Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: New Adult Magazine

monsonFor some reason I’ve always assumed that the Church’s adult magazine stopped carrying fiction and poetry with the big change from the Improvement Era, Relief Society Magazine and Instructor of 1970 to the Ensign of 1971. For at least a century before 1970 Church magazines had been the primary venue for fiction aimed at Mormons. And given that the Ensign I’ve been familiar with as an adult doesn’t have fiction or poetry, I have always assumed that it never did. [I wasn’t really its target audience in 1971–I was 10.]

So when I came across the following excerpt, I was a little surprised. As is often the case, my assumption was quite wrong. The Ensign was originally designed to have fiction and poetry:


New adult magazine

by Elder Thomas S. Monson

My brethren, tonight we have heard stimulating messages relating to a magazine for our small children and another magazine for our youth. Speaking as an adult, your thought and concern could well be, “What about Mother and me?” To this question I would reply: “Let not your heart be troubled. You, too, will have your magazine.”

The new adult magazine will replace three well-known publications: the Improvement Era, the Relief Society Magazine, and the Instructor. However, the most outstanding and useful features of each of these excellent publications will be retained and become a vital part of the new magazine. The readership audience will be the adult membership of the Church.

The Ensign

Just as a new city or child receives a name, so must the new adult magazine. The selection has not been made without thorough study and much prayer. You will recognize the name. The prophet Isaiah particularly stressed its significance. He declared that the Lord will lift up “an ensign to the nations”; ye shall “be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.” (Isa. 11:12; 30:17.) And in this dispensation, the Lord spoke: “… Zion shall flourish and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her; And she shall be an ensign unto the people. …” (D&C 64: 41-42.) The name of the new adult magazine will be The Ensign of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its contents will be as a beacon upon the top of a mountain and as an ensign on a hill, that the adults of the Church might be more adequately prepared to be examples to their children and to the world.

Questions answered

Several significant questions have accompanied the announcement in the Church News relative to the new adult publication. Perhaps a review of them would be helpful:

Question #1: Who should subscribe to the Ensign?

Answer: The First Presidency is encouraging every English-speaking family in the Church to be a subscriber. Month-for-month subscription credit on the new adult magazine will be given present subscribers to the Era, Instructor, and Relief Society Magazine. For instance, when the Instructor ceases publication December 31, those subscribers who have perhaps three issues due them on their present Instructor subscription will receive, without charge, three issues of the Ensign. The same applies to the Era and Relief Society Magazine as they conclude their publication at the end of the year.

Question #2: What will be the annual subscription price of the Ensign?

Answer: In the past we have rather expected our families to subscribe to all three adult publications, which at present rates amounts to $10.50. Families will now, pay just $4.00 for the Ensign–a savings to families of $6.50.

Question #3: Will lessons for Relief Society appear in the Ensign?

Answer: No. These will be published in lesson manual style as is presently the practice in other auxiliary organizations and in priesthood quorums. The sisters should note, however, that the Relief Society lessons for the period January 1, 1971, through August 30, 1971, will already have been published in the Relief Society Magazine, concluding with the December issue.

Question #4: What will be the anticipated beginning circulation for the Ensign?

Answer: The Ensign will be the largest in circulation of the three new magazines, with an initial print order or press run of over 325,000 copies.

Question #5: Who will have the responsibility of publishing the Ensign?

Answer: The magazine will be published under the supervision of the First Presidency. Members of the Council of the Twelve and other General Authorities who have supervisory responsibility for Church programs for adults will have special assignments with the magazine, as will the presidencies and superintendencies of auxiliary organizations at the level of the general boards. The correlation program secretaries also will play a vital part in producing the publication. The Ensign will have a talented and experienced staff, headed by Doyle L. Green as managing editor, with M. Dallas Burnett as associate editor.

Question #6: What will the magazine contain?

Answer: The Ensign will be written in such a way as to enhance its use. There will be articles on home teaching, family home evenings, missionary, welfare, and genealogical work. Leadership and teacher development will also be vital features. Material from the Ensign will be used widely in every teaching classroom of the Church, including that special classroom called home. In addition, there will be fiction, poetry, and those feature articles which have been so popular in the present adult publications.

This, then, will be The Ensign of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–your adult publication. Subscribe to it. Read its contents. Apply in your lives its lessons. You, too, will then be as an ensign, even the light of the world, a city of righteousness set on a hill that cannot be hid.

Conference Report, General Priesthood Meeting, October 1970


Although I think its kind of cool that the announcement was made by President Monson, I’m somewhat surprised that this announcement happened in General Priesthood Meeting. I’m not quite sure why the announcement was made there. Perhaps the understanding was that this announcement would be passed on by priesthood leaders to their congregations and by husbands to their families? It really seems like a mismatch with the audience.

Of the above, the sentence that caught my eye was, of course, “In addition, there will be fiction, poetry, and those feature articles which have been so popular in the present adult publications.” And, because I hadn’t noticed the fiction or poetry before, I went to the Church’s website and looked at the first couple of Ensign issues. [You can read the first issue here.] The fiction and poetry are there. The first poem was by Clinton F. Larson (there were two additional poems in the issue) and the first story, “The Book,” was by Helen Pearson.

So, now I’m once again adjusting my understanding of Mormon literary history. And I’m wondering when the Ensign stopped carrying fiction and poetry, and why?

12 thoughts on “Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: New Adult Magazine”

  1. I’m pretty sure that the Ensign had fiction up through the early 1990s. I don’t know if they made any announcement about it or not. Didn’t they used to have a contest for fiction and poetry as well, or am I only thinking of the New Era? The Ensign still publishes poetry occasionally. When I was a teenager I really enjoyed the fiction in the New Era.

    The Friend used to publish fiction until about a decade or so ago, and then they switched to only articles ‘based on a true experience’

  2. .

    Foxy’s right (though I can’t speak to the dates)—I’ve run across fiction now and then, and poetry’s making a comeback.

    I suspect fiction fell out of favor because of hassles of the sort OSC outlined (though he wasn’t speaking of fiction)—readers’ inability (or unwillingness?) to parse fact from metaphor, representation from recommendation.

  3. The most fiction was published in the Ensign when OSC was an editor there around 1977. The special arts issue in July 1977 had something like 4 separate pieces by Card, under three different names. There was not much from the 80s, I think. The New Era and Friend still had fiction until they stopped all of it in, what was it, the late 90s? Although the “based on a true story” tag on the stories in The Friend seems like a silly fig leaf.

  4. My mom won a cash prize for fiction in the New Era back in 1973 and had her story published. I still think that’s cool. (And when I looked it up to confirm the year I discovered that Orson Scott Card was one of the other contest winners that year)

  5. I can’t speak to the Ensign, but what I’ve heard about the disappearance of fiction in the New Era is that the overwhelming majority of the fiction they got was based in Utah contexts and gradually came to be seen as a mismatch for an increasingly international church.

    Non-fiction can bridge cultural gaps a lot more quickly than fiction, I suppose–just sending a reporter out to highlight the lives of young saints across the world is easier than getting well-written fiction from around the world.

  6. Yeah, I have seen poetry in the Ensign recently.

    James–your comment about fiction makes sense to me. I’ve never heard that explanation before. I suspect similar forces are at play when it comes to the Ensign. Article content and format have also been changed quite a lot during the last decade in order to facilitate and speed up the translation process.

  7. A note on the provenance of my comment #8: I remember I heard it during Chris Crowe’s YA Graduate Seminar at BYU, but I can’t remember if it was Chris himself who said it or one of the class guests. I do remember that at the time (2009, I believe), a New Era editor contacted the class because there was some interest in acquiring fiction stories again as an experiment, in case the New Era changed its policy. I think they even bought a piece from a classmate of mine, but I’m now out of the loop and have no idea whether there’s currently any interest in reconsidering fiction.

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