in verse #40 : owed to Keats

Have you ever wanted to correct a classic of literature? One that makes an egregious error, but that can be easily corrected? Like, say, this:

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like Balboa when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Where is the error? Well, as most of you well know, Continue reading

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Heather B. Moore’s Ruby’s Secret

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I’ve long wanted to read Moore’s Book of Mormon-themed fiction, but she’s written them faster than I could get around to reading them, which I find paralyzing (I’m a terrible consumer of series). Which is a great thing about reading for the Whitneys because it gets me to consume books before the zeitgeist sweeps past. This year I only had time to read one category and perhaps I should have chosen Historical rather than General because Moore is nominated for tackling perhaps my favorite story in scripture—Esther. And I would have preferred my first read of her work to be what she is most revered for.

Which isn’t to say her contemporary work doesn’t have an audience (I understand it’s rather large, in fact) just that I hear less praise for it.

Ruby’s Secret is part of the Newport Ladies Book Club series written in alternating volumes with three other writers, each starring a different member of the book club (the final volume will feature all the characters and be cowritten by the entire stable).

Let’s start our discussion of Ruby’s Secret with the intertextuality that comes from the series’s characters orbiting a sequence of books. The books they read in these pages are The HelpThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe War of Art, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which make for a nice variety of reading for the ladies. The success of these various volumes in tying into the events of Ruby’s Secret varies (The Help and Henrietta Lacks seem to have very little life outside the book-club meetings while The War of Art becomes practically a spiritual guide for our protagonist), but I appreciated the effort to add layers to what is, overall, rather simple storytelling. Continue reading

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Moving Culture

At this year’s Association for Mormon Letters conference I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on teaching Mormon literature with Margaret Blair Young, Shelah Miner, and Boyd Petersen. Among the items we discussed at length was the challenge of finding an audience for Mormon literature—particularly among actual living, breathing Latter-day Saints. I don’t remember every point we raised during the discussion, but the idea that has remained with me is that we need to do a better job of moving culture.

Currently, Mormon culture—at least in the United States—is not a great incubator for readers of the kind of Mormon literature I usually write about (i.e. “literary” Mormon literature, “realistic” Mormon literature, “serious” Mormon literature, “fringe” Mormon literature, etc.). Generally, a few Mormons will read what Deseret and Cedar Fort publish, but far fewer will pick up something by Zarahemla and Signature Books. We can debate reasons for why this is the case, but I think it probably comes down to the fact that most Mormons a) don’t have access to these books and b) would probably be put off by their realistic (or surrealistic) portrayals of flawed Mormons anyway.

This is where the idea of “moving culture” comes in. For the Mormon literature audience to grow, we need to be able to move culture physically to the potential reader and move the culture (that is, change it) in a way that helps potential readers better contextualize and appreciate what they see on the page.

Obviously, both types of moving will take monumental effort and probably centuries of dedicated service. In the meantime, here are three things I think we can start doing today:

Be Open

Talk about Mormon literature online. Share your experiences with good works of Mormon literature. Link to free works of Mormon literature online. Don’t shy away from endorsing good Mormon literature because you worry that its content might offend your Mormon friends and family. Lend out your Mormon literature and even (gasp!) make some of it available for free online.

Change the Conversation

Too often, the first thing we talk about when we talk about art and media in the church is “questionable” content: bad words, sex scenes, decapitations, etc. Unfortunately, doing so often distracts from the weightier matters of these works—and establishes critical standards that can prove spiritually harmful if applied to fallible Church leaders, incidents in Church history, and people and situations in general. (If it is unfair to judge people by the cockroach rule, why should we judge media by that standard?) I think doing what we can to shift the conversation from content to context will help move culture to a place more open to varieties of Mormon literature. I also think it will make us a more charitable people.

Embrace the Radical Middle

Cultural movers should not expect change overnight. Indeed, if Mormon history has taught us anything, it is that Mormons take change sluggishly and do not wear extremism well. As we talk about and write Mormon literature, let’s eschew the usual extreme approaches and radically shoot for the center, inviting our extremist friends and neighbors to meet us in the middle. Besides, as several people pointed out during the conference, the Church at present seems interested in moving the culture away from past extremisms, yet it continues to move slowly on this interest because of the apparent reluctance of many members to move with it. Perhaps our current cultural moment needs a new Home Literature that works in tandem with those messages from the Church that encourage a more open-minded, thoughtful, and charitable membership.

Thoughts? What else can be done to move culture?

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2013 AML Awards

Glenn Gordon and Margaret Blair Young posted these award citations on the AML Facebook page, I am copying them here.

The Association for Mormon Letters presents an award
In creative non-fiction to

Melissa Dalton-Bradford
For her memoir
Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family

Melissa Dalton-Bradford takes her reader on journeys to humor and heartbreak, across borders of multiple countries, beyond unthinkable edges of grief, and into several languages. The reader is rewarded by a new sense of the world and of humanity, as well as by Dalton-Bradford’s poetic word crafting. Her book is a gift to all who read it. Continue reading

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Introducing Joe Plicka, AML President-Elect

I wrote to Joe asking if he would like to introduce himself on the blog. He kindly sent this letter to be posted. I am excited for the coming year!

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).  Continue reading

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This Month in Mormon Literature, April 2014

The AML Conference was held, awards were presented, and a new president announced. I hope this represents a new start after a difficult period for the AML. This month there are tons of Whitney finalist reviews, and lots of theatre reviews of new Mormon-authored plays.

AML Conference

The AML Conference was held last weekend in Orem. In lieu of any official announcements from the organization, here is what I can figure out what has happened, from tweets from participants Scott Hales (@TheLowTechWorld), Tyler Chadwick (@KingTawhiao) and Kjerste Christensen (@byu_librarian). I hope those involved will fill in the blanks of what I am missing.

Awards:

Lifetime Achievement: Dean Hughes

Smith-Pettit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters: Charlotte England

Novel: Sarah Eden for Longing for Home: A Proper Romance

Theater: Ariel Mitchell for A Second Birth Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 15 Comments

The Business Side of Writing: Taxes

It’s that time of year, though if you’re reading this column for advice, you’d better get hopping. The deadline looms. It often amazes me how scary some people find taxes. Granted, I’m not normal. I started filing my own separate return after I’d finished training as a lawyer, which requires a class in taxation, so I was a little overprepared to do my 1040EZ. Nowadays, I sometimes do my taxes and I sometimes have them done, but it’s *very* important that you know how to do them yourself. Many a time I’ve seen people rave about how great their tax prep professional is because “he just gave us a bunch of worksheets to fill out and then he was done.” If you aren’t laughing now, I hope you will be by the end of this post. So lets start with the basics. Continue reading

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AML Conference 2014 Schedule

Association for Mormon Letters Annual Conference 11 and 12 April, 2014

Venue: Utah Valley University Library

Friday evening: (note this will be held in lecture theater LA101)

6pm Welcome and opening panel: New Mormon Theater (Eric Samuelson, Jerry Argetsinger, Scott Bronson) Moderator: Margaret Young

7pm. Reader’s Theater: “A Second Birth” Ariel Mitchell

Follow-up discussion of the play.

Saturday 12 April:

9.00am. Registration (UVU Library Lecture Theater – ground floor)

9.15. Welcome

9.30. (Track 1)  Joseph and Kay Darowski  (Track 2) Panel Discussion:
The Joseph Smith Papers. What Are they Good For? Teaching Mormon Literature
Christopher C Smith Margaret Young, Scott Hales, Shelah Miner, Boyd Petersen
Adoption of Ecstatic Native American Practices in Early Mormon Ohio Moderator: John Bennion
10.30 (Track 1) ) Lisa Olsen Tait (Track 2) Panel Discussion
Three Forgotten Women Writers of the Home Literature Movement Promoting New Mormon Fiction
Boyd Petersen Stephen Carter, James Goldberg, Shelah Miner
Historical Mormon Interpretations of Eve
11.30am Keynote Address: Lecture Theater Dr Michael Hicks (BYU)
“Inventing ‘Mormon Music’”  
   
12.30 Award Luncheon (box lunch $12.00) Lakeview Room in Library
   
2pm. Lecture Theater Performance of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” composed by Darrell Brown, BYU Idaho With text based on the short story of the same name by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this is song cycle/musical drama for solo tenor voice and accompanied by a consort of piccolo/flute/bass flute, eb clarinet/bb clarinet/eb contralto clarinet, cello, and percussion (marimba, vibraphone, chimes, congas, and bass drum).
 
2.30pm. (Track 1) Scott Hales (Track 2) Tyler Chadwick
New Mormon Fiction “Alex’s Tongue: Making, the Makar, and Mormonism”
 
3.30pm (Track 1) Jerry Argetsinger (Track 2) Harlow Clark
Gay Mormon Fiction Scattered into Jagged Pieces: Troubled Mormon Marriage Memoirs of Phyllis Barber, Carol Lynn Pearson, and Florence Child Brown
 
4.30pm Combined: Lecture Theater James Goldberg: “Why the Church Is Boring But Our Covenants Are Not”
  Stephen Carter: “The History of Book of Mormon Comics”
5.30pm End of the Conference

 

 

 

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How to Write a Bad Book Review

There was one other Mormon girl in my grade at my high school. We were actually really close friends, but the way we publicly approached our membership in the Church was very different. My friend was the type who asked others not to swear in front of her, gave copies of the Book of Mormon to some of our teachers, and complained when we had to read The Grapes of Wrath in our junior-year English class. I think she objected to the general coarseness of the novel, and particularly to the final scene that involves a woman breastfeeding a man. I, on the other hand, kept silent and mostly thought that I didn’t like The Grapes of Wrath as much as I liked East of Eden. Both of us were widely-read, fairly intelligent young women and were both active members of the Church, but our standards for literature differed significantly. Continue reading

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YA Corner: Hearts of the Children…

He dreamed of walking…bare feet becoming pale with the dust of powder-soft dirt. In passing the tall milk barn, its shadow covered him and cooled him. He did not pause but kept moving forward on a path as familiar as his own reflection. Ahead there was a lengthy fence with a gate. He opened the rustic structure by holding and contracting the weathered wood with one hand and simultaneously lifting the loop of wire on the top post. Beyond the now freely swinging gate lay acres of the same dark green plant, two and a half feet tall, covered in smallish rounded leaves and smaller deep purple blossoms — alfalfa.

Urgent steps led him through the field. There was work to be done, but where were his shoes? He rubbed his forehead with a puzzled gesture. He noticed he also had no hat to give protection from the fierce sun. “I am completely unprepared; what is wrong with me?” he thought. He made to turn back for shoes and hat, but instead continued on with an unstoppable forward momentum. As he walked he veered in a direction that eventually took him away from the alfalfa and to the top of a ravine. A faint path wound its way down into dark and hazy brush below. Wild plants and sage barged into the path, brushing roughly against his legs and prickling his feet.

Continue reading

Posted in Funny Stuff, Personal Narratives, YA corner | Tagged , | 3 Comments