Association for Mormon Letters 2017 Conference Call for Papers

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 by 1 February 2017. Proposals should be no more than 300 words and include the title of the presentation as well as audio-visual needs.

Thoughts on the 2015 AML Mini-Conference

by Michael Andrew Ellis

Jonathan Langford asked me to expand on my comments regarding the recent 2015 AML Mini-Conference held at Utah Valley University on March 28. My comments were in response to some questions that Joe Plicka posted on this blog as a follow-up survey to the conference. Here are the questions:

– What did you take away from this year’s conference?

– What were the main challenges in planning and running it?

– How many people were in attendance? What was the breakdown of regulars vs. newcomers?

– What worked that you would like to see repeated at next year’s conference?

– What would you like to add or build on for next year’s conference?

– Do you have any suggestions for panels/themes for next year’s conference?

– Maybe most importantly, were there snacks?

I can’t speak to all the questions, but I loved the conference! James and Nicole Goldberg did a great job pulling everything together. I also liked the informal atmosphere of this one, where it was a group of people, of whatever background, who just wanted to find out what’s going on in Mormon Lit or share what they know about the Mormon Lit scene. I realize that we can’t have these informal, “introductory,” sessions every time (and wouldn’t want it that way), but it would be nice to host them occasionally so that we can attempt to grow the audience.

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Moving Culture

At this year’s Association for Mormon Letters conference I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on teaching Mormon literature with Margaret Blair Young, Shelah Miner, and Boyd Petersen. Among the items we discussed at length was the challenge of finding an audience for Mormon literature—particularly among actual living, breathing Latter-day Saints. I don’t remember every point we raised during the discussion, but the idea that has remained with me is that we need to do a better job of moving culture.

Currently, Mormon culture—at least in the United States—is not a great incubator for readers of the kind of Mormon literature I usually write about (i.e. “literary” Mormon literature, “realistic” Mormon literature, “serious” Mormon literature, “fringe” Mormon literature, etc.). Generally, a few Mormons will read what Deseret and Cedar Fort publish, but far fewer will pick up something by Zarahemla and Signature Books. We can debate reasons for why this is the case, but I think it probably comes down to the fact that most Mormons a) don’t have access to these books and b) would probably be put off by their realistic (or surrealistic) portrayals of flawed Mormons anyway.

This is where the idea of “moving culture” comes in. For the Mormon literature audience to grow, we need to be able to move culture physically to the potential reader and move the culture (that is, change it) in a way that helps potential readers better contextualize and appreciate what they see on the page.

Obviously, both types of moving will take monumental effort and probably centuries of dedicated service. In the meantime, here are three things I think we can start doing today:

Be Open

Talk about Mormon literature online. Share your experiences with good works of Mormon literature. Link to free works of Mormon literature online. Don’t shy away from endorsing good Mormon literature because you worry that its content might offend your Mormon friends and family. Lend out your Mormon literature and even (gasp!) make some of it available for free online.

Change the Conversation

Too often, the first thing we talk about when we talk about art and media in the church is “questionable” content: bad words, sex scenes, decapitations, etc. Unfortunately, doing so often distracts from the weightier matters of these works—and establishes critical standards that can prove spiritually harmful if applied to fallible Church leaders, incidents in Church history, and people and situations in general. (If it is unfair to judge people by the cockroach rule, why should we judge media by that standard?) I think doing what we can to shift the conversation from content to context will help move culture to a place more open to varieties of Mormon literature. I also think it will make us a more charitable people.

Embrace the Radical Middle

Cultural movers should not expect change overnight. Indeed, if Mormon history has taught us anything, it is that Mormons take change sluggishly and do not wear extremism well. As we talk about and write Mormon literature, let’s eschew the usual extreme approaches and radically shoot for the center, inviting our extremist friends and neighbors to meet us in the middle. Besides, as several people pointed out during the conference, the Church at present seems interested in moving the culture away from past extremisms, yet it continues to move slowly on this interest because of the apparent reluctance of many members to move with it. Perhaps our current cultural moment needs a new Home Literature that works in tandem with those messages from the Church that encourage a more open-minded, thoughtful, and charitable membership.

Thoughts? What else can be done to move culture?

AML Conference 2014 Schedule

Association for Mormon Letters Annual Conference 11 and 12 April, 2014

Venue: Utah Valley University Library

Friday evening: (note this will be held in lecture theater LA101)

6pm Welcome and opening panel: New Mormon Theater (Eric Samuelson, Jerry Argetsinger, Scott Bronson) Moderator: Margaret Young

7pm. Reader’s Theater: “A Second Birth” Ariel Mitchell

Follow-up discussion of the play.

Saturday 12 April:

9.00am. Registration (UVU Library Lecture Theater – ground floor)

9.15. Welcome

9.30. (Track 1)  Joseph and Kay Darowski  (Track 2) Panel Discussion:
The Joseph Smith Papers. What Are they Good For? Teaching Mormon Literature
Christopher C Smith Margaret Young, Scott Hales, Shelah Miner, Boyd Petersen
Adoption of Ecstatic Native American Practices in Early Mormon Ohio Moderator: John Bennion
10.30 (Track 1) ) Lisa Olsen Tait (Track 2) Panel Discussion
Three Forgotten Women Writers of the Home Literature Movement Promoting New Mormon Fiction
Boyd Petersen Stephen Carter, James Goldberg, Shelah Miner
Historical Mormon Interpretations of Eve
11.30am Keynote Address: Lecture Theater Dr Michael Hicks (BYU)
“Inventing ‘Mormon Music’”  
12.30 Award Luncheon (box lunch $12.00) Lakeview Room in Library
2pm. Lecture Theater Performance of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” composed by Darrell Brown, BYU Idaho With text based on the short story of the same name by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this is song cycle/musical drama for solo tenor voice and accompanied by a consort of piccolo/flute/bass flute, eb clarinet/bb clarinet/eb contralto clarinet, cello, and percussion (marimba, vibraphone, chimes, congas, and bass drum).
2.30pm. (Track 1) Scott Hales (Track 2) Tyler Chadwick
New Mormon Fiction “Alex’s Tongue: Making, the Makar, and Mormonism”
3.30pm (Track 1) Jerry Argetsinger (Track 2) Harlow Clark
Gay Mormon Fiction Scattered into Jagged Pieces: Troubled Mormon Marriage Memoirs of Phyllis Barber, Carol Lynn Pearson, and Florence Child Brown
4.30pm Combined: Lecture Theater James Goldberg: “Why the Church Is Boring But Our Covenants Are Not”
  Stephen Carter: “The History of Book of Mormon Comics”
5.30pm End of the Conference




Report on AML Conference 2013 and List of Awards

The AML conference of 2013 was a huge success.  Awards for 2012 are posted below, with citations.  All citations were written by the judges in the various categories.

I will be submitting grant proposals so that AML can continue in full force, and invite each commenter to tell why the efforts of this organization matter either to you individually or to the LDS Church institutionally.  Note that one of our chief  objectives in the future is to become more international.

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Call for Papers
Association for Mormon Letters
March 29-30, 2013
Utah Valley University

Theme: Depictions of Christ in LDS literature, film, and art: Does it matter how we portray Him?

From Arnold Friberg to Levi Peterson to Jack Harrell, we have seen Christ as a Nordic, finely muscled man; a cigarette-smoking cowboy; a rough-hewn stranger at a Megadeath concert. Some have found Peterson’s “Cowboy Jesus” to be blasphemous; others have suggested that Mormon depictions of Christ (even those borrowed from non-LDS artists but displayed in temples and visitors’ centers) indicate a conspicuously white Savior at the helm of a conspicuously white church.

We invite proposals for papers discussing LDS books, films, and art. Papers may focus on particular works or on trends. We would also be interested in hearing about depictions of Christ from multi-cultural perspectives, or on the influence of LDS art on international congregations.

Deadline for submissions is February 20, 2013. Please submit proposals to Margaret Blair Young at

The conference will begin on the evening of Friday, March 29th and conclude on the 30th.

Theme for Upcoming AML Conference

THEME FOR THE 2013 AML CONFERENCE (dates TBA):  “How We Depict the Savior in Art, Film, and Literature: Does it Matter?”

My review of The Color of Christ follows to ignite some ideas and discussion.  Consider Levi Petersen’s controversial “Cowboy Jesus,” or Jack Harrell’s Jesus who attends a Megadeath concert with a teen (from Harrell’s collection A Sense of Order). The possibilities are vast.

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The Afterlife of an AML Conference Presentation

This month I couldn’t decide whether to write about the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest or about how my 2012 AML Presentation informed my soon-to-be-available book. So I posted both, and will let you take your pick.

In 2010, I gave a talk at the AML Annual Conference about the advantages of having readers who are already steeped in a vibrant mythic system. In the presentation, I outlined four different ways I saw LDS writing using scriptural allusions creatively and effectively in their works to help their audiences wrestle for meaning.

Several months later, Jack Harrell contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to submit a copy of the paper to Irreantum. Continue Reading →

Teaching Mormon Literature to Non-Mormon Students

As I type I am sitting in the Salt Lake Airport waiting for a flight that will take me first to Denver and then to Dayton, where my decade-old Honda is waiting to take me home. It’s Sunday, but there will be no church for me today. My total travel time is something like twelve hours, although with all the time changes its seems much longer on paper. At any rate, I probably won’t pull into my driveway until 1:30 in the morning,* three hours and ten minutes before I’ll need to get up to teach my 5:30 Early Morning Seminary class and my 9:00 literature class. Considering the amount of sleep I’ll be getting, I don’t expect the lesson for either class to be fantastic. I’m a morning person, but even I have my limits.**

I’ve been in Utah for the annual AML conference. It was my first experience with the conference, and I enjoyed presenting and meeting and talking with people who before had only been names on a computer screen to me. I also enjoyed being able to speak the language of Mormonism at a professional conference without having to act as a Urim and Thummim for my audience, which is what I usually end up doing at conferences when I present on Mormon literature. So, it was nice—even liberating—not having to explain everything.

But now I’m heading back to Ohio, a place where the language of Mormonism is not well understood—let alone spoken—by anyone outside the Church. There we don’t have Missionary Malls with giant missionary-shaped balloons gyrating over them. We don’t have Deseret Bookstores or Pioneer Day or billboards advertising Heck, we don’t even have that many meetinghouses in the area to alert the average Joe or Jane to our presence. Mormonism and its culture just aren’t a big part of the Ohio landscape—even with the Kirtland Temple tucked away somewhere near Cleveland.

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