Three Poems by Mormon Women to Joseph F. Smith, 1855-1857

Joseph F. SmithMy recent study on the correspondence of Ina Coolbrith and Joseph F. Smith introduced me to three poems Mormon women wrote to the future prophet while he was on his first mission to the Sandwich Islands (1854-1858). While each poem shares some common themes and sentiments, their quality, style, and content vary in interesting and revealing ways.

The poems come from members of Joseph F. Smith’s family. Eliza R. Snow, Smith’s aunt through her plural marriage to Joseph Smith, wrote the earliest of the poem:

Lines address’d to Elder

Joseph Smith, Missionary to the Sandwich Islands

By Eliza R. Snow.

Joseph, the Lord has blest you
To be in early youth,
A herald of salvation—
A messenger of Truth.

And yet, the load is heavy
For youthful nerves to bear,
Amid the hosts of trials
The sons of Zion share.

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Needing an Editor: a Review of Alfred Osmond’s Married Sweethearts

Alfred OsmondI think someone should read this old stuff and find out if it is any good.

There is a kind of “lost” Mormon literature, hundreds of works published before the 1970s that today even most of us who study our literature have never heard of, let alone read. Married Sweethearts (1928) clearly falls in this category. I’d heard of Osmond’s epic poem The Exiles (1926) and knew that he was a professor of English at BYU when I came across a note by Sam Taylor that mentioned Osmond’s novel (which I excerpted here). In that excerpt, Taylor had a poor opinion of Osmond’s work:

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The First Course in Mormon Literature?

Howard R. DriggsAs I understand it, university-level Mormon literature courses have been taught since the late 1970s, mainly at BYU thanks to the efforts of Eugene England. In recent years the number of courses have increased, and currently exist at least at BYU, LDS Business College and Utah Valley University.

And there have been courses with Mormon literature components taught elsewhere as well.

But the university level isn’t the only place where Mormon literature courses could be taught, and as I’ve already noted, the idea of using Mormon writing to teach children, at least, occurred to Parley P. Pratt quite early. Now, I’ve come across another course, this one aimed at Relief Society sisters in 1948. And this course was apparently taught—at least in some Relief Societies. Still better, its author was a recently retired English professor who had taught for 19 years at New York University.

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A Review of L.T. Downing’s Get That Gold

Get That Gold is a tale of the LDS Restoration, aimed at middle-grade readers (and for families to read together, according to the author.)

I started this story with some trepidation. I always feel that way about books written by writers in this LDS community. I once read something that Angela Hallstrom wrote about how, as a writer of LDS fiction, she didn’t feel she could be a reviewer of LDS fiction. The two were becoming less compatible for her.

I have determined to be both a writer and a reviewer because I feel that I have a kind of duty, if that makes sense. I love LDS fiction. I actually read it, and I read it growing up. Therefore, I am a legitimate part of the audience, and as a writer, I can provide good feedback and some relevant insights about books I read, mingled with real constructive criticism as someone who works hard at the craft myself.

The problem is, this means sometimes I’ll be reviewing the story  of someone who has reviewed mine. There can be a feeling, in this small community of “tit for tat,” etc, whether people mean that or not. So I’m just going to state up front, right now:  all of you people in this community who are reading my stories? And writing reviews of them? I expect your honesty, and I can handle it. If you did not like something about my story, say so. So that I can improve. If you found dialog disingenuous or forced. If you disliked a character. If you felt my plot fell apart, or my pacing was off. (Mark Penny pointed this out about Lightning Tree, and gave me only three stars because of it. See? I really can handle it.)

Not to say I don’t believe my stories are awesome. I think they are. And those of you who have appreciated and reviewed them, thank you for taking the time to write a review! It really helps motivate us as writers to get feedback not just from our audience but from our peers who are among that audience.

OK. Disclaimers aside. I’m going to say the stuff I’m dreading up front, like ripping off a bandaid.

I enjoyed both Island of the Stone Boy and Get That Gold, but I felt both could have benefited from another round of editing. Not sentence structure or grammar; I think Downing is flawless there. More for story flow, descriptions and dialog. Particularly when description and dialog mixed, I felt jarred a lot. There were some tag echoes, a bit too much description of character movement/action in the middle of dialog, and some of the character descriptions and actions were hard to picture in my head.

OK. I got that out of the way. Moving on:

Get That Gold is eminently worth your time. I loved this story, and I know my kids will love it, and I fully plan on reading it to them as a bedtime story for the next several nights. I was deeply touched by this story. I loved the depiction of Joseph, especially. I was moved to tears at times. I loved the depiction of Emma. I loved Joseph’s family. I can tell that Downing put a great deal of time and effort into her research, and as a reader I trust that. I really enjoyed being transported into the setting and time period of the restoration. Above all, I felt the excitement, the deep and spiritual profundity, of Joseph and his retrieval of the Gold Plates.

There is a slapstick feel about Downing’s fiction at times. Her humor runs to the bad-guys-being-silly-and-getting-hurt sort of thing. While I am not the biggest fan of slapstick, I know this will make my kids laugh a whole lot as I read it to them. As an adult, I probably need to loosen up and enjoy it more, too.

I know that this story has been waiting for a while to be published; that one of the big 3 LDS publishers finally turned it down several years ago because they felt the fiction made light of the sacredness of the Joseph Smith story. I felt the opposite. I felt, after reading this, excited to re-read Joseph Smith History in my scriptures, and the testimony of the witnesses. I felt excited to read the Book of Mormon. I think that this story is a jewel, to be honest. As I read it to my children, I expect it will engage them in the story of the Restoration, and help them to be interested in Joseph Smith as person. I find this to be a vital part of my own testimony and am grateful someone has taken the time to write a story that will help young people see the excitement, the danger, the fun and funny in such an important story.

Alfred Osmond and Mormon Literary Society at BYU in the 1930s

Samuel W. TaylorOne element often overlooked in literary history is the society at a given point in time and the relationships among participants in literature and the arts. Too often we reduce literary history to lists of books and descriptions of literary works, while giving short shrift to the relationships that may have influenced significant literature and the personalities of those who wrote literary works.

The other day when I read the following excerpt, I initially wanted to simply research the names listed, looking at what they wrote and making sure that their work hasn’t been forgotten. But I soon realized that I was also fascinated by the personalities of those mentioned and their relationships.

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_Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama_ is Now Available

SaintsOnStage-Cover.inddSaints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama is now available at Zarahemla Books’ website, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

After a half decade of delays, obstacles, research, and revising, I am so pleased that this behemoth is now ready to release onto an unsuspecting world! The plays it includes (from such Mormon Letters luminaries as Eric Samuelsen, Margaret Blair Young, Melissa Leilani Larson, Thomas F. Rogers, Susan E. Howe, James Arrington, Scott Bronson, Tim Slover, Robert Elliott, and Thom Duncan) have effected my life in profound ways and I hope other people will feel the same. They make up some of the finest accomplishments in the history of Mormon Drama. The volume is huge… nearly 700 pages. It has 11 plays, playwright biographies, and a 30+ page introduction on the history of Mormon drama. We’ve tried to be thorough, we’ve tried to give you something meaningful. I hope you’ll see why this is a project I thought was worth working and waiting for.

_Saints On Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama_ is Off to the Printers!

It’s taken the better half of a decade, but Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama is off to the printers. This is the description of the book on Zarahemla Books’s website:

SaintsOnStage-Cover.inddSaints on Stage is the most comprehensive and important work on Mormon drama ever published. This volume anthologizes some of Mormonism’s best plays from the last several decades, many of them published here for the first time. Several of these plays have won honors from institutions as varied as the Kennedy Center and the Association for Mormon Letters.

This volume includes historical backgrounds and playwright biographies, as well as an introduction that provides an extensive overview of Mormon drama. The following plays are included:

Fires of the Mind – Robert Elliott

Huebener – Thomas F. Rogers

Burdens of Earth – Susan Elizabeth Howe

J. Golden – James Arrington

Matters of the Heart – Thom Duncan

Gadianton – Eric Samuelsen

Hancock County – Tim Slover

Stones – J. Scott Bronson

Farewell to Eden – Mahonri Stewart

Martyrs’ Crossing – Melissa Leilani Larson

I Am Jane – Margaret Blair Young