Tracking the Elusive Mormon Author

In Cedar City for the Shakespearean Festival last week I purchased a copy of the SUU literary magazine, “Kolob Canyon Review.” Thumbing through the issue (which contains work by SUU students, faculty and alumni), I couldn’t find any work that used Mormon themes or references, but the names of several of the contributors, together with my assumptions about the student body of SUU, made me think it likely that at least a few of the contributors are Mormon.

Of course, I didn’t have any way of knowing if any of the contributors are Mormon. This is one of the principle difficulties of Mormon literature–knowing when an author is Mormon. It plagues the field, regardless of whether the approach is academic or commercial. I am certain that some Mormon (and LDS) authors who don’t happen to write for the LDS market, or who don’t include obvious Mormon themes in their work, escape the notice of our academics, librarians, booksellers and reviewers. I’m not sure that anyone is even looking for the authors who get missed in any systematic way.

Part of what worries me is that I suspect this problem will only get worse. The LDS population is growing and is getting geographically more diverse. The days when it was possible to track Mormon Authors by simply paying attention to literary efforts in Utah are rapidly disappearing, if they aren’t gone already.

For authors outside of the English-speaking countries of the world, the situation makes it unlikely that they will write or do anything that makes it possible to identify them. It makes little or no sense to write for a Mormon audience in other languages, because there is no way to reach those audiences. And editors at various kinds of publishers and publications are more likely than not to influence writers against including Mormon themes or references in their work, making finding such authors even more difficult.

I don’t know how to find and track Mormon authors at this point, other than monitor the news, Irreantum, AML-list and other online Mormon-related forums. I suppose I could try looking at literary magazines at colleges and universities with large LDS populations (can be identified by presence of and size of Institute programs and student wards), or other groups that are likely to include LDS authors. And I finally got off my duff this evening, and asked on a major Portuguese-language Mormon forum.

What do you suggest? Is there some obvious ways of looking for Mormon authors that I’m missing?

    9 thoughts on “Tracking the Elusive Mormon Author”

    1. The question this brings up, assuming that the author brings with them cultural baggage, is if Mormonism has anything to contribute to the artistic conversation? We all know that Stephanie Meyers is Mormon, but would we know that by just reading her books? Perhaps we cold because she isn’t a very subtle writer. You might for Orson Scott Card because of his themes of family and personal sacrifice.

      You can tell sometimes a Southern writer, a Catholic writer, an atheist writer, American writer, etc. What would be a tell-tale sign of a Mormon writer besides the obvious, and has anyone found one by what they wrote?

    2. .

      I’ve had the experience of reading something and feeling sure the author must be Mormon but I’ll be darned if I can think of an example now….

    3. Jettboy (1): I’m not sure exactly what you are driving at. I’m interested in knowing about Mormon authors even if their work includes NO Mormon cultural baggage. The author’s affiliation with Mormonism is enough.

      My point is here that it is very difficult to find out when an author is Mormon, unless the author makes it obvious. I’m looking for strategies to get around that.

      I’d rather not get into the question of whether “Mormonism has anything to contribute to the artistic conversation” in this post. I think we’ve tried to explore that question here on AMV and many other places (AML-list, perhaps in Irreantum, and maybe even in Dialogue or elsewhere). Can I just declare it off-topic for this post?

    4. Th (4), LOL, that would be fun to try.

      But, alas, I don’t think that will help. As far as I’ve seen, the membership records don’t identify authors as such.

      Of course, we could run the names against the various lists of authors available (like Worldcat, etc.), but I’d guess we would have many times more mismatches among the potential matches we found than accurate matches, making the process a huge amount of work and effort to get a good list.

    5. Or, we could request that the Church add an “author” field to its database and get clerks to figure it out for each ward and branch. That way, hacking the database would be worth it!

    6. Sorry to be jumping in so late…

      First, a response to Jettboy (1): From a critical perspective, the interesting thing isn’t to find markers that tell an author’s Mormonism, but rather to consider ways that an author’s work *can* be read as Mormon, then to compare it to other writings by Mormon and non-Mormon writers. If the finding is that there are some authors whose Mormonism doesn’t come through in any discernible way, that’s interesting too.

      And back to Kent’s original question:

      Ultimately, I think the only way this will work is by having the authors themselves (or people who know them) contact us, “us” being the Mormon literary community broadly speaking.

      This, I submit, will be less difficult than it seems, if we actually can get more awareness that there actually *is* a Mormon literary community. Especially once you leave Deseret, there’s often a hunger to know that there are other members of the Church doing what you’re doing, and an eagerness to be part of a collaborative community. Getting authors and their friends and family members hooked into this is MUCH less difficult than getting potential readers hooked into this network (a challenge Kent has written on very thoughtfully before).

      Obviously, this ties into the Mormon literature database discussion we were having earlier. The more that people know about and are interested in that database, the more likely it is that the database can function as a clearinghouse. This, by the way, doesn’t negate the potential value of other bibliographers taking on more specialized tasks in relation to Mormon letters. For example, in addition to Marny Parkin’s Mormon sf&f bibliography, I also know someone who has been compiling a bibliography of Mormon gay-related literature. But what I’d hope is that those efforts would also feed into the Mormon literature database in some way, so that anyone who meets the Mormon literature database criteria in some way will appear in that place.

      Some additional, practical thoughts on this:

      * The Mormon literature database’s affiliation with BYU could be a great tool in getting this kind of grass-roots information out there. The Holy Grail for this effort might be an article in BYU Magazine about the effort–possibly a year or two down the road, once whatever collaborative proposal Kent and Gideon and William et al. are hatching up can be announced and used as the basis of a “gee-look-at-this-cool-thing-BYU-is-doing” article.

      * Other possibilities include articles in places like Meridian, etc. Not just on the Mormon literature database, but on Mormon literature in general. Maybe bully Richard Cracroft into doing something on the “must-reads” of Mormon literature? Is there anything about Mormon literature that’s offered as BYU Education Week classes?

      * As long as the Mormon literature database has a BYU institutional sponsorship, it might even be possible to contact stakes and let them know about this. It’s my impression that in many stakes, there’s someone at the stake level with responsibility for cultural “things”–a high council member, say. An email to those people letting them know about the Mormon literature database and encouraging them to let any writers in their stake know about it and make sure they’re listed might yield some results. And since it’s BYU, it might be possible to do it without crossing the whole use-only-for-Church-purposes policy that hampers so many Mormon publicity efforts.

      This is only in the spirit of brainstorming. But I really believe that the only true solution will be a grassroots one where authors come forward, rather than a centralized search effort.

    7. Clarification: In saying “once you leave Deseret” what I meant was “once you leave the geographical area that used to be part of the old state of Deseret–i.e., where there’s a large Mormon cultural influence.” Just realized that could be puzzling to some people. I guess “Mormon corridor” is the more common term now…

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