The Mother and Writing: an interview with Angela Hallstrom and Darlene Young

Since the Spring of 2004 Segullah, a literary journal for LDS women, has been inspiring creativity and candid conversations in LDS circles. Kathryn Lynard Soper, the founder and heart and soul of Segullah, has successfully guided the journal through its beginning years and made it a major influence in the world of Mormon letters. She has found a number of talented writers to contribute–two of whom, Darlene Young and Angela Hallstrom, agreed to tell us more about Segullah’s new book, The Mother in Me, and about Segullah in general.

Darlene, tell me about the new book from Segullah. What was the inspiration for The Mother in Me? How does this book differ from other anthologies aimed at mothers?

DY: Young motherhood is hard–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining like no other work can be. Priesthood leaders see our struggle and, with all good intention, try to help us by telling us stories about their own angel mothers and wives. “See?” they seem to be saying, “What you do does not go unnoticed! We honor you for it.” But, sometimes, the real effect that their stories have on us is to make us even more unhappy, because there is nothing like motherhood for revealing one’s weaknesses to oneself.

Even older women, trying to be helpful, can make things worse. All those years that have passed since the time when they were young mothers have served to blur the details a little. With obvious nostalgia they put their arms around us at church, “Hang in there,” they say, “those years pass so quickly!” Yes, the years pass quickly, but the hours between four and six p.m. take eons.

What would be really helpful to a young mother is to hear that she is not alone–that all the other young mothers are struggling with the same things. A young mother wants ideas of how to apply the atonement to her life, so that she can get up each day and jump into the fray again with hope and faith that even in all her weaknesses she is still making a difference.

The Mother in Me is a collection of personal essays and poetry written by young mothers who are still in the thick of things. These are very real, painfully-detailed stories fresh from real life. This is truth-telling: honest, cathartic, and inspiring in ways that books that overlook the pain involved in motherhood can never be.

Another thing that differentiates this book is that it contains poetry. Now you know and I know that poetry doesn’t sell, especially in the LDS market. (I went into Deseret Book a few months ago and asked for the poetry section. They sent me to “inspirational,” where I found NOT ONE book of poetry–not even Carol Lynn Pearson. It was a sad day for me. What is the POINT of writing LDS poetry????) So I think it’s pretty amazing that we have managed to get some LDS-themed poetry in front of people. And we have received many good responses about the poetry. People who don’t think they like poetry are responding positively to the poems in this book.

Angela, you’ve been a contributor at Blog Segullah for almost a year now. How has Segullah affected your writing?

AH: It’s not an overstatement to say that my involvement with Segullah and the people who run it is a literal blessing. The women at Segullah–the staff as well as those who read and participate on the blog–represent a community I longed for in the years before the Internet made such a gathering possible.  These are intelligent, insightful, interesting women, and when I write for and/or about Mormons, this is the audience I imagine reading my work. It’s heartening to know that such an audience exists, and that it can be reached.

On Segullah‘s blog, I’ve enjoyed opining about writing and literature (although my one blog post about politics has received, by far, the most attention!).  I’ve participated in some rousing online discussions about topics that are important to me as a Mormon woman.  I’ve also been personally inspired by many of the essays and poems published by Segullah, both in their print magazine and in their fantastic new book, The Mother in Me.  And I can say it’s fantastic with great objectivity, because unfortunately (for me) I joined Segullah after this book was already in production, so I’m not one of its authors.

Any new projects coming up at Segullah?

AH: Segullah is currently working on a follow-up volume to The Mother in Me that focuses on school-aged and teenaged children. There’s another book in the works that Segullah‘s staff is helping to compile, but it hasn’t been announced yet.  It’s a very exciting project, though, and should be announced soon. And, of course, there’s always the print magazine and the blog to keep the staff busy.

Darlene, What can you tell me about the community at Segullah? What effect has it had on your writing?

DY: The women in the general Segullah community, by which I mean the women who subscribe, or who read and/or comment at the blog, are the kind of women I like to hang with: intelligent, engaged in constant conversation with themselves and others about how to apply the gospel in their lives, determined to find a path of faith through struggles–a thoughtful, growing faith that is unafraid to look at hard things straight on.

Kathryn Lynard Soper, editor of Segullah and founder of the blog community, has a gift for collecting interesting, honest and gospel-loving women. She asks the ones who are really passionate about the community and the journal to join the staff, and because of their passion they are committed and hard-working. I’m amazed at the amount of work that gets done, well and cheerfully and even on time–which is a rarity among LDS publishing, let me tell you. And it happens because the women love the mission of Segullah, and are dedicated.

As for my writing, I can’t over-emphasize how valuable it is that when I sit down to write a poem about life as an LDS woman, I know exactly where it could possibly be published in order to reach an appreciative audience.

The two of you are both involved in the AML and Segullah. What do you get out of each affiliation that’s unique?

DY: I am passionate about LDS literature, about making sure that we tell our own stories to each other and not just write for “the world,” and about making sure that we tell these stories well and truthfully. I am drawn to AML because of my interest in improving artistic standards in the LDS community through criticism and encouragement (which is why I like AMV, by the way). I am drawn to Segullah because when I read it or participate in its community I feel like I am in Relief Society–only Relief Society the way it was meant to be: a discussion that brings relief because of its honesty, thoughtfulness and faithfulness. I love AML (at least, the old AML and my vision of what it yet can be) for its potential influence on Mormon art.

AH: Through the AML, I’ve made connections with critics and fiction writers and academics and publishers, connections that, in many ways, have made my career as a writer and editor and now teacher of creative writing possible.  I feel a real loyalty to the AML because of this.

The reason I work on Irreantum is because I feel it fulfills the AML’s mission to cultivate and promote the very best in LDS creative writing and criticism.  We need a place where fiction writers and poets and memoirists and critics can come together, both to discuss literary ideas and to stoke the flames of personal creativity.  The AML can help Mormons create good art; and once that art is made, the AML can foster intelligent conversation about what’s been created.  I think, at its best, this is what the AML is supposed to do.

Segullah, on the other hand, doesn’t really focus on literary criticism, and it’s more committed to the personal essay and poetry than it is to fiction.  My own experience with Segullah has been one of community building and conversation.  The conversations aren’t always literary (though they can be at times), but I often come away from them intellectually invigorated and inspired.

Both of you have returned to the Wasatch Front after living away from Utah for several years. How has that affected your creative work?

DY: My time in Berkeley formed me in many ways, not the least of which is that I met some wonderful, thoughtful people there (including William Morris) who have seemed to resurface in my life in interesting and happy ways.

The new perspectives on the gospel that I encountered in that intellectually invigorating environment matured me, and enabled me to see things about my culture more broadly, and things about my testimony more appropriately. But also, being away from my home community forced me to go on-line more than I would have, which is where I discovered AML-List. The List has had the biggest influence on my decision to begin thinking of myself as a writer, and the people I met through it continue to influence me daily.

AH: I’ve said before that my nearly eight years in Minnesota made me the writer I am today. When I decided to write a book about Mormons, for Mormons, it was very helpful for me to be somewhat disconnected from cultural Mormonism.  It gave me the freedom to write the truth as I saw it without feeling as if I had to answer those critics who say a Mormon book is “supposed” to be something.  My friends and classmates and teachers in Minnesota had no idea what a Mormon book was supposed to be, so I was able hear more clearly the voices in my own head.  Since I was just starting out as a writer and not very confident, that freedom was invaluable.

What’s on the horizon for both of you and your writing? What are you working on these days?

DY: Well, I’ve got a couple of poems coming out in Irreantum and then, of course, there are the poems in this book. Having poetry in a real book is pretty exciting for me. I wrote a rather lousy novel last fall during NaNoWriMo. However, it really is a lousy book, so I’m finally free of it. I’ve got a bunch of poetry drafts that need refining; I hope to get some of those finished up in the next few months. My writing has been on hold this fall because I agreed to be poetry editor for Segullah this year. (If you know any promising female poets, please send them our way.) Now that the baby is in kindergarten and I hear an MFA program truly is in the works for BYU, I’ve been doing more soul-searching about returning to school. One big holdup is that I’m not sure whether I’d want to focus on poetry or fiction.

AH: Right now, I’m in finishing up editing a gigantic double issue of Irreantum.  It should be out the door in November and I think (in all humility) it’s going to be really good.  I hope people enjoy it.

I also just started teaching creative writing for BYU–good old English 218R.  Teaching creative writing is my dream job, and I still feel incredibly lucky that I get the chance to do it.

In the midst of all this (and my blogging and essay writing for Segullah) I’m trying to work on my new novel.  “Trying” being the operative word.  I’m in the beginning stages and feel like I’m stuck in the mud.  But I have to trust the process and remember that I won’t always be stuck in the mud.  Right?  At least that’s what I’ve been telling my students, so I should try to take my own advice and stop wallowing!

The inimitable Kathryn Lynard Soper will be holding a book signing for The Mother in Me this Saturday. For info go here. Back issues of Segullah are available online here. For more from Angela Hallstrom check out her website: www.angelahallstrom.com. And for more from Darlene Young check out her blog: http://www.apersonnamedeunice.blogspot.com.

5 thoughts on “The Mother and Writing: an interview with Angela Hallstrom and Darlene Young”

  1. Thanks, Laura. This is great.

    As for my writing, I can’t over-emphasize how valuable it is that when I sit down to write a poem about life as an LDS woman, I know exactly where it could possibly be published in order to reach an appreciative audience.

    I want to over-over-emphasize the importance of this point. Being able to write with the possibility of publication and even more writing with an audience in mind is a very good thing for a writer to have. And I would say that it’s even more important for Mormon writers.

    Yes, I do hope for works of genius that will be recognized for what they are and published by national publishers to great acclaim. Segullah is a vibrant literary circle AND a community-oriented project in a very classic Mormon sense. Writing for an abstract audience is fine. But a lot of the best fiction and poetry is written for an audience of peers.

  2. I loved this–thanks for posting it! It’s great to have a perspective on how Segullah is viewed by the literary community. And we feel very, very blessed to have Darlene Young and Angela Hallstrom.

    I echo your comments, William Morris, about how important it is to write knowing there’s a possible audience for your work. I remember a conversation I had with a writing teacher in a BYU class. I had just written an essay that got a near-perfect score, and I wanted to know what to do with it. Where could I publish it?

    She didn’t have any answers for me. But if I were having the same conversation today, she’d tell me to send it to Segullah.

  3. This was the easiest interview I have ever done–not that I’ve done a ton, but, really, these women were so articulate! The thing I love about Darlene and Angela, and about Segullah in general, is how passionate everybody there is. You can tell that they believe in the importance of what they are doing. Passion is an essential element for good writing (along with an audience and publication opportunities) and Segullah does a great job of engendering it.

  4. Thank you, Laura. And thank you, AMV, for hosting this interview. The staff of Segullah is indeed rich with talent as well as passion, and Darlene and Angela are two of our stars.

    William, you’ve been very generous in your praise for Segullah. Can we make you our mascot or something? Do you know how to do handsprings?

    Seriously–thank you.

Comments are closed.