2003 Mormon Literature Year in Review

This is part of a continuing series of republications of my annual Year in Review. This post was first published on the AML-List email discussion group in January 2004.

Novels

National market novels by Mormon authors in 2003 were dominated by young adult novels, while the growth of the Mormon-specific market continued unabated. The five largest Mormon publishers released 77 novels in 2003, up from 61 in 2002 and 50 in 2001. The community of literary critics have not, unfortunately, kept pace with this growth in publishing, and therefore serious reviews of a majority of these works have yet to appear. While for many of these un-reviewed books the silence is undoubtedly charitable, I am afraid that some notable novels have escaped my attention, for which I apologize.

I will begin with an examination works published by Mormons in the national market. I was disappointed the major publishers did not produce a significant adult literary novel either by or about Mormons in 2003. Fortunately, the continuing flood of quality young adult novels by Mormon authors helps to make up for the scarcity of material for adults. Perhaps most notable was Shannon Hale’s debut fantasy The Goose Girl. A retelling of a Grimms’ fairy tale for middle school readers, it has garnered numerous positive reviews. For example, a reviewer in School Library Journal wrote, “Hale’s retelling is a wonderfully rich one, full of eloquent description and lovely imagery, and with a complex plot, a large cast of characters, and a strong female protagonist. Fans of high fantasy will be delighted with this novel.”  I fully agree with all the strong recommendations, the novel completely swept me away. Hale should be a leading light among Mormon authors for years to come.

Another standout in the young adult field is veteran author Kristen D. Randle’s Slumming, the story of three Mormon high school students who pledge to each pick a social outsider who they will try to improve. Each discovers there is much more going on under inside these “outsiders” than they guessed, and they realize how shallow their initial plan was. Randle also has a remarkable skill at portraying very tough topics without bathing the reader in mire. She shows us the pain of bad choices without spelling out the details, and the ugliness of vulgarity without actually printing the vulgarisms. It is not easy to do these things without coming off prudish, and Randle does it well. And, as another reviewer has noted, “The fact that these friends are drawn together by religion, which is an integral part of their lives, is particularly refreshing.”

Reviewers of Kimberly Heuston’s second historical novel, Dante’s Daughter, praised her for the richness of detail on 14th century European domestic, political, and artistic life, but also noted that the attention to detail tended to overwhelm the story. The novel won the AML Young Adult fiction award. Martine Bates Leavitt Tom Finder, a coming-of -age story of a boy facing harsh realities living on the streets which received positive notices. Mette Ivie Harrison produced her first novel, The Monster In Me, about an emotionally wounded girl in foster care. The School Library Journal said, “The writing style . . . makes this a good choice for reluctant readers.  Despite minor flaws . . . this is a highly readable first novel.” In a lighter vein, Janette Rallison produced All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School, a comic high school romance. Also, Laura McNeal, an inactive Mormon, co-wrote with her husband Tom the novel Zipped, which had as one of the protagonists a Mormon girl questioning her faith. It received several strong reviews, and was named one of the ALA Top Ten Books for Young Adults.

In speculative fiction, Orson Scott Card and Dave Farland continue to produce the kind of high-quality work that has earned them devoted readers. Card released three books, Robota, a stylish collaboration with the illustrator/movie designer Doug Chiang, First Meetings, a collection of four novellas set in the Ender’s Game universe, and The Crystal City, the sixth and penultimate volume of the Alvin Maker series. While Card has been at his most imaginative with Alvin Maker, in the last two books of the series he allowed the charm of characterizations and dialogue overwhelm the overall drive of the plot. It was this balance which made the first three books of the series some of the finest pieces of Mormon literature yet created. Card rectifies the imbalance in The Crystal City by creating a equivalent to Nauvoo, where he connects the alternative universe of the series closer to the Joseph Smith story than he has since the first volume.

Farland (the pseudonym of Dave Wolverton) issued the fourth volume of his Runlords series, Lair of Bones. While Publishers Weekly said it reads like a hallucination, “full of rich and brilliant descriptions, but not always making much sense,” most other reviewers were much more positive, citing its suspense, action, characterizations, and deep moral center. I was very impressed with some of Wolverton’s earlier novels, so this latest series is high on my list of to-reads.

Anne Perry continues her prolific work in the mystery genre with four new publications. Besides entries in her long-running Pitt and Monk series, set in Victorian England, she released No Graves as Yet, the first in a new mystery/spy series set in Cambridge on the eve of the First World War. She also published Come Armageddon through Ace Books. It is a sequel to the allegorical fantasy novel Tathea, which Deseret Book published in 1999. I am not sure why Deseret Book did not publish the sequel. A reviewer at Publishers Weekly wrote, “The epic scale describes cities and countries, not individuals, which blunts emotional impact, and characters too often descend into types.”

Professional critics have been harsh on Richard Paul Evans’ sentimental novels like the new A Perfect Day. A reviewer at Publishers Weekly, however, seems to have captured the appeal to Evans’ legion of fans, “The inevitable twist is clever, the writing throughout assured, the sentiment unapologetic and the author confident that he knows just what his readers want and that he’s the man to give it to them.”

There were two novels of note among smaller non-Mormon presses, Gerald Grimmet’s farce, The Wives of Short Creek, published by a small Western publisher, and Brett Alan Sanders’ first novel, A Bride Called Freedom, published by a Spanish-language press in bilingual form. Grimmit’s tale of the turmoil caused by the discovery of a lost Joseph Smith prophecy comically skewers polygamists, mainstream Mormons, as well as most everyone else in the Utah/Arizona region. Sanders’ more serious work tells the story of a legendary 19th century Argentinean woman who is captured by Indians, who she comes to love. I was impressed by a pair of stories Sanders published in Dialogue in recent years.

Moving on to the Mormon-specific market, Signature Books continues to play in a different league from its competitors in terms of the content and marketing of its publications. The press published four literary works in 2003, novels by Paul Edwards, Jack Harrell, and Douglas Thayer, and a poetry collection by Paul Swenson. Although the three novels vary widely in style and tone, all are notable for the complexity of the characters presented and the nuanced observations on faith in the modern world. Unfortunately all three novels appear to be fated to almost complete obscurity among Mormons, in part because of their literary nature, but also because almost no Signature literary titles have appeared on the shelves of Mormon bookstores for several years now.

Paul Edwards’ murder mystery The Angel Acronym is perhaps the most accessible of the three. Edwards sets the story in the administrative structure the Community of Christ (RLDS Church), a milieu familiar to him from his years working there as a historian. Several reviewers praise Edwards for his creation of a fascinating and complex protagonist, his humor, and his insightful musings on the nexus of faith and organizational behavior. Some have expressed frustration that Edwards squanders the work’s momentum by allowing the central mystery to be resolved half-way through the book.

Jack Harrell’s first novel, Vernal Promises is a more serious work, about a young man with an addictive personality, who swings between abuse of drugs, alcohol, and sex, and the outward observances of religion and personal piety, finding no relief for his suffering in either direction. Its portrayal of a young, serious-minded man haunted by the specter of a harsh, merciless God seems reminiscent of Levi Peterson’s The Backslider and John Bennion’s Falling Toward Heaven. Reviewer Jeff Needle praised both the content and style of the novel, calling it a “parable of religious excess and radical human weakness . . . a chilling, thoroughly engrossing reading, with one of the most engaging protagonists I’ve come across in a long time . . . a triumph in the world of Mormon publishing.” It was the winner of the Marilyn Brown Novel Award in 2000.

Although Douglas Thayer was a central figure in the birth of modern Mormon literature in the 1970s, his novel The Conversion of Jeff Williams is only his second published novel, and his first in 20 years. It tells the story of a teenage boy who spends a summer with his seriously ill cousin in Provo. Signature released it in December, and so far no significant reviews have appeared. Eugene England frequently praised the unpublished manuscript, and Richard Cracroft, perhaps the leading critic of Mormon literature since England’s death, provided the following promotional blurb: “This landmark novel is the finest fictional exploration to date of growing up humanly and mormonly. [It is] clearly the best coming-of-age novel in Latter-day Saint literature . . . It is a tender and moving love song to spirituality and a Mormon world view.”

Existing in almost a different universe from the outsider Signature Books press is the Church-owned and financed Deseret Books. Despite its institutional nature, however, Deseret has in recent years published a number of remarkable works, most notably Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray’s historical fiction series Standing on the Promises, which retells the stories of African-Americans in the Church. In 2003 the third and final volume, The Last Mile of the Way appeared, picking up the narrative at the turn of the century, and taking it to the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood and the present day. Young and Gray have succeeded in creating an achingly beautiful masterpiece, combining a comfortably familiar narrative voice with incisive social commentary and descriptions of the pain caused by discrimination both inside and out of the Church.

Almost equal to The Last Mile of the Way in terms of thematic depth and stylistic skill is Dean Hughes’ How Many Roads, the eighth volume overall in his Children of the Promise/Hearts of the Children historical fiction series, bringing the story to 1968. How Many Roads, the bestselling novel by a Mormon publisher in 2003, evenhandedly explores the social and internal conflict which occurred when those raised with traditional Mormon values encountered the ideas and attitudes gaining ground in 1968. Hughes, in his clean, straightforward writing style, does a fantastic job of exploring the Mormon experience of life within this pivotal era through a wide variety of points-of-view. After eight years of consistently excellent work, it could become easy to take Hughes for granted, but one should not.

Desert published 13 novels in 2003, up from 8 in 2002. Among its top-selling novels were Jack Weyland’s Cheyenne in New York and Ron Carter’s The Impending Storm. Deseret has also found success in convincing successful Mormon authors to publish Mormon-specific works with them, including Anne Perry and Orson Scott Card. In 2003 they published the awkwardly titled The Great and the Terrible: The Brothers by Chris Stewart, a nationally-known author of techno/military-thrillers. It is the first of a series following characters from the pre-existence through the “last days”.

Every year in recent memory Covenant Communications, Deseret Books’ main competitor, breaks its previous record of total new fiction published. In 2003 they published 33 novels, up from 25 in 2002, an unprecedented amount for the Mormon market. Part of the reason for the company’s ability to publish so much may be that a majority of the releases are exclusively paperback. Most of the titles are romances or thrillers. Fear for the life of any young husband in a Covenant romance, because a recurring motif is husbands who die young, I suppose because an early marriage that ends in the husband’s death marks the wife as a respectable, mature woman with some emotional heft and the chance to have a little fun, a character that might appeal to many female readers.

The most frequent site of Covenant reviews is the online Meridian Magazine, where Covenant authors themselves review their fellow authors. From their reviews, five novels which appear to stand out are N. C. Allen, N. C. Faith of Our Fathers Vol. 3: Through the Perilous Fight,   Michelle Ashman Bell’s Timeless Moment, Jeannie Hansen’s Breaking Point, Lynn Gardner’s Rubies and Rebels, and Willard Boyd Gardner’s Pursuit of Justice. By far the bestselling author at Covenant, and probably the best overall selling Mormon fiction author in 2003, was the Anita Stansfield, who released three volumes of her Gables of Legacy romance series over the course of the year.

The next most active Mormon publisher is Cedar Fort, which published 23 novels, up from 19 in 2002. A co-owner of Cedar Fort, Lee Nelson, produced what may have been the publishing coup of the year, convincing the Mark Twain estate to allow him to write a middle and ending for a fragmentary rough draft called Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians. Twain, in the original, used Huck as the narrator, and put him, Tom, and Jim in a group traveling in Indian country who are attacked, with several taken captive. Twain abandoned the story after about 56 pages, and Nelson, a prolific author of Western adventure tales, wrote an additional 200 pages to complete the story. Reviews of the work vary widely, some focus on the deficiencies in Nelson’s writing style, which falls considerably short of Twain’s, and his generally approving description of Mormon characters, considering Twain’s known derision of Mormonism. Many fan-reviewers noted, however, that while Nelson does not have the literary chops of Twain, he can tell a ripping good yarn. It was Cedar Fort’s bestselling book of the year.

Cedar Fort authors Josi Kilpack and James Crowley are among those who have received good reviews. Kilpack’s Surrounded by Strangers is about a Mormon woman who takes her children and flees her affluent Salt Lake life to Arkansas after the legal system fails to protect the family from her abusive husband. Charlene Hirschi of Cache Magazine said she was impressed with Kilpack’s “ability to tell a spellbinding story” and her “maturity of writing style.”  Crowley’s The Magic Hour is a young adult supernatural thriller, about the ability of a child to communicate with his dead twin. Carolyn Howard-Johnson said in her review, “The author draws upon various ancient beliefs, superstitions and folk tales to give the work depth and texture.”

Other Cedar Fort works that have received some attention are Rachael Nunes’ Where I Belong, about a young woman torn between motherhood and an artistic career, Marilyn Arnold’s The Classmates, a mystery about a group of elderly friends who solve a mystery, and Jeff Call’s Rolling with the Tide, about a Mormon quarterback at the University of Alabama.

Among the smaller houses, Granite published 4 novels, about its average for the last several years. Granite also acquired Evans Books, a distributor for smaller presses and independent authors. After a period of reorganization, Horizon reentered the Mormon fiction market, with two books authored or co-authored by Jack Weyland. A new press, Mapletree Publishing, announced its arrival with one new novel and several more scheduled for the following year. Finally two novelizations of LDS films, The R. M. and Saints and Soldiers, were published by their respective film distribution companies.

Marden J. Clark passed away on May 15, 2003, at the age of 86. Clark was a Professor of English at Brigham Young University, where he was a leading literary light from the 1950s until his passing, authoring poetry, short stories, literary criticism, and personal essays. He graduated with a MA from BYU in 1948, and received a PhD from the University of Washington a few years later. He taught at BYU until he retired in 1981.  He won the AML Award for Poetry in 1979 for his poetry collection Moods: Of Late, and again in 1995 for the poem “Snows,” as well as an AML Honorable Mention for Poetry Award in 1978.  He also co-edited Poems of Praise: Poems in Commemoration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1980, and authored the 1988 poetry chapbook Christmas Voices. He won the AML Award for Personal Essay in 1992 for his collection Liberating Form: Mormon Essays on Religion and Literature. He also authored Morgan Triumphs, a 1982 collection of linked short stories based on his own boyhood on a farm in Morgan, Utah. In 1992 he became the first person to receive an AML Honorary Lifetime Membership. In recent years he has written a religious/personal essay column for Provo’s Daily Herald newspaper called “Matter Unorganized.” Several of his family members, including his sons Dennis and Harlow, have also been active authors of poetry, literary criticism, and personal essays.

Short Stories

Three Mormon-specific journals: Dialogue, Irreantum, and Sunstone, publish short fiction. The three published 24 stories in 2003, up from 18 in 2002 and 16 in 2001. The best of the group, I thought, were Levi Peterson’s “Brothers” and Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner’s “A Good Sign”, both emotionally powerful stories about family bonds which appeared in the Summer 2003 (36:2) volume of Dialogue. There were two collections of short stories released by Mormon publishers, Jack Weyland’s Everyone Gets Married in the End, published by Horizon, and Every Superman Needs a Dad, written by Susan Easton Black and illustrated by Liz Swindle, published by Millennial. The later was an homage to the kind of illustrated stories found in the old Saturday Evening Post.

Nationally, Brian Evenson, Neil LaBute, and Darrell Spencer had stories published in literary journals, Lee Allred and M. Shayne Bell had stories published in speculative fiction magazines, and Orson Scott Card had three stories published in short fiction anthologies. As mentioned above, Card also released a collection of Ender Wiggin-related novellas.

Theater

2003 saw several premieres by young Mormon playwrights, most notably the Off-Off-Broadway production of Erik Orton’s musical Berlin. The play, previously workshoped at BYU, tells the story of the 1948 Berlin airlift through the eyes of German, American, and Russian characters. Reviewers praised Orton’s music and the professional quality of the production, although they were less enthusiastic about the script. Matthew Murray of Talkin’ Broadway said the performance was that of “a brightly polished, large-scale Broadway hit.  The kind of confidence that this show has . . . can’t help but be infectious. It’s one of the few things that is, though – just about everything else in Berlin has been seen before elsewhere. Think of this show as a cross between Les Miserables and Chess . . . The result is a show that works slavishly to inform and entertain, but does neither well enough to be captivating.”  The show garnered significant attention in New York, and there is hope for an Off-Broadway run. Orton previously co-authored the Church’s Savior of the World pageant, and works as a production manager for Broadway touring companies.

Also in New York City, Rebecca Thompson-Duvall, Kari Skousen, and Bill Kilpatrick’s musical adaption of Jane Eyre appeared in the Wings Theatre New Musicals Series, in Greenwich Village. The play had been performed twice before, on the west coast. It received fair but not enthusiastic reviews, for the most part criticizing the book for being too tame.

Behind Orton an even younger group of promising playwrights have begun to emerge from the campuses of UtahValley. LeeAnne Hill Adams, a recent BYU student, for the second year in a row had a play about the Soviet Union appear in the BYU theatrical season. Her 2003 play, Archipelago, reached for an epic scale in its depiction of the Soviet Gulag. It hung a variety of stories of prison camp atrocities, as well as a farcical satire of the treachery of Stalin’s Politburo, on the framework plot devise of prisoners staging a production of Gogol’s The Inspector General. Reviewers almost universally praised the cumulative power of the stories and the lyricism of the script, while also noting that too much was occurring on stage at once. Eric D. Snider in the Provo Herald wrote, “The play’s structure allows for much theatricality and experimentation, and director Rodger Sorensen is more than happy to explore. He is particularly fond of the text’s Brechtian elements, constantly reminding the audience they’re watching a play, sometimes through conventional means like having no backstage space and letting characters talk to the audience, and sometimes through more unusual methods like introducing multi-media into the mix. We see a pro-Stalin propaganda commercial, and some scenes are broadcast on monitors by surveillance cameras set above the stage. At one point, through Terry Gilliam-style animation, Marx and Lenin engage in a heated ideological debate. Whether Sorensen’s innovations add toAdams’ text is open for debate . . . The gimmicks are cool, and maybe that’s enough, but maybe they also distract from the play’s basic, more soulful intentions.”  The play was awarded the 2003 AML Award for Drama, and the David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award.  Adams has recently moved toCalifornia where she intends to work as a screenwriter.

Another student-authored main stage BYU production was Tony Gunn’s Smart Single Guys, a bitingly funny satire on student life, which played to a full run of sold out shows in November. Gunn is currently working on a film version of the play. He also founded the Provo Fringe Festival, a forum for student-written plays. One scheduled for 2004 is by Leslie Hart Gunn, Tony’s wife, who BYU drama professor Eric Samuelson called one of the best young writers he has taught.

Finally, the UVSC theater department presented Farewell to Eden, the debut work by student Mahonri Stewart.  It is a drawing room melodrama, laced with comically arch dialogue, which tells the story of an upper-class mid-19th century British household upended by the preaching of Brigham Young and John Taylor. Rather than focus on the Mormon characters, however (the apostles appear on-stage for only five minutes), Stewart uses Mormonism as a devise to expose the hypocrisy and cruelty of the British social and economic structure. Eric Samuelsen commented, “There’s genuine wit and bite in the dialogue, and the characters are sharply drawn . . . a very powerful and impressive debut.” Farewell to Eden was chosen to participate in the prestigious American College Theater Festival regional competition in February 2004, with an opportunity to move on to the finals inWashington DC.

Moving on to the next older generation, Neil LaBute continues to enjoy the strongest, and most iconoclastic, reputation among LDS playwrights. January saw the final weeks of the Broadway run of his 9/11-centered drama The Mercy Seat, and the scripts of both that play and his 2002 work The Distance From Here were published in 2003. LaBute’s film version of his 2001 play The Shape of Things was released early in the year. Productions of LaBute works occurred all over the world in 2003: bash: latter-day plays in Paris, The Shape of Things in New Zealand, and The Mercy Seat at the prestigious Duchess Theater in Berlin. LaBute did have one new work in 2003, a one-act titled Merge, which was produced at the University of Miami Summer Shorts Festival. Perhaps most notably for the LDS audience, the Plan B Theater Company in Salt Lake City staged a production of bash, his one major play which includes Mormon characters. It was the first major production in Utah of a LaBute play since he left BYU. It received strong reviews in theUtah newspapers, and Ivan Lincoln of the Deseret News listed is as one of the best dramas produced in Utah in the year.

The biggest story in LDS theater in 2002 was the establishment in Orem, Utah of the Nauvoo Theatrical Society, a dramatic company dedicated to producing Mormon-themed plays. Early in 2003 the company staged two works: The Way We’re Wired, Eric Samuelsen’s comic tale of single Mormons, and Stones, Scott Bronson’s moving interpretation of two Biblical stories. Both productions were revivals of recent AML drama prize-winning works, and both received strong praise for the scripts, staging, and acting. For example, D. Michael Martindale on AML-List called Stones “a quintessential piece of LDS drama that does what all pieces of LDS drama should aspire to . . . a masterful example of how vital art is to one’s emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development.” Unfortunately both productions drew relatively small audiences. In the Spring financial pressures and difficulties with municipal fire officials forced the company to leave its Center Street Theater inOrem, and cancel the rest of the season. The company is currently reorganizing, and is planning a seven-play 2004-2005 season, beginning in August.

The September 11th tragedy was the setting of Reed McColm’s 2002 play Hole in the Sky, in which he imagined what might have occurred among a group of people stuck on an upper floor of the World Trade Center from the time of the first impact until the tower’s collapse. The original BYU-Idaho production ran to sold-out houses, and was awarded an AML drama prize. The Eastern Oregon University theater department produced the work in November, and like Farewell to Eden it was chosen to participate in a regional competition of the American College Theater Festival.

For two months in the spring the Village Theatre near Seattle staged Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly’s refashioned musical The Ark, which had come off a very successful run at Utah’s Thanksgiving Point in 2002. A comic retelling of the story of Noah and the ark, the show received fairly good reviews from the Seattle newspapers, which praised its humor and music, while criticizing the sections which strained to be inspirational, particularly the slow ending. Both reviewers noted that despite their reservations, the play appeared to be a big hit with the audiences.

The Bountiful Performing Arts Center in Utah staged three works by an older generation of LDS authors, Thomas Rogers’ Huebener, Dale White’s Saints and Strangers, and the late Ralph Rogers’ Christmas musical Joseph and Mary: A Love Story. Huebener, which tells the true story of three Mormon teens in Hamburg, Germany, who defied the Nazi party by distributing illegal anti-Hitler pamphlets in 1942, was a ground-breaking piece of LDS drama when it was first produced at BYU in 1976. Ivan Lincoln rated the new production, directed by Rogers, as one of the state’s best dramas of the year, saying it was an “intense, emotionally moving drama . . . an important piece of literature which deserves a broad audience.” Saints and Strangers is a new musical drama about the Pilgrims’ voyage on the Mayflower. White is a veteran Hollywood actor and crew member, whose career goes back to a role in the Jack Benny Show in the 1950s.

Two works based on true stories of homosexuals within Utah Mormon culture were staged in 2003. Steven Fales has performed versions of his one-man, autobiographical show Confessions of a Mormon Boy in several cities for the last three years. The monologue, which includes comedy, singing, and dancing, tells the story of Fales’ struggle and eventual acceptance of his same-sex attraction, resulting in his divorce and excommunication. In 2003 the show appeared in Las Vegas, Miami, and Portland, and a version was published in the December 2003 issue of Sunstone. An off-Broadway run, directed by the Tony-award winner Jack Hofsiss, was scheduled for September 2003 at the Acorn Theatre, but has been postponed. Meanwhile in Utah, James Rapier, the artistic director of the Plan-B Theater Company, created A Peculiar People, a docu-drama about being gay and/or HIV Positive in Utah society, which played at the Rose Wagner Theater.  Rapier borrowed the forms used in The Laramie Project, with actors reading or acting out real-life testimonials. Claudia Harris in the Salt Lake Tribune wrote “(the play) is never strident or maudlin . . . Rapier manages to create a moving but disturbing account ofUtah attitudes.”

Two pieces of religious-themed dramatic music debuted in UtahCountyin 2003: Robert Millet’s oratorio Passage of Glory, which told the story of Joseph Smith and the restoration, and Meredith Ryan Taylor’s Book of Mormon-themed opera Abinidai.

Finally, two well-known figures in the world of LDS drama passed away in 2003, Ruth Hale and Gordon Jump. Ruth Hale, who was 94, and her husband Nathan, who died in 1994, founded the Glendale Centre Theatre in Southern California in the 1950s, and then in 1985 the Hale Center Theater in South Salt Lake City, which has since grown into one of the largest cultural institutions in Utah. The Hales wrote over 80 plays, most of them light, family-friendly comedies.  Gordon Jump, who was 71, first became interested in the LDS Church while acting at the Hale’s Glendale Center Theatre as a young man. Jump is well-known from his many television roles, most famously in WKRP in Cincinnati. Jump also co-wrote at least one piece of LDS drama, the 1973 musical Open the Door, with Michael Wuergler.

Film

Mormon cinema continued to grow in volume in 2003, although not in quality. Six feature films created by Mormons with a Mormon audience in mind opened in Utah theaters, up from four in 2002. The best-reviewed of the group was Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-day Comedy, written and directed by Andrew Black. The film won an AML Award for Film Adaptation, and received a 67% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Black, who is from Scotland, also created the short film The Snell Show, which received a 2002 AML Honorable Mention.

The R. M. was created by the same Halestorm team that made The Singles Ward, Kurt Hale, John E. Moyer, and Dave Hunter.   The Legend of Johnny Lingo was directed by Steven Rameriz, and produced by the team that created The Other Side of Heaven. Both The R. M. and the The Legend of Johnny Lingo did well at the box office, making over a million dollars. Both received mediocre reviews (in the 53-58% range at Rotten Tomatoes), largely because of the amateurish production and lackluster stories.

Then there were the bad films. The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1, created by Gary Rogers, received very poor reviews (48% at Rotten Tomatoes). The Work and the Story, a mocumentary of Mormon cinema by Nathan Smith Jones, was painfully lame (48% at RT), and the missionary legal drama Day of Defense, created by Adam Lawson and Andrew Lenz, was the worst of all (20% at RT). It made both Worst 10 Films of 2003 lists of both the Salt Lake Tribune’s Sean Means and the Daily Herald’s Eric Snider.

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5 Responses to 2003 Mormon Literature Year in Review

  1. Th. says:

    .

    Ah, the good old days!

  2. Wm says:

    Back when we thought LDS Cinema was going to be A Thing.

  3. Th. says:

    .

    It’s not too late. At some point, we’ll be surprised by a terrific movie out of nowhere.

    Right?

    Right?

  4. Mahonri Stewart says:

    And before Neil LaBute was disfellowshipped… sigh.

  5. AMAZING! Always worth printing off and keeping in a file! Thanks for your expert gaze, Andrew!

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