When I was in my teens, Mormon literature was going through an adolescent phase, with clichéd romances asking such earth-shattering questions as “Will they get married in the temple or not?”
Amidst the feel-good-because-I’m Mormon literature were some genuine breakthroughs, however: Don Marshall’s The Rummage Sale and Douglas Thayer’s Under the Cottonwoods. But we still had miles to go. And we have come a remarkable distance in the forty years since then. Thayer’s recent novel The Apple Tree completes a story (“The Clinic”) found in Under the Cottonwoods; Levi Petersen has left an indelible mark, and young LDS authors are proving themselves in the national market. (Many have stories in the forthcoming fiction anthology Dispensation.) I am pleased with our direction, and I foresee even greater things on the horizon.
But now I have a new goal: Mormon art (meaning literary/cinematic art for the purposes of AML) which enlarges our borders to reflect Latter-day Saints’ experiences all over the world.
I take the challenge from Jacob Chirwa, a remarkable man in Zambia, named the country’s best actor in 1999. When I asked him about African Mormon art, he said this:
Currently I have as yet to see any form of artistic manifestation in the church around us. I have always felt that there hasn’t been enough encouragement for the local artist to showcase their talent. I have noted with concern some performances that some sections of the church have put up when they have activities but the bottom line has been that there has not been a desire to take the work seriously. One reason for this is the belief inculcated in the people that the only approved art manifestations are the ones coming from Utah. And so we sit to watch videos of stories of conversions as our missionaries do their work. This is well and good but I feel that watching a local missionary at work in any outside place would impact positively on our youth. I work in situations that expose me to a lot of challenges vis a vis the perception of the church in the eyes of the outside community, but all they see is me with no back up information in both print and electronic media. At times we are told that broadcasting anything about the church that is locally would be wrong so obviously that creates a set back in developmental efforts. I maintain that without electronic visibility we have mountains to climb in terms of growth. Though there may be literature by LDS I have as yet to read any in Zambia.
Granted, there are some displays of international art hosted by the Church Museum or shown at the Conference Center periodically, and we certainly have stories about American missionaries serving in far off places. But it’s not enough for me. I want to see Zambians telling their own stories, Mexicans telling theirs, etc. I want to read the poetry of a new convert in the Netherlands, and to see a film by some gifted Mormon in Denmark.
My purpose in this blog is not just to say that it’s time to expand our borders, but to request help in doing so. If you know LDS writers, artists, filmmakers or playwrights from other countries, tell us about them. All the world’s a stage. It’s time for a global casting call.