Note: James Goldberg asked me to post this information. It’s a very interesting agenda and a low-cost proposition in comparison to other, similar retreats. I highly recommend applying if you can make the travel costs and schedule work. –Wm
Mormon Writers’ Retreat/Master Class Agenda and Application Instructions
The Everdyday Mormon Writer Retreat/Master Class will take place at a cabin near Heber, Utah, on June 27-29. There is no charge for tuition and there is space for all participants to sleep in the cabin: the only costs will be travel to Salt Lake City or Utah Valley (we’ll carpool from there) and food (either purchasing your own or contributing to a group fund if you’d like to share meals).
The agenda will be as follows:
Carpools leave SLC and Utah Valley–travel to Heber and get settled
Discussion Session: Audience Baselines
What are the current obstacles between various extant audiences and Mormon Lit? We’ll discuss concerns/stereotypes readers have about Mormon Lit. We’ll talk about what else potential Mormon Lit readers are currently reading and what it gives them. And then we’ll talk about what roles Mormon literature might productively play for readers.
Class Session: The Parable of the Irritated Oyster
Most writing rises out of an underlying desire to reach people in some way. But often, writing instruction ignores the initial layers of processing between the itch to communicate and the concept for a work, focusing on the later stages from concept to publication.
In this session, we’ll generate some sample itches and then brainstorm ways a writer could develop a concept from each itch, trying to name costs and benefits of choices along the way. more
At the beginning of 2012 when I decided to both increase my writing rate and focus on science fiction and fantasy, I wondered if I would continue to write Mormon fiction. I ended up writing quite a bit more than I thought I would — mainly because of the two Everyday Mormon Writer contests. But even so, the porportion of non-overt Mormon fiction to overt Mormon fiction that I produced last year was the most un-balanced ever (while at the same time my total word count was the highest ever). When 2013 arrived, I figured that I would cut back on the Mo-lit even more. But then a) I got an excellent idea for a story and b) I decided that I would tithe my creative energies and go ahead and write it.
We’ve discussed this idea in bits and pieces here and there over the years. I’d like to raise it again. I’m particularly interested in hearing from anyone who feels compelled to devote a certain amount of time to projects that speak directly to a Mormon audience.
I realize all the arguments against it: those in other professions aren’t required to tithe their labor, why should we? It’s hard enough to scrape by as an artist and Mormon work doesn’t sell. What if you just aren’t interested in Mormon-themed art?
I also don’t think it needs to be a 10% thing. For artists, especially writers, who make their living from their art, devoting 10% of what they produce in a year to Mormon-themed works that likely wouldn’t sell (or sell for much) seems crazy. Maybe it’s 1 in every 20 works or 100. Or 1 or 2% of a yearly word count. Or whatever.
Nor, in my opinion, does it need to be a tithe in the sense that we give it to the Church for free. If you can make money off it, awesome.
What if you already write Mormon fiction (or nonfiction) or create Mormon visual art? Then maybe your “tithe” should be for a different Mormon audience than you currently write for. Or in a different genre. Or in a more experimental mode. Or in a more devotional mode.
The bottom line for me is that I ‘d like to see more LDS who have artistic talent intentionally addressing Mormon themes/creating overtly Mormon work and see this as possibly a framework to encourage that engagement.
Note: this is post three of an ongoing series on the Mormon literaturstreit.
Part I: opening salvo
Part II: the response
A year after Bruce Jorgensen responded to Richard Cracroft’s criticism of the poetry collection Harvest in an Association for Mormon Letters (AML) presidential address, Cracroft responded to the response in his AML presidential address. In my previous post, I asked: “Can Cracroft come up with a better definition/critical approach for Mormon literature?”
Not exactly. But he is forced to explain in more details what he means, which furthers the conversation. He begins by pulling out a key line from Jorgensen’s address–”Essentialism is the problem”–and saying, essentially, “Nuh-uh! We’re the problem”. He writes:
In my review of Harvest, I assert that which is apparent to any right-thinking, red-blooded, and sanctified Latter-day Saint who reads the poems sequentially, attentively, and–big gulp here–spiritually and essentially, that a surprisingly large number of the poems written by Mormon poets and included in the “New Direction” section of Harvest selected by Dennis Clark are skillfully executed poems grounded in the “earth-bound humanism” (Cracroft 1990, 122) of our contemporary secular society, but reflecting little or no essential Mormonism. It seems to me, as I state in my review, that such poems, mislabeled Mormon, lack, ignore, repress, or replace the Mormon “essence” so essential to distinguishing a work of Mormon letters from a work that is merely Western or American or Protestant or Jewish.
These two sentences summarize the entire approach of the address/essay, which puts the responsibility for deciding what is Mormon in the hands of the (some? certain?) Mormon people and then shows how literary critics don’t really count as the Mormon people because they (we) are tainted by secular humanism. That’s a blunt way of putting it, but Cracroft lays it all out rather bluntly and, in some sections, cleverly. Note, for example, how he uses the language of social justice in his appeal to essentialism. The poems aren’t just not Mormon–they “lack, ignore, repress, or replace the Mormon “‘essence’”. But also note how the reasoning is ultimately circular: works of literature are Mormon because they have a Mormon essence, which is the same as saying that they are Mormon because they are Mormon. more
I am very pleased to announce that Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins are joining A Motley Vision. Both are longtime commenters at (and friends of) AMV and have also been interview subjects.
Luisa is the author of Dispirited, a work of contemporary dark fantasy which was published last year by Zarahemla Books.
Sarah’s historical LDS novel Lightning Tree was published last year by Cedar Fort.
Both have had other works published in a variety of venues and have things to say about the world of Mormon literature and culture. Please join me in welcoming them to the team.
Note: this post contains spoilers for Matched, but not for the other two books in Ally Condie’s trilogy.
In my first reaction to Ally Condie’s Matched, the first book in the Matched trilogy, I noted that the worldbuilding she creates for cultural products in the Society plays on our current worries about media/information overload and obsession with listmaking and also reflects her experience as a Mormon who grew up in the era of correlated materials in the LDS Church. I want to discuss how this actually plays out in the novel and what it says about the teenage experience.
In Chapter 3 we learn about The 100. Cassia, the main character, explains that the Society had committees who picked out the best 100 songs, paintings, stories and poems. The did this because “culture was too cluttered” and no one can “appreciate anything fully when overwhelmed with too much” (29). Having 100 works of art across four major forms still leaves a lot of works to study in a school setting. But what does it mean for leisure time? more
Zarahemla Books owner and Irreantum founder Chris Bigelow has until this Saturday at 8 pm MDT to reach the Kickstarter goal for his memoir Mormon Punk: From LSD to LDS. Here’s his description of it:
As a sixth-generation Mormon and the oldest of ten siblings, I was ordained to the priesthood at age twelve. By then, however, I was utterly bored with the LDS religion—my true inner religion had become Dungeons & Dragons and the rock group Rush. As soon as I left home at age seventeen, I escaped into Salt Lake City’s mid-1980s underground punk and New Wave scene, my generation’s version of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Rather than finding a workable new life, however, I ended up—possibly as a result of taking hallucinogenic drugs—encountering the devil in a harrowing midnight ordeal. My encounter was not unlike the demonic experiences of some early Mormons, including Joseph Smith and my own ancestor, the polygamous apostle Heber C. Kimball. Wanting to protect myself against such malevolent forces, I did a 180 and dove back into the religion of my youth.
$15 gets you an ebook version; $25 the trade paperback. Because of Zarahemla Books, we know Chris can deliver on getting the thing produced — he just needs some incentive to get the thing written and revised, especially now that his work circumstances have changed and he is a freelancer. I haven’t read this part of his story (if you click through there are sample chapters), but I have read some of what he is written about his mission experience, and in my opinion memoir is Chris’s most natural mode of writing. Click through and if you’re intrigued by what you read and want more, back the project.
While searching the archives of The Ensign, I ran across something I had never read before: a two part series by Richard Cracroft on Mormon literature published back in 1981.
Here are the links: Part 1 | Part 2
And here’s an excerpt from part 2:
In fact, the future of LDS fiction will probably be closely linked with Home Literature, for the LDS writer and the LDS reader share an abiding faith and hope in eternal principle, in the possibility of billions of happy endings. Thus we will have more faith-promoting fiction. And we probably will have still more fiction dealing with LDS history and with characters in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. But, above all, we will have more fiction about Latter-day Saints endowed with real, human problems, problems which can be overcome as well as problems which can defeat and destroy. The effect of the gospel in the lives of such characters afford great fictional possibilities.
But the message of Mormon fiction, while inevitably moral, as is most fiction, need not be painfully blatant. Many of the sweetest messages of life are subtle, and the important messages of truth which LDS fiction will be charged to carry can be aimed at readers schooled in reading well-crafted fiction, at readers who rejoice in the elevating message as subtly suggested through skillful character development, dialogue, setting, symbolism, metaphor, and language. Well-written literature challenges the reader to read to understand—not simply to dismiss—to prove the message, dark or light, and to ponder the implications of his or her new insights. Good fiction thus calls for good readers.
At the heart of such literature will lie the examination, in fiction, of the quest for faith, of the tension inherent in being in the world yet not of the world. It is not a new dilemma, of course. But, daily, the dilemma is renewed in the lives of all faithful men and women, and thus the old tensions continue to provide a springboard to significant new moral fiction. As a creative religion, the restored gospel will teach writers—and readers—to find new and fresh and inspiring yet technically sophisticated ways to create a fiction which will measure up to the great dilemmas of human experience and to the grand message of the Restoration.
Good fiction calls for good readers. Mormon fiction…need not be painfully blatant. The dilemma is daily renewed.
On Feb. 18, 1912, Franz Kafka introduced a Yiddish poetry reading at Toynbee Hall. In typical Kafka fashion he put his finger on the fear of and attraction to Yiddish that the assimilated Jews in the audience had (or he presumed they had). In analyzing that speech, Louis Begley writes in The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head:
The rub was there [in the fear of Yiddish and by extension the fear of themselves]. Kafka knew that the assimilated Jews sitting in Toynbee Hall feared close contact with their grandparents’ language, and most likely deep down he feared it as well. Of course neither Kafka nor the other Jews he was addressing were afraid of being identified as Jews: they weren’t trying to pass as Christians, if only because it would have been impossible to do so in Prague, where everyone in the German-speaking minority knew everyone else. Rather, the fear was of a crack in the veneer of assimilation through which might enter the miasma of the shtetl or the medieval ghetto that had been left behind, the heritage that these Jews had recently and completely cast aside. For Kafka, Yiddish and the shtetl held out the attraction of the close-kint spiritual community that he imagined flourished there and, I believe, a special terror: that of further linguistic alienation. (65-66)
Kafka’s situation — and that of other assimilated Jews — is very different from that of Mormon Americans. I am not making any strong case for parallels of any sort here. However, I do want to note the phrasing “a crack in the veneer of assimilation through which might enter the miasma… the heritage… that had been recently … cast aside”.
And clearly assimilated Mormon American artists do not fear a further linguist alienation. Prague’s Jews were alienated from the majority because they spoke German instead of Czech so that to twist that alienation further via Yiddish was truly a further linguist alienation.
And yet Mormons do have sets of demarcations that show up in dress, vocabulary, socio-cultural attitudes and daily life. Some of the art produced by Mormons does show a certain crack in the veneer. Much of it, especially the lost generation stuff, is cracks in the veneer of Mormon life. Now that we are post-assimilation, I find myself interested in the cracks in the veneer of assimilation, and (I would hope) have no fear, but rather a deep interest in what comes seeping through those cracks. Bring on the Mormon miasma!