To tell you the truth, I’ve been putting off writing you back because I’m feeling a little strange and bashful about the whole thing. Here’s the basic story if you’re not already aware: I am a newer assistant professor at BYU – Hawaii (somehow my bio on the BYUH website says I’m an associate professor, which is a mistake). Awhile back Margaret Young contacted us about hosting the next AML conference here in Laie. We agreed to look into it, and I ended up being put out in front of the project for several reasons: 1) I’m the new guy, 2) I’m a Mormon, a writer, and teach the creative writing classes here, and 3) we in the department had talked about hosting some kind of an LDS writers workshop/conference in the same vein as some that were done years ago when Chris Crowe was teaching here, and this seemed like a good opportunity to make that happen. As an outsider to the organization, I can’t speculate on exactly why I was named president-elect of AML (it still makes me chuckle to say it out loud), but I’m operating on the assumption that it is just because I’m the on-site point person for the (possible, hopeful) conference in Hawaii and this is a way to make sure I do that job and integrate myself into the AML community (more on that later).
Here are the reasons for me to feel surprised and rather awkward about it:
- While aware of the AML and some of its members, I myself have never been a member of AML. I did attend the conference one year as an undergraduate at BYU Provo in . . . 2000?
- Actually, that’s pretty much the main reason. I feel like Louis XVII, (who became “king” of France when he was eight, never reigned over anything, and died in prison three years later), the emperor without clothes, Ben Affleck when he was cast as Batman, etc. For you and others, I can imagine it’s a little bit like, “Wait . . . who?” And then, “Why?”
- I am not a scholar of Mormon letters, or a big name, or even a small name, in Mormon literature. In fact, I don’t think I have published anything, or ever really written anything that is distinctly “Mormon.” I’ve thought about it, but haven’t mined that part of my personal and professional experience yet. I’m a big Brady Udall fan, if that counts for anything. And I want to get into some more Stephen Peck. And I did study with Darrell Spencer at Ohio University.
But wait! Here are the reasons for me to feel delighted and excited about it:
- I’m excited about hosting (hopefully!) the AML conference in Hawaii.
- I have respect and admiration for many people associated with AML, people who I’ve been taught and influenced by (like Bruce Jorgensen and John Bennion in Provo), people who have given me a hand up (Tyler Chadwick, when he included me in _Fire in the Pasture_), and people I have admired from afar (like (Th)eric Jepson, not that I wouldn’t admire him up close).
- This is a chance to get involved in a new community with people I respect and admire. And learn a lot of stuff from folks smarter than I.
- Hey, someone wants me to be president of something!
I hope this doesn’t come off as me taking lightly something that many people have labored to build and nurture over many years. I feel like, in my situation, I have to have a sense of humor here. And the bottom line is: while I care about the AML and its mission and history, I don’t care about being the president. I know it’s essentially a name for a job with more responsibilities than powers and privileges (although it might get me another course reassignment here, which would be super nice). If it sticks I will do my best to fulfill the position. I know, only from some things Margaret has said, and from creeping a little bit on Twitter, that the organization may be going through a lean time. I don’t know exactly what all will happen this next year. But I would like to get to know you and others in the AML, pursue new lines of reading and inquiry, and help put on a successful conference out here in the middle of the ocean if we can make it work.
I am wide open to any advice, counsels, questions, warnings, or offers you may have for me. And I appreciate you making me feel welcome here.
Joe Plicka completed a double B.A. in English and Latin American Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah (2002), where he also received a M.A. in English (2006). He earned his doctorate in English Language and Literature at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (2011) and continued to teach literature and creative writing there for another a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor. His dissertation was a collection of short fiction (Stories for the Mongrel Heart) and an essay analyzing the inner workings of storytelling and arguing for the unique and powerful place that fictional discourse holds in any culture.
While at Ohio University, Joe also spent two years as the editor of Quarter After Eight, a national literary journal, and as an organizer of Ohio University’s long-running Spring Literary Festival. He has taught introductory literature and composition classes, beginning and advanced creative writing workshops, and courses on the form and theory of fiction. He has published short stories, poems, and is at work on a couple of novels. In his other lives, he worked as a journalist, P.E. teacher, care provider at a group home, maintenance man in the dorms at UC Davis, brick cutter, pipe painter, and paperboy.
Joe married Emily Austin in 2001. Emily also teaches in the BYU Hawaii English Department as a Special Instructor. They have two children.