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.
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.
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.”