny shards, freeing the note. I shook the remaining ice off, grateful that it was still cold enough for the paper to be intact, not turned to mush in cold water. I stuffed the paper into my coat pocket and walked on to school.

On the warmer afternoon walk home, I put my hand in my pocket and found the paper. I took it out and looked at it. It was a note, folded into the kind of origami envelope we all made to pass notes back and forth during class. Do kids still do that now? I hope so! Anyway, my steps slowed and I finally stopped in the middle of the sidewalk as I read the note inside. Continue Reading →

“Stephenie Meyer Is Thinking of President Monson”: Mormon Literature and the Desire for Ideological Clarity

There is a scene in the wonderful Chinese film, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, that has stayed with me for years (click here and start at 4:32). In this scene, the hero—a young Chinese violinist who has been sent to a rural mountain village for “re-education” during the early days of the Cultural Revolution—is about to lose his violin unless he plays something that the village party boss finds acceptable. His friend (also being re-educated) suggests that he play a favorite Mozart sonata, and the boss demands to know the name of the song.  Continue Reading →

In Tents #75 How Infancy Narratives Behave Rhetorically, Part 4

Birth is a universal experience. All living things have received or given birth, or planted seed, or witnessed birth, or helped. So if you want to write about a birth what details will you include, besides things like name, height, weight, date and time? What details will make this birth worth reading about?

To My Blossom‑Headed Boy

Andrew Jeremy née Clark
Born December 22, 1984, 9:16 a.m.
7 lbs 9 1/2 oz  20 1/4″

“One deft stroke and the head appeared,” I’d written of your birth.
“How’s that?”  I asked her.
“It’s three a.m.,” she said,
“And it’s not true; I had to push like hell
before it came.”
Continue Reading →

2016 AML Awards Finalists #1: Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels

We are excited to announce the finalists in the first two categories of the 2016 Association for Mormon Letters awards, Middle Grade Novel and Young Adult Novel. We will be announcing the other category finalists over the coming week. Those categories include Comics, Creative Non-Fiction, Drama, Film, Middle Grade Novel, Novel, Picture Book, Poetry, Religious Non-Fiction, Short Fiction, and Video Series. There also will be an award for Criticism, although not a group of finalists for that category. The final awards will be announced and presented at the AML Conference at Utah Valley University on April 22. The finalist announcements include blurbs about each of the books and author biographies, as provided by the publishers and authors.

Middle Grade Novel

    Continue Reading →

Encountering Islam through Literature

 

As a student of Mormon literature, I have a keen interest in Mormon literature-y things—comparable religious (and other) subcultural literatures whose study in the academy can help me to frame the study of literature as it relates to my own culture. In graduate school, for example, I took several courses on Jewish literature and developed a minor sub-specialty in the work of Saul Bellow. When I was an English professor in West Virginia, I worked every year with an Appalachian writers program that we sponsored. There are a lot of good comparable out there.

Over the last few months, though, I have become convinced that the closest parallel that we have to Mormon literature today is the burgeoning field of Muslim literature written in English and coming from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. There are several reasons for this. Continue Reading →

In Tents #74 How Infancy Narratives Behave Rhetorically, Part 3

Sometimes it can be useful to read things in a new form, format, or translation. For some reason my MP3 player treats anything after the first digit as a decimal, following the order 1, 10, 100, 101, 102, . . . 11, 110, 111, 112 . . . 2, 20, 21, und so weiter. So last year year I decided to listen to the Doctrine & Covenants in that order, and it was interesting to hear the early and late sections juxtaposed.

Later, when I got to the Tanakh I decided to listen in the Jewish order rather than the Christian. Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim:

  • Torah (Instruction): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
  • Nevi’im (Prophets):
    • (Former) Joshua, Judges Samuel, Kings
    • (Latter) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel
    • (The Twelve) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  • Ketuvim (Writings):
    • (Poetical Books) Psalms, Proverbs, Job
    • (Five Rolls–Hamesh Megillot) Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes
    • (Historical Books) Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

According to Wikipedia the order of the Ketuvim has never been quite set, but this is the most common. Harold Bloom says in Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine  that the Ketuvim ends with Chronicles because Chronicles ends with the rebuilding of the temple and the invitation to return to the temple. Christians changed the order, elevating Daniel to a major prophet and giving Malachi the last word, because Daniel was so important to Christian eschatology and Malachi prophesied about their Lord’s forerunner. Continue Reading →

Association for Mormon Letters 2017 Conference Call for Papers–Extended Deadline

We’ve decided to extend the call for papers another two weeks to accommodate requests for more time to prepare proposals. Based on the quality of submissions we’ve received so far, this year’s conference already promises to be day of engaging and insightful presentations.

The new deadline is 17 February 2017.

Writing the Past:

Intersections of Literature and History in Mormon Letters

Utah Valley University

April 22, 2017

Mormons have long made recording and preserving their history a priority. On the day Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ in 1830, he revealed that “there shall be a record kept” in the new church. Almost a year later, John Whitmer became the first person tasked with “writ[ing] and keep[ing] a regular history” of the Mormon people. Since then, Mormons have sought to preserve not only their institutional history, but their cultural and personal histories as well.

Mormon creative writers have likewise sought to engage the Mormon past. Among the earliest works of Mormon fiction, poetry, and drama were texts that retold and memorialized the epic story of the Mormon pioneers and their efforts to establish a foothold in the Intermountain West. In subsequent years, Mormon writers have continued to show interest in their history, producing texts that explore the history of the Latter-day Saint experience across the globe.

These works, while grounded in the events of the past, often offer insight into the present as well, creating multi-layered texts that give insight not only into Mormon understandings of history and memory, but also into the historical moment of the text itself.

For the 2017 Association for Mormon Letters Conference, we invite proposals for papers, panels, and readings that explore the intersections of literature and history in Mormon letters. We will also consider proposals on other subjects that fall within the boundaries of Mormon Letters.

Send proposals to scotthales80(at)gmail(dot)com by 17 February 2017. Proposals should be no more than 300 words and include the title of the presentation as well as audio-visual needs.

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