In memoriam: Laraine Wilkins

Laraine Wilkins died yesterday at 2 a.m. She had been in an induced coma at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center since Aug. 26 where she was taken after a terrible auto accident involving a jack-knifed semi.

I know my AMV colleagues join me in expressing our condolences to Laraine’s family and friends. Her life ended much to soon and though we didn’t know her well, we knew her well enough to understand what a fantastic, interesting, loving, vibrant person she was. I will leave it to others who knew her better to provide more fitting tributes, but let me explain as best as I can why this is such a loss for the world of Mormon letters.

At the time of her death, Wilkins had been serving as editor of Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association of Mormon Letters (AML). During her two-year tenure, she took what had been more of a literary magazine and turned Irreantum a literary journal with a stronger emphasis on criticism and poetry. She also introduced a “from the archives” feature (reprints of classic Mormon texts) and a “reader’s write” section. Under her directions issues on folklore, spiritual autobiography, poetry and, most recently, film were published. Each came with an insightful, scholarly introductory essay written by Wilkins.

Prior to becoming editor, Wilkins contributed a poem and a review to Irreantum. For more, see Wilkins’ Mormon Literature Database entry. Her poetry has also been published in Weber Studies.

In addition to her work with Irreantum, Wilkins helped organize sessions at the annual AML conference as well as a session on Leslie Norris at the recent Sunstone Symposium. I also know from e-mail conversations that she and I had that she was also very interested in expanding the AML’s fundraising and communications and marketing efforts. In fact, I believe that was about to take on a larger role in these key areas — something that, in my opinion, the AML really needs.

Wilkins was a frequent participant in discussions on the AML’s e-mail list where she articulated an inclusive, diverse, unabashedly literary view of Mormon letters. To quote from a recent e-mail:

“‘I’m interested in seeing more dialogue happen — *dialogue* in order to have some groundwork for Mormon culture to enjoy more respect, or at least better understanding, from the outside community. Such dialogue requires both insiders and outsiders. I’d like to see AML do more of this. I think literature has great — perhaps even better — potential than history (though history is where most work is being done) or sociology to achieve this. Literature, although an expression of cultural identity in many respects, ultimately addresses individual experience”¦”

In the most recent edition of Irreantum, Wilkins writes about the importance of film in Mormon culture and expresses her hope to see “discussions around Mormon film open up in new directions.” She writes: “Whether we view ourselves on the sacred silver screen of the temple endowment ceremony or in the profane halls of Slamdance, we as Mormons can always profit by finding new mirrors and new ways to see.”

Mormon letters has lost an important voice. Someone who was comfortable writing about and discussing both the sacred and the profane in Mormon culture. We are grateful for the time and talents she shared with us in this life and mourn with all those who mourn Laraine’s passing.

Addendum:

Lariane Wilkins’ daughter Lena Schoemaker was also involved in the accident and suffered severe spinal injuries. The Association for Mormon Letters has announced that “a fund has been set up for Lena Schoemaker under Schoemaker Family Trust at Washington Mutual for those who would like to do something to help.”

13 thoughts on “In memoriam: Laraine Wilkins”

  1. I am so sad to hear that Laraine is no longer with us. I just first met her this past Sunstone symposium at the AML table. I appreciated her voice on the aml-list and the honesty she brought to Mormon letters.

    My heart and prayers go out to her family. She will be sorely missed.

  2. I corresponded with Laraine a bit by email last year, and I was shocked and saddened to hear of her death on the AML-list. My best wishes to her friends and family, and I add mine to our common grief.

  3. When she took the helm of Irreantum, Laraine wrote a “From the Editor” essay in the journal. In it, she said, “A Mormon literature in the twenty-first century can be nothing but multiple. As church membership grows, it becomes increasingly diverse, and its associated stories equally wide ranging. While the bulk of Momon literature seems to emerge from the Intermountain West, I anticipate a flowering of new creative work that can tell the stories of Mormonism. The environmental factors that encourage the creation of great and lasting art are difficult to pin down. If the writing of literature, as Virinia Woolf suggest, requires a “room of one’s own”–execised in private space and time away from community concerns–then some church members, even those who under other circusltances would aspire to write, may not have the necessary physical or psychic space available to them. On the other hand, the stability offered by increasing numbers of established Mormon communities offers opportunities for aspiring writers to consider their experience against the fabric of an established tradition. These kinds of communities are growing in areas outside the Mormon corridor of the West, the result of a sort of diasporic wave that began with Mormons who, a few decades ago, studied or worked outside the epicenter of Mormonism. Their influence is now seen third- and four-generation members whose experience is unquestionably Mormon but not Utahn.”

    And from the same essay (referencing Irreantum’s name and meaning): “The many waters which Lehi’s people traversed were the medium through which they exercised faith, not knowing what they might find once they reach the other shore. This journey filled many of them with fear: many of them would rather have turned back. But unlike their sojourn in the wilderness, during which theoretically at least, the people could have returned to their homes, crossing the many waters allowed no such return.

    The great literary works of the world have always told this kind of story. If they do not entail characters who themselves pursue a journey from which there is no return, then they enable a pattern whereby readers engage in a process by which they can be equally changed.”

    Vital words, vigorous words–the kind of language that makes possible that which it envisions. I didn’t know Laraine till she took responsibility for Irreantum but always found her words in her Irreantum essays and AML presentations brimming with this kind of adventure and hope. I am grateful for how steadyhanded she seemed in her AML presentations, especially since the AML itself sometimes plows on with an unsteady keel. I wish I had been able to get to know her better.

    Yes, our thoughts are with her family, friends, and other close associates who may be reeling from her loss.

  4. I just received an email with the news of Laraine and Lena’s accident. “The unpretension stuns” said Dickinson in a eulogy for her father. My condolences to all of her friends, family members, and colleagues.

    Cynthia_Hallen@byu.edu

  5. I drop by her house and move
    the cans back in their place
    her car in the drive
    the porch light on
    sun burning late afternoon

    the tomatoes I gave her this spring
    planted late
    still green on the vine
    too soon for harvest
    O Laraine, why have you gone!

    C.C. Davis

  6. I worked with Laraine for many years at Dynix. She and I had a wonderful understanding and a true friendship– that is how Laraine was. I cant tell you how awful I feel about this tragic loss, the world just wont be the same without her.

  7. I also worked with Laraine at Dynix, and she always impressed me as a brilliant, thoughtful and inclusive woman. I enjoyed her company and our conversations very much, and my heart goes out to Lena and her family.

  8. The memorial service for Laraine which was held today in Salt Lake City revealed a person who lived life deliberately and passionately. It was a privilege to know her. Her former husband read one of Laraine’s poems at a small gathering after the service, and it is a shame that it is sometimes only after someone is gone that we see the strength and power of their art. Happily, there are efforts underway to gather her poetry into a chapbook. I updated her biography on the Mormon Literature Database today, and if anyone would like to read some of her poetry, follow the link at the top of her page. Thanks for the lovely tribute, which will surely be followed by others’.

  9. Having worked with Laraine on Irreantum for the last couple of years, I can say that she was incredibly intelligent, extremely kind, and thoughtful in every sense of the word. I still can’t believe that she’s gone. Her influence and example will be sorely missed.

  10. In August, Laraine joined a group of singers preparing a 9-11 memorial performance of Mozart’s Requiem. We spend only a few weeks preparing for this program and rehearsals are quite intense so we unfortunately don’t get to know each other very well. Nonetheless, we feel the loss and have dedicated the program to Laraine.

    Harry Heightman
    director, 9-11 Memorial Chorus and Orchestra

  11. I knew Laraine when she was living in the Boston area, just after she left Harvard. We shared a Labor Day weekend vacation with friends in Kinnebunkport, Maine. I just found out last night about the accident and I still can’t believe it. Laraine was a brilliant, creative, authentic person with immense talent. I will always remember her fondly. Peace be with you, Laraine.

  12. Thanks you all for your thoughts. I decided to clear out my Gmail drafts folder just now.

    I found a draft of an e-mail to Laraine.

    I didn’t have anything but a professional, e-mail-based relationship with Laraine. But even at that removed level, her enthusiasm, clarity and warmth shone.

    There will always be at least one draft in my e-mail folder.

  13. Someone, please e-mail me with the address for the trust concerning her daughter; as well as her daughter’s current condition. I met Laraine our freshman year at BYU in the fall of 1983. She was in my family home evening group. I saw as she was captured by the imagination of the Honors Colloquium and begin her career in literary criticism and her foray in the depth of Mormon Culture. There is more to say. None of it helpful.
    MDW

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