2018 AML Conference Announcement and Call For Papers: MSH and Humor

For 2018, the Association for Mormon Letters will not hold its own conference but will instead join the conference of the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, which will be held March 23-24 at Brigham Young University in Provo. MSH has kindly offered to host the AML Awards at its dinner banquet, as well as provide AML sponsored sessions during the conference.

Call for Papers

We invite scholars and friends of AML to submit paper proposals using the MSH submission guidelines found here:http://mormonscholars.net/blog/call-for-papers-msh-2018-humor/ . The theme of the conference is humor. AML proposals will follow the thematic guidelines in the MSH call for papers, with a focus particularly on humor in Mormon literature. However, papers on other topics are also welcome. To participate in the AML sponsored sessions, please indicate this by labelling your proposal “AML”. While proposals will be submitted through MSH portal, AML related proposals will be vetted by select AML board members. Please note that there is a registration fee for the MSH conference. In an effort to encourage student scholars to attend, AML will cover the fee of a limited number of student presenters. Additionally, because of the limited sessions available, proposals for author readings will not be considered this year. The deadline for proposals is January 5, 2018.


The complete conference schedule we be placed here when available. The schedule below is tentative and subject to change.

March 22

• Pre-conference welcoming event, TBA

March 23

• 8:30 am Registration
• 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Conference Sessions
• 6:00 – 8:00 pm Banquet

March 24

• 8:00 am Business Meeting
• 9 am – 6:30 pm Conference Sessions

Sessions will be 90 minutes. Presenters should plan on 20 minute papers, with 30 minutes for questions and discussion at the end of each session. Continue Reading →

The Founding and Early Years of Irrreantum

Christopher Bigelow shared with me several old Irreantum documents, including these two from 2000, during the magazine’s second year. First an interview with Chris and Benson Parkinson about the founding of the magazine, and second the text of a presentation given by Chris at the August 2000 Sunstone Symposium, part of a panel entitled “Little Mormon Magazines: Sinking, Swimming, And Treading Water“. Tory C. Anderson, who founded and ran the independent Mormon literary magazine Wasatch Review International in 1992-1996, also spoke at that session. Someone should republish and do a retrospective of that forerunner of Irreantum sometime. The post closes with some words of praise for the magazine from Irreantum readers. I am working on getting all of the back issues of Irreantum up on the AML Publications area of this website.

Unpublished interview with Chris Bigelow and Benson Parkinson, cofounders of Irreantum

Q: Tell us how Irreantum got started.

BP: I see Irreantum as largely an outgrowth of AML-List, the Association for Mormon Letters’s e-mail discussion list, which I’ve been operating for the past five years. We ran the online AML-List Magazine there for several years and developed a number of writers that have gone on to publish elsewhere. The first issue of Irreantum was more or less a guest issue of the AML’s old paper newsletter by AML-List columnists and subscribers. But I knew that Levi Peterson, the newsletter editor, was looking to retire and that our writers and editors might turn into a permanent staff. Chris Bigelow, then an Ensign editor, was the one to really make it happen. He’d been doing small magazines as a hobby since his teen years, when he got the subscription for one of his fantasy gaming magazines up over a thousand. He served as managing editor for the first issue or two of Irreantum, and I did my best to lie low and keep AML-List going, which was running me ragged. But I was in on all the early Irreantum meetings, and he and I talked extensively about content and tone and how to promote the magazine and reach the large potential LDS audience that reads literary fiction but isn’t currently interested in Mormon literature. Plus I’d help with editing tasks and drum up submissions to fill in gaps, and before long he asked me to come on as co-managing editor. It’s kind of been a joint production since, with Chris the first among equals. Continue Reading →

Irreantum, Issue #1, March 1999. Magazine of the Association for Mormon Letters

I just posted a copy of Irreantum: Magazine of the Association for Mormon Letters, Issue #1, March 1999, in the AML Publications section of this website. Irreantum was AML’s literary journal and news report from 1999 until it ceased production in 2013. We have plans to resurrect the magazine as an on-line literary journal, starting in 2018. In preparation for that, I will be posting many of the old volumes. Elizabeth Beeton scanned in several of the issues, especially from the later years, a few years ago. I recently got my copies out of storage, and I will start scanning in the issues Elizabeth did not have.

Irreantum was a replacement and expansion on the AML Newsletter, which was published from 1977 until its final issue, Vol 22, No. 3 & 4, in December 1998. Chris Bigelow was asked to edit the next issue of the newsletter early in 1999. He expanded the newsletter and renamed it Irreantum. Benson Parkinson, who had created the online discussion group AML-List in 1995, and served as its moderator, came on board as Irreantum‘s co-managing editor, and stayed in that position until Summer 2000. Bigelow served as a managing editor until he stepped down in 2004. Bigelow’s name is not on the first three issues, and he used a pseudonym, “Alexander Hyde,” in the third issue. This was because Bigelow was still working as an editor at The Engisn until 2000, and “they didn’t want us involved in any other publishing without approval, which I didn’t want to try to get.” Chris was the one who came up with the name “Irreantum“. He commented, “I wanted it to be Mormon but also a little bit obscure. Plus, I loved the idea of “many waters” to describe a literary scene. I tried to live up to the name by looking at the full spectrum of Mormon literature, from Deseret Book authors to former Mormons creating literature.” Continue Reading →

in verse #81 : bad motorcycle

In my last post, I examined uses by the pre-eminent modernist male poets, Pound, Eliot and Frost, of the traditional form of the ballad.  I have been examining that use by their female counterparts since I posted, but in the course of that examination, especially when distracted by the needles and catheters of various medical examinations, it has occurred to me that another frequent distraction I suffer is related to the matter of traditional forms — in this case the form of early rock’n’roll pop songs from my wasted youth.  They are, after all, related to several folk forms like the ballad.

I have been haunted for years, since I was about 13, around 1958, by a fragment of a pop song, the chorus in fact, that goes “He was a bad motorcycle, wadi wadi wadi, a bad motorcycle, wadi wadi wadi …” [fading to silence, where it belongs].  Such things get stuck in my head, in my life, in my memory.  Well, recently our eldest grand-daughter, now a freshman at Utah State, was visiting us and her Clark cousins in Utah County — a novelty, because home is Ithaca, New York — and said that you could find anything on Spotify, which she has on her phone.  So I challenged her, saying “Yeah, well I’ll bet you can’t find ‘Screw You, We’re From Texas!’ on that thing[i].”  Sure enough, a few quick pokes of the finger and there it was.  So then I tried to think of the most obscure song that rattles around in my head, and up popped “Bad Motorcycle.”  So of course I said “Well, I once heard a song called ‘Bad Motorcycle.’  I’d be surprised if that’s on there, because no one else I have ever talked to has heard it.”

The Story Sisters http://doo-wop.blogg.org/storey-sisters-c26504102

So she poked in “Bad Motorcycle” and back came a list of five songs with that title, by the Storey Sisters (off three different albums), Tracey Ullman, and “Angelos, Barbara Green” off an album “Boys Can Be Mean.”  “Play that bottom one” I said, and it started off promisingly with motorcycle noise before Green started in with “Oh, run run run, Oh, run run run.”  “Nah” I said, “That’s not it.  Try this one” and pointed to Tracey Ullman.  The song had a fifteen-second rock’n’roll intro, then Ullman began singing “I was on my way to school” — “Not it” I said; “Try this one” and she pressed play on the Storey Sisters.   I heard this: 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 →

In Tents # 82 A Note on Hermeneutics part 2

October 31, 2017, Happy All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day.

It’s been  a hectic month. In mid September my wife got quite sick and ended up with the horse spittle spittling her with four units of that elixir forbidden by Deuteronomy 12:23, and my time has been taken up with other things as well so this will be short, with a longer post to follow in November.

I was probably about 14 when I first learned blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood–I must have been about 14 because we were home teaching and my father and Karl Snow started talking about it.  At first I thought they were wrong. We had learned in grade school about the Civil Rights movement, about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves and such, and it seemed very odd the church would discriminate like that. A few years later my seminary teacher told us blacks had been denied the priesthood because they had not been valiant in the war in heaven  I found that a hard teaching to accept. The logic behind it went something like this: We know our actions in this life affect our state in the next life so it’s logical to assume that our actions and pre-earth life affected our condition in this life.

But in the next life I will be able to remember what I did here and understand the consequence of my actions, but none of us has a memory of our life before birth so there’s no way for us to double check on our actions and assess the consequences, no way to repent of something we can’t verify through memory.

A few years later, in September or October 1978, our new Mission president, Marvin Curtis, held some get-acquainted conferences and passed out and talk called “All Are Alike Unto God” explaining that it was given by Bruce R McConkie to the church educators at their annual symposium–his instructions on what to teach about the recent revelation on priesthood. Continue Reading →

Mormon Memoirs Roundup, Fall 2017

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 →

In Memoriam: Douglas H. Thayer

We note with great sorrow the passing of author and educator Douglas H. Thayer. Born April 19, 1929 in Salt Lake City, he passed away on Oct. 17, 2017 after a battle with liver cancer. Thayer grew up in Provo, where he spent his boyhood largely running free and hunting, fishing, and hiking in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. He swam naked in the Provo River and polluted Utah Lake. He later said that swimming in the poisoned lake gave a quick, cheap immunization against every known disease, if you survived.

Thayer dropped out of high school in 1946 to join the U.S. Army, serving in Germany. He came home, attended Brigham Young University for a year, and then returned to Germany for 30 months as a missionary for the Church. While on his mission he was called up to fight in Korea, but was allowed to continue his mission. He later said that while he had no desire to kill or be killed, he felt he missed his war, a great deprivation for a writer who liked Hemingway.

After his mission Thayer returned to BYU, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. He applied to law school, but then decided not to attend and started a doctorate in American literature at Stanford. Finding that he had little interest in research, he left the program after finishing a master’s degree. Continue Reading →

Cowleys and Cowpers of Our Own

If you only read the headlines, history is propelled by exceptions—world-historical figures who bent nations and empires to their will. And they all have the same last name: “The Great”: Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Pompey the Great, Charles the Great (Charlemagne), Frederick the Great, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great. It’s great turtles all the way down.

Nearly absent from the historical headlines are the people who did most of the work: Peter the Pretty Good, Charles the OK, Helga the High-Side-of-Mediocre, Gilbert the Good-Enough-for-Government-Work. Most of the history that really matters was produced by people whom history has judged as something less than “the Great” but who toiled away with competence and dedication to their jobs. Continue Reading →

This Month in Mormon Literature, October 9, 2017

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.

In Memoiram

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 →