Tag Archives: BYU

Mormon literary criticism’s chicken and egg problem

12.18.14 | | 6 comments

After Scott Hales post here at AMV responding to Michael Austin’s survey of the current state of Mormon literary criticism at the Mormon Studies Review, the two scholars engaged in a back and forth Q&A at the Maxwell Institute’s blog, which mainly functioned as a way for Austin to respond to Hales’ critique of the focus of Austin’s survey. What his responses show is that his primary concern, and why he is focused on peer-reviewed publications, is that for him traditional scholarship is the best measure of Mormonism’s influence on the broader field as well as a signpost of Mormon cultural impact on/penetration in the broader culture and that too much of the current Mormon cultural production (literature and literary criticism) is inwardly focused.

Hales pushes back a little on that emphasis, specifically pointing out the lack of institutional support (especially from BYU) for Mormon literary criticism.

Austin responds with: “This is sort of a chicken-and-egg problem. I have long felt (and I said this in my 1995 article too) that institutional support will follow more peer-reviewed publications”.

I think he is absolutely correct in the case of Mormon literary criticism.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The gains made in the study of non-canonical literatures — Hispanic, Jewish, Greek, LGBT, women’s writing, etc. — at academic institutions came out of direct activism and focus on the community and specific academic resources investment (often hard fought to get) in those fields. Works became canonical and publishing opportunities opened up specifically as a result of that inward focus.

To give an example, and one that he’s probably uncomfortable with, but the pivot that Gideon Burton made towards Mormon literature studies that was unsupported (actively discouraged) by BYU and led to him having to pivot back away from is similar to pivots that were sometimes (but, admittedly, not always) supported in the 1970s/80s, as English professors whose Ph.D. may have been in Renaissance literature or early Modernism began to develop an interest in minority literatures. I don’t have a full accounting of that at my finger tips. And I know that it led to tensions and wars among faculty and between faculty and administration, etc. But it also led to a certain measure of institutional support and then when that proved successful to specific hiring for positions as well as fundraising to support the lecture series, publications, endowed chairs, joint appointments, conference travel, curriculum development, etc. that generate the kind of activity that leads to peer-reviewed essays and book deals with top university presses, etc.

Right now much of the work being done in Mormon literature studies is amateur. It’s very difficult to generate non-amateur scholarly work without some form of support.

I understand that BYU et. al. are loathe to support what is viewed as a fledgling field without much currency in the academic market. But I think if they took a hard look at how cultural studies fields have been legitimized over the past four decades, they’d find that just sitting around waiting for the national figures to appear before they through some weight behind them (and BYU sure is happy to do so when that happens) is a sure way to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride.

Now, I recognize that times have changed in academic and that some of the gains that minority literatures/cultural studies made have since been clawed back, but in that messy process, some gains were permanently made and the larger conversation was changed and most importantly a larger body of work was created as a result.

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

8.29.14 | | 2 comments

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:

more

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

1.15.14 | | 13 comments

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.

more

Is the Demand for Mormon Literature Classes Increasing?

1.2.14 | | 14 comments

I’ve been following Margaret Young’s plans to teach the “Literature of the Latter-day Saints” class at BYU this coming semester, and I was pleased to see that she has posted her reading list for the course on her blog, and plans to post “parts of the class” on her blog also. I even suggested to my BYU student daughter that she take the class.

Nope. That won’t work. In addition to the students who have grabbed one of the 30 seats for the class, there is a waiting list of 63 (as of this morning).

more

Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: The MIA “Dramatic Clubs”

12.23.12 | | one comment

HoraceGWhitneyI’ve written before about the once great status of Mormon theatre, and the infrastructure it once enjoyed. So I was pleased to find comments about the beginning of this infrastructure from Horace G. Whitney, longtime Deseret News editor-in-chief and the paper’s drama critic. In my opinion infrastructure, broadly conceived, accounts for much of what has happened in Mormon drama over the past century. Whitney, in the article below, describes a vision of how drama could operate under the MIA and ward amusement committees (which were roughly the equivalent of the recently disbanded ward activities committees, I assume).

more

The BYU MFA: An interview with Stephen B Tuttle of the new creative-writing program (part two)

8.9.10 | | 27 comments

Stephen B Tuttle is a participant professor in BYU’s new MFA for creative writing. The first half of this interview posted August 5.

Do you worry about the MFA bubble that was written about in I think it was The New Yorker last year. This idea that MFAs exist to train MFA instructors and soon we’ll have more MFAs than we need?

I’m not concerned about that at all. That’s a concern that’s been around a while, and it makes sense if you think about us as a vocational school where we’re training writers who now need to get jobs as writers. One thing that is true about BYU—and I think it’s probably more true about BYU than many programs, certainly thnt the big prestige programs, certainly more than Texas-Austin or anywhere else—is that a great many of our writers aren’t planning on careers in writing. They’re good writers and they want to keep writing but for a lot of reasons that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the job market. I don’t think our writers are by and large thinking about going on to jobs in teaching.

I think a lot of them are hoping to go on to publication. That market may be oversaturated as well, but it’s oversaturated in a different way and has been for a longer time than the teaching market. more

The BYU MFA: An interview with Stephen B Tuttle of the new creative-writing program

8.5.10 | | 9 comments

Stephen B Tuttle is a writer of fiction whose short stories Amanuensis and The Weather Here I am happy to recommend. After finishing his MFA and PhD in creative writing at Utah, he became what he is still: a professor at BYU. He currently represents BYU’s new creative-writing MFA on the graduate committee and has been one of the architects of that new MFA. I spoke with him in mid-May, shortly after the close of the program’s first full year.

So maybe the first question I’ld like to ask is, what is the difference between the M.A. in creative writing and the M.F.A. and why did B.Y.U. decide to upgrade? more

An excerpt from The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers

12.14.09 | | 2 comments

Last week Mormon Artists Group announced the availability of a fine edition version of BYU Assistant Professor of Music Jeremy Grimshaw’s The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers, an account of his trip to the island to study gamelan music and subsequent efforts to start a gamelan orchestra in Utah. I’m pleased to bring you the following excerpt from the book. Tomorrow I’ll post a Q&A with Jeremy.

The fine edition version is limited to 25 copies and costs $125. You can purchase it (and read more about it) at http://mormonartistsgroup.com/ (for some reason the website doesn’t do direct links to its pages — so click on “Works” when the page loads and then The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers). Other editions of this title may become available in the future. Mormon Artists Group fine editions almost always sell out so if this does interest you and is within  your means, act quickly.

From the section on unpacking the gamelan instruments when they arrive in Provo.

***********

When the instruments arrived, I couldn’t help but notice that the unpacking party was a kind of music of its own: a polyphonic chorus of hammering, the groan of boards being forced out of square, nails squealing at the pull of crowbars. The twenty-one crates, some of them as big as refrigerators and all of them sturdy enough to protect their heavy, precious cargo on the nine thousand mile, three month- long journey from Bali, Indonesia, to Provo, Utah, put up quite a fight before giving up their contents. more