We note with sadness the passing of Valerie Holladay, who played a key role in Mormon literature over the last 20 years as an author of personal essays, a magazine editor, commercial publishing house editor, and a University teacher. Valerie, who was 52, resided in Nephi, Utah.
Here is an obituary, written by Valerie’s family:
Our sweet angel has gone on ahead
I am sorry to tell you that our sweet angel has gone on ahead of us.
Valerie passed away on Sunday, July 3, 2011 after a short but valiant battle with cervical cancer. We can hardly bear the loss.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah to Robert Babcock and Arleen Burnham Holladay, she was the third of five children. She served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toulouse, France. She graduated from Brigham Young University with Bachelors and Masters Degrees in English and studied at the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Well known in Utah writing and editing circles, Valerie served on the boards of several journals for Latter-day Saints, such as Wasatch Review and Dialogue, and was in demand for her speaking and workshops on personal history. She taught English, fiction, and editing at Brigham Young University and Life Skills courses at Utah Valley University. She loved teaching but most of all, she loved her students, every one of them.
Valerie always went out of her way to give to others. She rescued injured animals from the side of the road and lifted strangers who had lost their way. Her final act of service was to provide sight through the gift of donating her eyes and to advance medical research through donation of her body.
She was preceded in death by her mother, whom she cared for for seven years.
She is survived by brothers Stuart (Rueleen), David, and Clark (Kristina), all of Nephi, and by sister Teresa of Aurora, Colorado. She is also survived by her adoring nieces and nephews: Jennifer, Jamie, Brittany, Caitlin, Shalain, Alex, Aaron, Brigham, Dallin, Sam, and Brandon.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, July 11, 2011, at 11:30 a.m. at her ward meetinghouse: 222 South 100 East in Nephi, Utah. The family will be receiving visitors in the Relief Society room from 10-11 where we will have a display and a music/picture video honoring her life. Family and out-of-town friends, please plan to stay for a luncheon immediately following the service.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the American Cancer Society or the Humane Society of Utah.
The family is most grateful for the exceptional care provided by the Huntsman Cancer Institute in both Provo and Salt Lake City; Central Valley Hospital in Nephi; Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo; and University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City. We would especially like to thank Drs. Jones, Hatton, Clark, and Werner for their amazing graciousness and kindness to Valerie. You were many times answers to our prayers for her.
Valerie studied at BYU under John Bennion and Gene England, as well as Leslie Norris, Susan Howe, and Louise Plummer. While at BYU she worked in the Publications Center with Linda Adams. Her 1991 Masters thesis is titled When it Doesn’t Matter Anymore: A Collection of Personal Essays. She co-edited Inscape, the BYU literary journal, with Tory Anderson. After graduation Holladay and Anderson co-founded Wasatch Review International, a LDS literary journal. The journal lasted from 1992 to 1996, when it folded due to lack of staff and money. In the early 1990s she wrote several personal essays, including “Mothers, Daughters, and Dolls” in Dialogue, Fall 1990 (23:3), “Companionship”, in the inaugural issue of Wasatch Review International (1992), and “Street Sympathy” in Dialogue, Fall 1992 (25:3). Valerie wrote about her relationships with her family in the two essays in Dialogue, especially her mother, who suffered from mental illness. She also gave papers on Mormon literary issues at the Sunstone Symposium and the Association for Mormon Letters annual meeting. One of those papers was The Life and Poetry of Louisa Barnes Pratt, Early Mormon Feminist and Missionary, at the August 12, 1993 Sunstone Symposium. The link will take you to an mp3 recording of the talk, which also includes a presentation by Bryan Waterman on Louisa Pratt.
In her essay “The Path of the Wanderer: Autobiographical Theory and the Personal Essay” (Dialogue Fall 1999), Valerie talks about being introduced to the personal essay by Professor Eugene England at BYU. She wrote, “The class was invited to write a personal essay as one of our assignments, and as I tested out this unfamiliar style of writing, I was amazed at its power to transform ugliness and chaos into grace and beauty. I was also surprised at the things, somehow appearing on the paper, that I hadn’t planned to write. For my essay, I began with a short narrative . . . [of] my mother’s shopping sprees to Deseret Industries for dolls when I was a girl. I didn’t expect to conclude that my mother was talented and caring, but so divided in her loyalties that she expended all her love and energy on boxes of old, second-hand dolls. . . . That first essay had a fairly immediate miraculous effect on my mother, who saw herself, perhaps for the first time, as too talented and too loving, rather than what she had always believed: that she wasn’t enough of anything. And I believe the rest of my family felt closer to my mother after reading that essay.” Valerie concluded, “For me, the essay has been an exercise in faith, in charity, and in understanding, as well as language. I can see greater meaning in the at-times bewildering events in my life—even if I am the one who creates the meaning and puts it there. As I have shared my life and my search with others, I have also received invitations to accompany others along their paths, to share their wanderings and to feel their wonder as we discover meaning in the world around us.”
In the mid-1990s Valerie began working as a book editor at the commercial publisher Covenant Communications. There she gained a reputation as a caring mentor who nurtured authors through both encouragement and detailed instruction. Around this time she also served as Treasurer for the Association for Mormon Letters.
Her article “Walk in the Wilderness” appeared in the July 1998 issue of Ensign, July 1998. She wrote about the power of pondering. “Different seasons of our lives may provide us with too much time alone or not enough. Being alone can be peaceful or disturbing. It can be a time of discovery and self-renewal or a time for worry and regret. I have learned that we can be nourished and enriched by solitude, whether we find ourselves with too much or too little, as we pass through the different seasons of our lives.”
After about seven years she left her position at Covenant, and taught creative writing and editing courses at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College/Utah Valley University. She also took on free-lance editing and magazine editing positions. She was editor of Family Voice Magazine (Pleasant Grove) for three years, a contributing editor for Ancestry Magazine, and ran the state writing contest for the League of Utah writers, which involved about 20 categories and hundreds of entries. She also served as judge of other writing contests, and taught courses at the AML Writing Conference. Two examples of her writing for Ancestry Magazine are The Story of My Life (May – June 2003) and Finding Family (July – August 2005).
In October 2006 Valerie was named Co-editor, with Scott Hatch, of Irreantum, the LDS literary journal published by the Association for Mormon Letters. She remained in that position until April 2008, when she switched to the position of the Irreantum fiction contest coordinator. In recent years Valerie worked as a radio producer at KBYU, and blogged at V-Formation, a group blog of Mormon authors.
Valerie’s final literary effort was to co-author, with Marilyn Brown, the photographic history book Provo. The book features historical photographs donated by the L. Tom Perry Collection at Brigham Young University and others, as well as contemporary photographs, and text by the authors. The book is published by Arcadia Publishing, a leading local history publisher, as part of its “Images of America” series. Provo was released on June 13, 2011, and Valerie got to see the completed book before she passed away.
Valerie Holladay’s sister wrote that Valerie rescued injured animals from the side of the road and lifted strangers who had lost their way. At the time I met Valerie, I was a stranger who had lost my way. I was in the throes of depression over the rejection of my third manuscript when someone introduced me to her at a luncheon for authors. She asked me what I was working on. Well . . . she asked, so I spilled.
She did something rare upon hearing my story, something spectacular, something that changed me forever and made me who I am right now. She offered to read the manuscript and give me some advice. I sent it to her and several weeks later got a letter back from her. It was my first editorial letter. My previous publisher had been relaxed about editing, and so I had no experience with such a thing. Through her selfless offer of help to a sad stranger, I learned what it meant to polish a draft–to view characters in a different way, to consider plot points that didn’t work. She taught me how to make a gritty, caustic, bitter character loveable. And when I was done with all the changes she said I should make, the story was a million times improved. I had written a good book before, but this was something different. This was a whole new level of writing. It struck me how much I owe her, how grateful I am for that chance meeting that changed a so-so writer into something more. Her generosity was boundless, and I know that she had done this for many others besides me. She genuinely cared about people. She wanted their happiness for them as much as they wanted it for themselves. Valerie’s good heart left an imprint on the hearts of many. [A longer version of Julie’s tribute can be found here.]
Annette’s tribute, “Thanks, Valerie”, can be read here.
Sharlee Mullins Glenn
I first met Valerie in the late 1990′s when she was an editor at Covenant and asked me to review a children’s book manuscript that they were considering for publication. I went to her office in American Fork and it was one of those occasions when I felt like I was reuniting with an old and cherished friend, though we had never met before. Almost immediately we discovered three things that helped cement our friendship: 1) we lived just minutes from each other in Pleasant Grove and, though we weren’t in the same ward, we were in the same stake and our respective wards met in the same building, 2) we had been grad students at BYU at the same time and, therefore, knew a lot of the same people (though she was in English and I was in Humanities), and, most importantly, 3) we shared not only a love for good literature in general, but very similar tastes in specific books. Over the next decade, Valerie and I attended conferences together, skipped out on Gospel Doctrine or Relief Society to chat in the hallway at church, met up for lunch whenever possible, and talked endlessly about what we were reading. I helped her do temple work for her ancestors and she helped me find homes for the four stray kittens that somehow ended up in our backyard. Valerie had a brilliant mind and a large and loving heart. Over the years, I often stood in awe as I witnessed her tireless love and devotion to all who were dear to her. Valerie, I love and honor you. And I hope there are no limits to the number of cats you can have in heaven!
Valerie was the first editor I ever submitted to, and she was very patient and skillful in walking me through a rewrite. I didn’t end up publishing at that house, but I will always remember the things she taught me through that process, and her kindness to me for years afterward. The world of words has lost a hero.
Valerie Holladay was the first writing “teacher” I had within the publishing industry because it was her name at the bottom of the rejection letter that first taught me what I didn’t know I didn’t know. Once I got over my hurt feelings, I found the guidance in her letter and revised accordingly. Years later I met her in person and was shocked that she remembered my book which I had published with another company. It was also then that I learned her detailed comments were the invitation to resubmit–I was too naïve to know it. In my years in this writing community since then, I have heard dozens of people recount similar experiences with Valerie. She was so generous with her editorial skills, so sincerely happy for the success of others, and so very kind. I’m glad to have known her, though my contact with her was certainly small. She set a standard of kindness for others to rise to.
I considered Valerie “my editor.” I know she was that to many people. But she helped me so much! I would bring her lunch to her house and we would go over the manuscripts. She gave me our cat Chocolate, and that little creature lasted about seven years! I was interested in all of the cats, but it was sometimes pretty odorous! She was compassionate with all of them. When we bought cats from the animal shelter last year, and a little stray butterball showed up, she took that little cat home, though she was worried her folks would not like it!
I last saw Valerie on our trek to take pictures for the Arcadia Publishing Company’s version of the photo-journal book: PROVO. She was delightful, as always. I knew she wasn’t feeling well, but she was cheerful and spry, jumping out of the car and taking “shots” right along with me (although she got tired quickly). I knew she wasn’t well enough to do the work of the book, but I got through it on my own because she was there in spirit. She caught me in the only picture of either of us when she took a shot of the Novell Building. I was getting into the back seat of the car. Ironically, the only picture I got of her was of her back side, too!
When it came time to get publicity photos for marketing the book, I called her, but she couldn’t come. She said she needed a wig, and could I please wait until it was ready? After that, I emailed her a couple of times, and received no answer. I knew she was very ill, although through all of this, I was praying that the chemo would work, and that we could market the book together. It wasn’t to be.
Valerie was special. I have never known a more brilliant editor. Perhaps some may come close. But she was astute, and dedicated to her craft. We loved to visit. And the book we just did together will always stand as a monument to her smiles, her cheery disposition, and her acts of absolute charity for all around her. She deserves kudos. And acts of love and dedication in her behalf, as we carry on her tradition of excellence in the “Mormon Literary Tradition.”
Jennie’s “Tribute to One of Our Own” can be read here.
Anna’s “My Memories of Valerie” can be read here.
We here at the Association for Mormon Letters wish to express our love for Valerie, and our profound sadness at the loss. We ask the Lord’s blessings of comfort for Valerie’s family, and we all look forward to meeting her again.