This post brings to an end my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters.
This series began by me thinking through the issues related to replacing a small, now defunct Mormon-themed literary journal (Irreantum). Looking at all the challenges (and choices) involved, it’s easy to see why very few are willing to take them on. But if there’s a reason to do it, then it’s for this — the readership. That’s true of any publication, but I think it’s especially true for the Mormon readership. In my experience, although the readership may be small, the actual readers are delighted to find something on the page that they can relate to. It’s important, rewarding work, and if a replacement could come about that expanded the readership that Irreantum had developed, that would be a great gift to the Mormon people.
And yet, I don’t want to downplay the concerns. Mormon publications have a mixed track record. There are no unqualified successes and the trail has been hard sledding the past few years for outlets that focus on fiction (Dialogue and Sunstone seem to be doing okay, but neither focuses primarily on creative work). Literature has long been in last place in terms of attention from the Mormon Studies crowd. And what readership there is seems to me to be fragmented along several axes in relation to content appropriateness; genre-literary; types of narrative art (fiction, essay, poetry, film, theater); socio-cultural experiences (Mormon corridor – diaspora); cultural aspirations (deseret school – missionary school); etc.
Beyond that — and this is something that continues to puzzle me — there doesn’t seem to be a hunger for Mormon culture among the broader body of saints. Or if there is, it’s not one that many are willing to go out of their way to satisfy. You’d think that, especially with all the misrepresentations of Mormons in American culture (the trope recycling), this wouldn’t be the case. And perhaps it’s more that the populist juice in narrative art rests with film and gaming. But whatever the case, the evidences of pent up demand for Mormon fiction are lacking.
Compounding the problem is that there’s a lack of a steady, direct pipeline of readers. BYU’s Mormon fiction classes were the lifeblood that fed the Association for Mormon Letters for many years. Those still exist, but the mechanisms to draw in those who participate in those classes are weaker than ever, especially since so is BYU’s support of Mormon-themed fiction. Perhaps there is no readership and Irreantum ran out of steam at the right time.
But even if the readership is small, it’s lovely and deserves more than it currently receives. And if a cultural mania for reading Mormon fiction were to start, it sure would be nice to have an active body of work for new converts to dive into.
I don’t know yet how I want to respond to the death of Irreantum. But even though my plan two years ago had been to severely curtail my involvement in Mormon letters, I find myself unable to fully let go.
I have no definite plans although I’m full of ideas (that’s always been the problem). But this is me publicly saying that if someone out there is fomenting something, I want in on the conversation, and I may be able to help out. And if no one is doing anything, well, I’ll let you know what I figure out. It probably won’t be a replacement for Irreantum. But it’ll be something. Something for the readers.