Announcement: The Dawning of a Brighter Day

In 1982, Eugene England surveyed the history and current landscape of Mormon literary production in a seminal article published in BYU Studies entitled “The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature after 150 Years.” There England celebrated the flowering of Mormon “faithful realism”; the publication of Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert’s anthology of Mormon literature A Believing People; the creation of a course on Mormon literature at Brigham Young University; and the foundation of the Association for Mormon Letters in 1976. He saw these as signs that Mormon culture was not only producing but beginning to recognize a unique literary heritage.

Nevertheless, England saw with clear vision that much of work remained to be done. He acknowledged that no scholarly bibliography of Mormon literature had been produced. He also recognized that a unique Mormon literature not only required writers but criticism, and he lamented that little had been done.

Twenty seven years later, we have much to celebrate: Print-on-demand technology and the blogosphere have allowed Mormon literature to develop in ways England could never imagine. Mormon literature is being taught and Mormon literature courses are being introduced to college campuses, public and private, across the nation as Mormon Studies becomes a recognized academic discipline. And the Association for Mormon Letters continues to champion Mormon literature and criticism with its yearly meeting, awards, and literary journal Irreantum.

Indeed, many of the deficits sorely felt by England in 1982 are today beginning to be met: the Mormon literature database has become a first-rate bibliography of Mormon literature, criticism, and film. Works of literature and criticism are being published not only by Mormon studies publications like BYU Studies, Dialogue, and AML’s own Irreantum, but by blogs, especially A Motley Vision and Segullah. England would have been thrilled to see the 2007 publication of Terryl Givens’ People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Oxford University Press. And he would have been an enthusiastic supporter of the wonderful flowering of Mormon cinema and the seminal publication of an issue of BYU Studies that recounted the lost history of Mormon cinema.

As we look forward to the bright future the twenty-first century promises for Mormon literature, we at AML also want to look back. Specifically we want to recreate some of the early conversations that led to the creation of AML and revisit some of the features that made AML a community for those interested in Mormon literature. One of the features of AML that first attracted my attention was the regular electronically published columns on a variety of literary topics. Two of those columns ultimately led to books: a look at the humor of Mormon culture by Ed Snow’s Of Curious Workmanship: Musings on Things Mormon and a literary analysis of the Book of Mormon by Richard Dilworth Rust’s Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon.

In a world where blogs are ubiquitous and our attention is constantly divided by many good things, we know launching another blog may seem redundant. However, I trust you will find here at the official AML blog a conversation that will stimulate great discussion and, hopefully, inspire great Mormon literature and criticism (perhaps even a few books!). To commemorate the bright future we see for Mormon literature and simultaneously remind us of our roots, we have titled this new blog after Eugene England’s 1982 essay.

England’s essay suggests that for Mormon authors to create great literature, they will have a “special respect for language and form” while at the same time draw upon the theological and historical realities of our unique Mormon heritage. England stresses that the themes available to the Mormon artist do not come from our trivial peculiarities, but rather from our unique theology and history. As England states, “I don’t mean irrigation and polygamy and Lamanite warriors but rather a certain epic consciousness and mythic identification with ancient peoples and processes: the theme of exile and return, of the fruitful journey into the wilderness; the pilgrim traveling the dark and misty way to the tree of salvation; the lonely quest for selfhood that leads to conversion and then to the paradox of community; the desert as crucible in which to make saints, not gold; the sacramental life that persists in spiritual experience and guileless charity despite physical and cultural deprivation; the fortunate fall from innocence and comfort into a lone and dreary world where opposition and tragic struggle can produce virtue and salvation.” These themes, argues England, would “nurture” the artist’s imagination “with the most challenging and liberating set of metaphysical possibilities and paradoxes.” Great Mormon literature can only come from Mormon artists who know their Mormon literary heritage, know the forms of their genre, and simultaneously take their craft and their faith seriously.

England cautioned against the Scylla of “didactic, apologetic, or sentimental writing” (“pious trash” as Flannery O’Connor called much of Catholic literature), even as he warned against the Charybdis of “sexual explicitness or sophomoric skepticism as faddish, but phony, symbols of intellectual and moral sophistication and freedom.” The Association of Mormon Letters has consistently attempted to promote these two ideals. While we have, at times, drifted too far to one side or the other, we are firmly committed to this radical middle. This is why I am happy to associate with this organization and am equally excited about our launching this new blog. I hope you will all find yourselves at home here as we attempt, in the words of Eugene England, to “bring to full flower a culture commensurate with our great religious and historical roots.”

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18 Responses to Announcement: The Dawning of a Brighter Day

  1. A fit opening for the new blog. Gene England was one of the forefathers of Mormon literature and Mormon studies. He knew how to look past the superficial to the consequential and to challenge his own people to be their best. I look forward to the revitalization of the Association for Mormon Letters through this new interactive publication.

  2. Katherine Morris says:

    Boyd, thanks for this post! I’m excited for the new blog because, even though I’ve taken a couple of Mormon studies classes, my education in Mormon arts and culture is sadly lacking. I have a feeling the posts I read here will fill in many of those gaps.

  3. I remember the excitement of a campus symposium on Mormon letters in about 1979 or 1980, and cherish my copy of [i]A Believing People[/i]. Don’t know how much I can add to your reconstruction of those days, but I’m here to have you stir my memories. The blog format is a great way to go.

  4. BHodges says:

    I’m looking forward to more from this new blog. Thanks, Boyd.

  5. Angela H. says:

    I have high hopes for this blog. Thanks to all who have worked so hard to get it up and running. And great opening post, Boyd. There’s a lot to look forward to in the world of Mormon letters.

  6. Melissa Y. says:

    "…we are firmly committed to this radical middle."

    I love that.

    Looking forward to the blog!

  7. patricia k. says:

    Excellent!

    And best of luck maintaining that "radical middle" committment. It’s a rhetorical WWF out here (and I don’t mean World Wildlife Fund).

  8. Wm Morris says:

    I look forward to more voices helping in the effort to define, defend, refine, explore, encourage, evaluate and celebrate the radical middle of Mormon narrative art. I especially like the look back to the early days of the AML List. One of the great pleasures and educational experiences of my Mormon letters life was reading through the archives of the AML List about 2 years or so after it began. The more column-style posts were excellent.

  9. Molly Bennion says:

    What an excellent beginning. And I’m so encouraged to see you key to this very worthy project. Best of luck, Boyd and AML!

  10. FoxyJ says:

    I am also excited for a new blog from AML; I love having more literary discussion on the internet! Looking forward to more posts as good as this one.

  11. jendoop says:

    I echo all of the comments, I need a better education in Mormon studies and hope that this site will be a sort of mini class. Looking forward to future posts!

  12. My congratulations on this marvelous endeavor, which looks poised to recapture much of what was best about AML-List in its heyday. I’ve posted an essay on my blog (http://www.langfordwriter.com/blog) promoting this new blog and describing at greater length what AML-List meant for me and what I hope this can be for other people.

  13. I’m excited by the approach to time your post suggests will be a part of this blog: most discussions I’ve heard about Mormon art focus primarily on the future; others almost exclusively on the past. A few even focus on the present, but without the depth of understanding a stronger relationship to past and future would give.

    I hope this blog realizes the commission you’ve given that it look in all three directions, enriching our sense of culture by giving relative newcomers like me a sense of where we’ve been, sparking meaningful discussion about where we might be heading, and staying firmly rooted in an engaged view of where we are now.

  14. Ed Snow says:

    It’s looking good! I’m jealous that Gideon and Angela know how to work the Gravatar.

  15. Th. says:

    .

    Ah, the radical middle. This is the most fun landrush I’ve ever known.

  16. Darlene says:

    All of you who are as excited as I am about this blog, please support us by posting lots of comments and spreading the word in your own writing communities. Also, if any of you has extra time and some internet expertise (by this I mean some knowledge about samplers and aggregators(?) and all those other technological things I know nothing about) and would like to volunteer, please let me know at youngbookshelf@gmail.com .

  17. When I was young I was a voracious reader. I remember reading a popular science Fiction author picturing a Mormon Temple on the Moon when at that time there were just over a million members. And a popular mystery writer having his main character read from the Book of Mormon as he buried his friend at sea. even in today’s world a popular sci-fi movie depicted a Mormon colony in space. When I was 20 in 1964 I became a Latter Day Saint and learned much about the church as well as later serving as A Bishop and Stake High Councilor.
    I often asked myself the question, what would the world be like if the Beaming Technology in trhe movies was invented today? How would it affect society and bring the world together? in 1995, I used my early reading, my church and work experience and created a sci-fi world where it is invented today. I wrote a 5 book series called the Everywhere Book Series where the main characters are LDS and act so the average reader gets a positive view of the church from church members. I have attracted a fan base of people from all walks of life, both members and non-members. They love the characters and beg me for the next book,yet the Church publishing world refuses to acknowledge them.
    My reviewers include several church and community leaders as well as others.
    I am constantly asked the question, do I believe beaming is possible and I always answer, well the scriptures speak of Christ appearing in a closed room, so isn’t that a form of beaming, whether we understand it or not?
    Respectfully submitted, robjoseph@email.com

  18. Wm Morris says:

    This post (with some nudging by Eric Jepson last summer that was gnawing at the back of my mind) inspired me to take a closer look at this whole radical middle thing: http://www.motleyvision.org/2010/radical-middle-mormon-art-origins/

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