This post is partly about Dawning of a Brighter Day, this very blog sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters, including recent initiatives we’ve started and hopes for where this might go. It’s also about my thoughts regarding the Mormon literary community in general, including my reasons for thinking that such a community is worth fostering.
As I’ve shared before, it’s my perception that the Mormon literary world (taken at its broadest) is quite fractured right now, with many different groups pursuing their own interests, often with little knowledge or involvement from other groups. Here at AML (and in a few other places), there’s lots of discussion of literary criticism and of more literary-oriented Mormon fiction, but not as much related to popular or genre fiction. Then there’s a largely separate community (or multiple communities) involving authors from the Mormon mainstream publishers, such as Deseret Books, Covenant, and Cedar Fort, many of whom read and review each other’s works and talk about issues related to writing quality from the context of their own writing. Traditionally, LDS fantasy and science fiction writers have had a well-connected community of their own, much of it centered around Life, the Universe and Everything, the ongoing sf&f symposium hosted at BYU. That’s the community I was originally a part of, back in my student days at BYU lo, these many moons ago.
And then there are the other smaller groups and individuals out there, such as BYU’s New Play Project and the group of writers who wound up contributing to the FOB Bible. The Internet has made it easier for such groups to spring up and flourish, doing their own thing often with little to no involvement from others. Mormon letters has never been so uncentered, or so creative. Someone comes up with an idea like the Mormons and Monsters anthology, and a few months later it’s well on its way toward publication. Meanwhile, individual Mormon writers are making their way in the national publishing world, sometimes after having published in the Mormon market, and sometimes not. An increasing body of work by Mormon writers — often high-quality work — is being self-published, simply because the drive to create has far outstripped the available publishing slots.
The Internet has also given rise to a host of blogs and online discussions by Mormon readers about the books they’re reading, including titles by Mormons and non-Mormons alike: a treasure trove of informal but often insightful literary criticism. The conversation has never been so democratic, or so untrammeled by limits of time and space.
Here at Dawning of a Brighter Day, we’re taking steps to try to make this blog a kind of central meeting place for these different groups and conversations: a literary bazaar for Mormon letters. One major step was the institution of Andrew Hall’s weekly summaries of events related to Mormon literature. We’ve also been working to fill monthly slots that relate to specific genres, interests, or aspects of the Mormon literary world. So far, we’ve managed to fill slots related to publishing, sf&f, YA literature, poetry, mysteries, drama, and popular fiction in general — with a hope for other slots related to romance, children’s literature, film, and possibly other categories such as historical fiction. (Any volunteers please email me: jonathan AT langfordwriter DOT com.) My hope, frankly, is that people will want to come and look at what’s being said about writers and books in the fields that interest them — and then will spend some time poking around other corners of the bazaar, if only to see all the cool, shiny, and sometimes just plain weird stuff that’s out there.
Which raises the question: If all these different literary communities already exist, why bother with a central meeting place? What’s the value?
One answer is that providing a place for people to mix and meet opens up the potential for creative cross-fertilization A number of years ago, I remember a BYU sf&f symposium where Orson Scott Card and (non-LDS author) Mike Resnick were both guests. A panel discussion featuring both of them led to the idea of a shared world anthology about space stations in geosynchronous orbits, each owned by a different group from Earth that saw the station as a way to create their own Utopia. I don’t think the anthology ever came to be, but the idea gave rise to some powerful stories, including Shayne Bell’s haunting short novel Inuit. Good ideas result when people who don’t usually share the same space get a chance to talk to each other.
On a personal level, I at least find it interesting and worthwhile to know about what’s being done by others who share both my religious beliefs and my engagement with literature. We can, if nothing else, act as cheerleaders for each other — by which I don’t mean an attitude of uncritical praise, but rather of celebrating genuine accomplishments, even if they fall outside our own area of personal interest. For me, it’s a bit like finding out that a family member took first prize at the county fair: I want to know, even if I can’t personally stand mincemeat. (Wait, how did I get to talking about mincemeat?)
On a conceptual level, I’m interested in the varied ways that Mormon ideas can intersect with literature, even (sometimes especially) when that literature isn’t explicitly Mormon. I’ve long felt that on a thematic level, one of the most profoundly Mormon books out there is Orson Scott Card’s The Worthing Chronicle, which explores in very concrete terms what it means for ordinary humans to possess godlike power and the morality of using such power to eliminate suffering. As someone who believes profoundly in both LDS doctrine and the value of literature, I find that I cannot separate the two — nor would I want to. This gives me a common ground and interest with every author and reader of Mormon literature out there — viewing Mormon literature broadly, as any literature that is written by, for, or about Mormons.
Your mileage may — indeed, almost certainly does — vary. Part of my interest, and hopefully yours as well, lies in finding out more about that variance. So here’s my invitation: Come out to the bazaar. Bring your friends! I’ll meet you over by the gyros…