John Bennion wins Marilyn Brown Novel Award for “Avenging Saints”

John Bennion has been awarded the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Award for Avenging Saints. The award was announced at an April 21 event sponsored by Utah Valley University’s Department of English & Literature.

Associate Professor Jen Wahlquist, who is now administering the contest, graciously provided me with the text of the award citation (reproduced below).

This is the sixth time the award has been given out. Previous winners include Jack Harrel’s Vernal Promises (published by Signature Books), Mormonville by Jeff Call (published by Cedar Fort), House Dreams by Janean Justham (unpublished?), The Coming of Elijah by Arianne Cope (Parables Publishing), and Rift by Todd Robert Petersen (forthcoming from Zarahemla Books).

The Association for Mormon Letters is still involved in the award to a certain extent

Although the AML was involved in awards process for the first five winners, the funding for the contest now resides with UVU (link is to a PowerPoint), and it is now going to be given out annually (links to PDF file).  For those unfamiliar with the long and varied creative career of Marilyn Brown, here’s a link to her Mormon Literature Database entry. In particular, I would recommend here novel House on the Sound.

More on John Bennion:

Mormon Literature Database entry

BYU faculty profile

AML Reviews of Bennion’s novel Falling Toward Heaven

Award Citation:

If the first stewardship of the storyteller is to capture the song that arises from a land and its people, then John Bennion well deserves the title of storyteller, for he has truly captured the music echoing from Utah’s past. Avenging Saint is set in the hard west-desert country of Rush Valley, Utah with its roots deep among the first generations of European Mormons there. The narrative voice is rare in its objective lensing, and the main characters (Rachel and her stepfather, J.D.) are equally rare in their complexity; they are unapologetically delineated, multifaceted products of their upheaved culture, which nonetheless they traverse with astuteness, unexpected grace, and courage. Their language is reticent, the grounds for communication sparse, but as they merge their solo parts into the occasional disharmonious duet, they find infinite chance to learn, grow, and shape their world.

John Bennion’s skill of composing vivid descriptions initially draws in the reader, who is then quickly caught up in the plot’s rapid tempo as mystery beckons. Rachel says, A gong sounded ahead of us in [the town of] Centre. The sound was not sweet like the ringing of a bell; this was someone laying hammer to a wheel rim or piece of scrap iron. It clanged again and again, then after a pause, thrice more. The pattern repeated–three gongs and a pause, three gongs again, clearly some kind of signal. In all our visits to Centre, I’d never heard the sound before.

Mystery becomes conflict and conflict crescendos to a climactic revelation of murder as federal deputies encounter the stubborn resistance of polygamous Mormonite men and their loyal families, all of whom eventually find themselves beholden to Rachel’s strength and common sense.

To honor his skill in creating a taut-paced novel that leaves readers not only compelled to finish, but yearning for an encore, the Utah Valley University Department of English & Literature is proud to present the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Award for 2009 to John Bennion for Avenging Saint.

Dated this 21st day of April, 2009

NOTE: This post was corrected May 12 p.m. — see comment #9 below.

13 thoughts on “John Bennion wins Marilyn Brown Novel Award for “Avenging Saints””

  1. Congratulations to John!

    In my humble opinion, UVU and AML should time this award so that it can be announced at the annual AML meeting. It just needs more pub than some event put on by UVU’s English dept.

  2. I believe the timing was influenced by when John Bennion would be available to pick up the award. But yes, I’m pretty sure that UVU and the AML are aware of the need to better publicize this contest. I would imagine that things were a bit in flux this year with the changes.

  3. Th:

    Academics aren’t always the most savvy when it comes to PR, and the AML is understaffed. Prof. Wahlquist was very responsive and gracious when it came to AMV’s inquiries into the contest.

    Rather than roll our eyes, perhaps we should volunteer to help. Of course, the AML staff knows that I’m always happy to help put together a plan and review materials when it comes to PR/marketing. The problem is that I’m not going to commit to doing all the writing and communications work because a) my time is already stretched rather thin b) it really benefits from somebody local doing it [even these days] c) I’m lazy and d) the best use of my time would be a bit more broad and extensive than trying to generate publicity for a few awards and events.

    Of course, that may very well be the issue with the AML — everybody wants to pontificate on how it should be run, but very few are willing to do the real work involved in running the operations of the organization (seriously, Kathleen deserves a medal — or a statue).

  4. .

    Oh, I couldn’t agree more. Listening to people bellyache about other people not doing anything is a pet peeve of mine. I would like to be more involved in AML, but instead I’m writing three books and articles for AMV and Sunstone and another unannounced forum, and starting a publishing company. So I’m helping the Mormon Arts in my own little way. I would like to be more involved in the AML, but this year, just getting stuff submitted to the Irreantum contest will about run me dry.

    So I’m counting on everyone else to stand up.

    Stand up!

  5. Congratulations to John! I’m also glad to hear the Marilyn Brown Award is still going strong.

    As a big fan of his short stories, I was a little disappointed with Falling Towards Heaven. I was wondering if he was up to another novel. Hopefully this will be published sooner rather than later – can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  6. Falling Towards Heaven had its moments. It was also published by Signature, which hasn’t published a novel for several years and isn’t publishing anything at the moment.

    I don’t know if Bennion has tried to pitch the novel to the national market. Maybe he will now that he has the award in hand. But I would guess that Zarahemla and Parables are the only real options these days (unless there’s an academic press out there that is dying for some Mormon-tinged Western Regionalism).

    One nice thing about the contest is that even though it’s become a bit less Mormon-oriented and a bit more Utah-oriented in the move to UVU, it is still asking specifically for a “literary mainstream novel” — although I wish that it was a bit broader than what the rest of the scope is — “focusing on realistic cultural experiences of the Utah Region…”

  7. Just to set the record straight: AML no longer has anything to do with the Marilyn Brown Award.

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