John Bennion has been awarded the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Award for Avenging Saints.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(published by Signature Books), Mormonville by Jeff Call (published by Cedar Fort), House Dreams by Janean Justham (unpublished?), The Coming of Elijah by Arianne Cope (Parables Publishing), and Rift by Todd Robert Petersen (forthcoming from Zarahemla Books).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
When I was a student at BYU some enterprising student published a hardcover guide titled The Mormon Media Market, which followed the model of the Writer’s Digest annual guide Writer’s Market (now the subject of numerous spin-offs and copy-cat works). I thought at the time that this was a good idea, although it was clear from the content in the book that there wasn’t much of a market.
That has changed in the more than 20 years since that guide was published, and WindRiver Publishing is proving it, with the second (2010) edition of its LDS Writer’s Market Guide – 2010.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the finalists for the 2008 Whitney Awards have been posted. As expected, Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom is nominated in all three categories it was eligible for (novel of the year, new author, general fiction). And as expected,Angel Falling Softly was not a finalist in any category. And as expected, the presence of some national titles (in particular Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile, and the final volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series) on the list seems a bit unfair even though such titles are sold in LDS bookstores and consumed by LDS readers and written by Mormon authors and so fit the basic parameters of what makes a work a piece of LDS/Mormon fiction.
And yet all of the above (as well as the characteristics of the other titles that made the cut) are in keeping with the audience for the Whitney’s and are about as good a portrait of what the field looks like in terms of reader popularity and sales as you are going to get.
Should Bound on Earth win Best Novel of the Year (and should it also win an AML award — which seems likely) it will join last year’s winner On the Road to Heaven as a) a strong indication of the type of domestic, plain-style Mormon literary realism that does well with middlebrow LDS readers and b) establish Parables and Zarahemla as the best bets for writers and readers interested in Mormon literary fiction.
For the record, I’m not interested in comments bemoaning or defending the finalists. The Whitney Awards is a positive development in the field and a class act (at least in terms of their marketing/pr efforts and products — I can’t speak to how it is run in other areas). But it’s one only one aspect of the past year in Mormon literature and as lovely as awards are, they are at best a reductive form of validation and criticism. Although let’s be honest: The Whitneys have way more credibility than the Grammys.
The Whitney Awards take place April 25 in Provo. Tickets (which are $35) are available here. Hopefully the awards committee arranges to liveblog the event again. The liveblogging was quite entertaining last year.
The news that Coke Newell’s novel On the Road to Heaven won Best Novel at the new Whitney Awards could have interesting implications for the LDS market, at least in my wishful thinking. Since the novel also won the Association for Mormon Letters’ Novel award earlier this year, Newell’s work is clearly the consensus novel of the year, and is the first to take that honor.
But despite the apparent universal honor for the book, the book still doesn’t appear even in Deseret Book and Seagull Book’s online websites (let alone their actual stores). Why, On the Road to Heaven is published by Zarahemla Books, a relatively new LDS press and aparently one that the large LDS chains don’t think they should pay attention to.
The problem is particularly interesting, given that the Whitney Awards are selected by a broad range of industry participants, instead of a small group of academics.