Writing the Past:
Intersections of Literature and History in Mormon Letters
Utah Valley University
April 22, 2017
Mormons have long made recording and preserving their history a priority. On the day Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ in 1830, he revealed that “there shall be a record kept” in the new church. Almost a year later, John Whitmer became the first person tasked with “writ[ing] and keep[ing] a regular history” of the Mormon people. Since then, Mormons have sought to preserve not only their institutional history, but their cultural and personal histories as well.
Mormon creative writers have likewise sought to engage the Mormon past. Among the earliest works of Mormon fiction, poetry, and drama were texts that retold and memorialized the epic story of the Mormon pioneers and their efforts to establish a foothold in the Intermountain West. In subsequent years, Mormon writers have continued to show interest in their history, producing texts that explore the history of the Latter-day Saint experience across the globe.
These works, while grounded in the events of the past, often offer insight into the present as well, creating multi-layered texts that give insight not only into Mormon understandings of history and memory, but also into the historical moment of the text itself.
For the 2017 Association for Mormon Letters Conference, we invite proposals for papers, panels, and readings that explore the intersections of literature and history in Mormon letters. We will also consider proposals on other subjects that fall within the boundaries of Mormon Letters.
Send proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 February 2017. Proposals should be no more than 300 words and include the title of the presentation as well as audio-visual needs.
I’m delighted to announce the table of contents for the forthcoming Peculiar Pages alternate Mormon history anthology States of Deseret:
The Guns of Perdition by D. J. Butler
Latter-Day Confederacy of Nations by Lori Taylor
Richard Meets the Missionaries by Anneke Garcia
Not Even the Names Have Been Changed by Marion Jensen
Another Meadow by Eric A. Eliason
The Father by Inari Porkka
The Electric Apostle by David J. West
Subject to Kings by Lee Allred
It’s a fascinating, fun set of stories that range in time period from not too long after the death of Joseph Smith all the way to the modern day. More importantly, our authors tackles the idea of alternate Mormon history in very different ways, both in terms of concept and storytelling.
More news to come, including a release date, as we work through the stages of production. Most likely it’ll come out in the first quarter of 2017. May 2017 at the latest. I can’t wait for you all to read these stories.
On a personal note: I went into the task of editing this anthology with selfish reasons — I wanted the community of authors who are interested in Mormon fiction to pick up this genre and play with it in a way that’d be interesting to me because it’s something I’ve been thinking about (and even tried writing myself) over the past couple of years. So thanks again to all those who submitted and especially our contributors. It’s always nice to get what you want.
Title: A Roof Overhead and Other Plays
Author: Mahonri Stewart
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 390
The summer after my junior year in high school, or maybe the year after, I saw an audition notice for a BYU graduate student production, The Persecution and Crucifiction of Jesus: Four Plays from the Wakefield Mystery Cycle.
Our director, Rodger, explained how mystery plays were performed by medieval guilds, so we would be playing both medieval guildsmen and the characters they were playing. And since the plays were travelling shows, Rodger built a pageant wagon for the set and planned to perform at the University Mall.
He decided later that the sacred character of the plays didn’t lend itself to audiences wandering in and out as they would at a mall, so we set up the pageant wagon and the audience seating on the Pardoe Theater stage, close enough to see the audience jump when the Roman soldiers were pounding the nails into Jesus’s hands. (There was a washer in his palm that the end of the wooden nail fit into, so there was no damage, but what the audience could imagine.)
Then they raised up the cross and dropped it into a hole at the back of the pageant wagon. (Audience gasps.) My character was the one who took Jesus down, draping a long cloth around his waist and up over the arms of the cross to hold him in place so the others could undo the ropes holding his arms and legs to the cross. Then we would lower him down into the arms of Mary and the burial party. Of course, Rodger cautioned us to be very careful not to drop him, as the actor would have no way to break his fall, but would surely break his legs.
Continue reading “Sundry Moldy Solecisms # 3 Mahonri Stewart, A Roof Overhead”
I had the pleasure of reading Sheldon Lawrence’s book Hearts of the Fathers a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Lawrence is a professor at BYU-Idaho, and when I requested to review an advance copy, he had it delivered to my husband, who also works at BYU-Idaho. When my husband picked it up and read a page on his way to delivering it to me, he stated that it read like “a book written by a BYU professor.” This worried me. He didn’t mean it in a bad way, but I’ve had some bad experiences with fiction written by BYU professors.
Then I began to read it, and to my pleasure, I was immediately drawn in. Continue reading “On Sheldon Lawrence’s Hearts of the Fathers and Categories of Relgious Fiction (with a most inappropriate comparison)”
David Parkin gave me a copy of The Devil Is Due in Dreary after my Comic-Con presentation. He’s a friend of a friend and we all ate dinner together, discussing the nature of being a Mormon and an artist and/or a Mormon artist. Also, I’m sad to share, I heard some unpleasant stories about bias against Mormons in Tinseltown. So there’s that.
Anyway, The Devil Is Due in Dreary shares some surface traits with Pariah Missouri—terrifyingly authoritarian religious orders in a Western setting tinged with the supernatural. But Dreary is either modern or near-modern and thus Dreary the town isn’t merely frontier (as is Pariah), but isolated—a pocket of the past trapped in the modern world. Continue reading “Reading The Devil Is Due in Dreary as a Mormon text”
As this post appears, you have less than one day to get into the Pariah Missouri Kickstarter, so open that in a new tab now, so’s you don’t forget.
You may recall that I’ve mentioned this comic before, but that was before I’d read it. Now I have and I’m ready to talk about its Mormon elements.
The first thing to know is that all I can discuss at present of the story’s first two volumes as the third and presumably final volume is the Kickstarter’s raison d’être. Therefore I will not be attempting any sort of Meaning of the Work as a Whole or analyzing its Mormon elements with that sort of goal in mind. Rather, my interest today is comparing the Mormon aspects of the two books available now. After all—that’s what the author challenged me to do!
(The author, Andres Salazar, sent me review copies gratis.) Continue reading “Mormon Easter Eggs and
Mormon Veins of Gold
in Pariah Missouri“
Part I: Whoops.
Somehow I failed to post this earlier this week. I hope you weren’t coming anyway.
Nathan Florence has directed a new documentary, Art & Belief, about a handful of artists including Trevor Southey and Dennis Smith, who believed not only that Mormonism and fine art were compatible, but that together they could change the world.
The Bay Area Mormon Studies Council is hosting Florence as he shares and discusses a twenty-minute excerpt this Sunday.
Here’s an interview with Florence for more information on the movement and his project, and here’s Terryl Givens on the movement. Visit the website if you would like to receive updates such as additional upcoming events or the film’s rollout.
Part II: A couple takeaways.
For some reason I hadn’t bothered to google him prior, but Nathan Florence is a painter, and a pretty good one at that (based on the jpgs).
I hope to do more on this film as time goes on, but for now, here are two nice quotations from the extant 20 minutes:
“Illustration answers questions. Art asks questions.”
– – – Dennis Smith (I think it was Dennis Smith)
“Vulnerability equals intimacy.”
– – – Trevor Southey (this one I know is correctly attributed)
Part III: What to do with $100,000.
They have a distributor and big names like Sterling Van Wagenen and Lesley Chilcott are on-board, but they need money to finish it. AMV readers are famed for their deep pockets and generous natures so, you know, get yourself an executive-producer credit.