Guest Post: Anne Stewart’s Reflections on _The Book of Mormon Girl_

Book of Mormon Girl ImageNote: Both my wife Anne Stewart and I read Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl over the holidays and were deeply affected by it. I asked her to write a guest post on her response to it here, and I will write my own thoughts on the book at a later date. –Mahonri Stewart

Here’s Anne:

A number of years ago, while I was working at a book store in Springville, Utah, called the Red Leaf, I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.  I can’t remember the moment I picked it up or why I decided to read it (other than the obvious: women and the Old Testament).  In the fictionalized world Diamant creates, Dinah (daughter of Israel) is surrounded, not by twelve brothers, but by women.  While I was ever aware that these were fabricated tales, I was struck by the way she fully structured the story around the Biblical women. While I’d read many fictionalized accounts from the point of view of Biblical women, this was the first that felt so singularly focused on the woman’s journey.  Here were women, strong women.  These were not women whose rituals and practices were a shadow to the men in their lives; these were women with rich, powerful stories who led lives of their own.  The Red Tent filled in the absence that is present in so many religious narratives: the women’s story.

Like other religious narratives, the Mormon story is starved for female narrative.  In the Book of Mormon there are six named women, the Doctrine and Covenants only two, and even our female deity remains mostly veiled to us.  In The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith, Joanna Brook’s narrative connects to generations of Mormon women and makes a place for women who are less orthodox. Continue reading “Guest Post: Anne Stewart’s Reflections on _The Book of Mormon Girl_”

_The Hobbit_ Strikes a Personal Chord– Again.

My wife and I finally got the chance to see the first part of The Hobbit trilogy the other day (with two young kids, our opportunities become more rare, so having Anne’s parents in town really helped in this regard). I was wary at first. I had read a number of negative reviews and, being a lover of Tolkien’s work and the previous Lord of the Rings films, I was afraid to see the film version not live up to expectations. Lowered expectations always help when going into a film (part of why I read the critics first), and this proved to be the case here. But, even if I had higher expectations, I still believe I would have been just as moved by the film. Continue reading “_The Hobbit_ Strikes a Personal Chord– Again.”

_A Roof Overhead’s_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller

Noel Miller and Ivy Worsham-Gambier in my play A Roof Overhead

Over the course of the past several months, Noel Miller and I have become good friends. We met at a party last Spring hosted by some mutual friends in the theater department (okay, so I was crashing their cast party for Sorry, We’re Closed…but I was invited by the playwright Cody Goulder!). Noel stood out to me. I felt like the Spirit was trying to tell me something about her, so I kept her on my radar.

Our next involvement with each other was when the above mentioned Cody cast her in staged reading of my play Evening Eucalyptus which was being put on for one of classes for one of my classes for the MFA in Dramatic Writing that I’m currently working on. Not only did she have the best Australian accent, which the play required, but she had an emotional resonance which was powerful in the role. I was impressed with her as an actress and as a person. Once again, I felt the Spirit attempt to tell me something about her.

When I found out that my play A Roof Overhead was accepted at part of the next 2012 season of ASU’s student theater Binary Theatre Company, Noel was one of the first people who came into my mind to invite to be a part of the production. At first it was as a lighting designer, since she had done an excellent job in that capacity in Cody’s play Sorry, We’re Closed, but having seeing her skills as an actress in the staged reading of Evening Eucalyptus, I felt prompted the following Fall to have her audition for an acting role instead …which became a rather providential move.

Noel rocked the audition and landed the lead role of Sam Forrest. In A Roof Overhead, the character of Sam is an atheist who moves into the basement apartment underneath a family of Mormons, the Fieldings. The conflict that ensues because of their clashing cultures and belief systems is the central obstacle in the play, as both sides make major mistakes and move towards understanding, tolerance and love. It turned out that casting Noel as the atheist Sam was a good bit of casting, as Noel was an ardent atheist herself and could very much relate to and convey Sam’s character from a very real, natural place. At one point during rehearsals Noel jokingly yelled at me, “Mahonri, stop writing what’s in my head!” It turns out Sam and Noel were working from very similar places. Continue reading “_A Roof Overhead’s_ Real Life Sam Forrest: The Baptism of Noel Miller”

Blinded by the Fire: Cultural Memory and the Response to My Mormon History Plays

Farewell to Eden_Georgiana and StephenNOTE: This was written for a final paper in my Dramatic Writing MFA Writer’s Workshop class where I was supposed to apply Anne Bogart’s book A Director Prepares to my own  work. Thus the navel gazing…

In her book A Director Prepares, Anne Bogart addresses various challenging experiences theatre artists face in creating their art. In the book she confronts Memory, Violence, Eroticism, Terror, Stereotype, Embarrassment, and Resistance. Although she writes from a director’s perspective, I found them particularly helpful from a playwright/screenwriter’s point of view as well.

Having been both a director and a writer for the theater, I have found both creative processes put me in a similar place intellectually and emotionally (especially when I’ve been a director for my own work, it just seems to be a different step of the same process). Although I will write about how all of these qualities addressed by Bogart have affected my work in future posts, I would like to focus on each of them one at a time. So first on deck for this series of essays is”¦

Memory:

In her book, Bogart states:

Theatre is about memory; it is an act of memory and description. There are plays and people and moments of history to revisit. Our cultural treasure trove is full to bursting. And the journeys will change us, make us better, bigger and more connected. We enjoy a rich, diverse and unique history and to celebrate it is to remember it. To remember it is to use it. To use it is to be true to who we are. A great deal of energy and imagination is demanded. And an interest in remembering and describing where we came from (p.39).

For me this statement from Bogart has resonance on so many levels. In my work, I’ve focused a great deal on historical drama, especially from my Mormon heritage. My intense interest in Mormon history has bled into a number of my works, reaching back as far as my high school juvenilia. Continue reading “Blinded by the Fire: Cultural Memory and the Response to My Mormon History Plays”

A cursive state of affairs

Three nights ago my son asked me to translate (his word) a letter he received from a customer communicating something related to my son’s home business. Was the letter in German, for which I have some crude (very crude) translating skills? French? Sometimes he does receive notes in those languages.  This time, not so. The letter was in English but composed in cursive handwriting, and my son was at something of a loss to decipher it.

I saw this day coming. When he was a child, I tried to teach him to write in cursive but he found it burdensome. The abundance of keyboards in our household eventually shouted me down. So that mysterious letter when it arrived might as well have been written in a foreign or archaic language–maybe even an argot as arcane and encrypted as the language of the birds. Continue reading “A cursive state of affairs”

Review: Stephen Carter’s _What of the Night?_ is a Lonely, Lovely Journey

I had planned on reading Stephen Carter’s What of the Night? on the side, as I worked to plow through other books I wanted to get through. It was a book of personal essays, so it would be easy I thought to read one or two a day, while focusing on the full length fiction on my new pile of books I wanted to read and review. About a day and a half after starting the first essay I had read the entire book in two sittings. Granted, the book is a slim one (168 pages), but the book had caught me off guard with how entrancing and poignant it truly was.

Carter’s voice is intimate–exposed. He speaks of faith and doubt and spirit and family and struggle with the disarming honesty that causes you to lay your judgmental attitudes aside and simply listen to his complex thoughts and simple heart. His tales include his time with Eugene England before he died, the disappointments and triumphs of a Mormon mission, a tutorial through clippings with his grandmother, bright Alaskan lights and dark Alaskan doubts, a black sheep brother who showed him the way, the weight of priesthood, and the liberation of the Spirit. Each essay was carefully crafted like a sonnet or a piece of excellent cinema. Ponderous, vulnerable, honest, loving, good, afraid. Many of the things we carefully sidestep, Carter plunged into and felt his way through it, even when it became painful. It’s a brave, beautiful piece of work. Personal essays aren’t my typical reading, but this particular collection had me enraptured and made me want to pick up some more of Eugene England just to get some more of that style of intimacy and quietly spoken lives.

Now I do have a beef with one of the essays, “The Departed.” I started writing it about in this review, but then realized how disproportionate my discussion about that one essay was becoming in regards to the context of the whole book. So if you’re interested in reading my comments about Richard Dutcher and Eugene England in context of What of the Night? go to this other post here.

As it is, though, I wanted this short review to highlight how truly moved I was by Carter’s work. I recommend it enthusiastically without hesitation. Those who read it will be blessed by an insightful mind, a compassionate soul, and a troubled heart.

Dream logic: Mormon arts edition

A post in which Wm reveals a very strange yet strangely on the mark dream.

Yesterday morning I had an interesting dream that near the end turned in to me being the client/creative director on a TV ad shoot for some consumer product and all my family members and some other Mormons were working as extras and then I walked from the set up a hill that was thronged with LDS and started following Bill Bennett and followed him into a cultural hall with a stage and a group of Eastern Orthodox priests and I finally caught up with him and asked him if works of art can be redeemed. Not really bad ones but complex ones. I woke up before I got an answer.

Yesterday morning I awoke from the strangest dream. That is not all that unusual. I seem to have rather vivid dreams. What was unusual was that a) there was a Mormon arts connection and b) it expressed portions of my subconscious that are very close to my conscious conscious. Usually, I’m just fighting off ninjas or exploring houses, etc.

I don’t remember the first part, but at some point near the end of the dream, I’m all of a sudden on a film set. And then I’m the client and the creative director for the shoot, which is an ad shoot for some consumer product (a cleaning product, I believe). And then when I’m done with the main shoot, I move over to a set that’s like a huge kitchen with one wall but the rest is open and we’re filming some cheesy reaction shots where extras are holding out the product and smiling. And there may have been some cheesy line or actual exclamations of approval. And the extras are family members and members of wards I have lived in. They’re all LDS. And for some reason I walk away from the set, which is nestled up against a hill, and walk up the hill. There is a wide path and alongside it are throngs of Mormons, all watching the goings on below with the filming of the commercial.

And then I see Bill Bennett walking up the path. Yep. That Bill Bennett. He and I are the only ones that are walking to the top of the hill. I follow him. I follow him at a distance, but feel quite anxious to talk to him. Finally, we reach the top of the hill. I follow him into a room (this one  also has one wall open to nature, like a movie set) that looks like an LDS cultural hall (complete with stage with curtain — it’s a set within a set). There is a a group of Eastern Orthodox priests there. I think they are working on putting together a play or some sort of performance that will take place on the stage. Bill Bennett starts talking to them.

I walk up to him and interrupt his conversation. I’m incredibly anxious and verklempt but not distraught. It’s a weird feeling. I can’t tell if I’m confronting him or seeking reassurance from him. Maybe both. This is what I ask:  “Will works of art be redeemed?” My mind is specifically on the resurrection; I feel all these works of art floating in the back of my mind like spirits. And then I qualify myself: “Not, you know, the stuff that’s really bad (except I didn’t use the word bad. I can’t remember what word I used). But the other kind” (and by that I mean non-didactic, complex, faithful works of Mormon art. Or in other words the stuff I read and write). I pause and try to explain further, but nothing more comes out. I’m still hoping for a response. I’m looking Bill Bennet in the face. He seems like maybe he is going to respond. But I can’t tell for sure. His face is placid. His eyes distant even though he is looking at me.

Then I wake up.

What of the Night?

WhatofTheNight_LG.

Stephen Carter’s 2010 essay collection, as you might expect, provides plenty stellar examples of the form, what with the personal essay being The Great Mormon Form (or so I hear) and Stephen Carter being Stephen @#(*&$^ Carter.

Before taking the helm at Sunstone, Carter racked up a few Eugene England Memorial Personal Essay Competition notations, had been cited in Best American Spiritual Writing, and scattered his work through the major Mormon literary rags. He’s Stephen Carter, folks!

(Obligatory note: Although I paid for my copy, I still may be biased as Stephen is a friend of mine. Who knows.) (In similar news, see Wm’s earlier review.)

First, as an object (this is not relevant if you’re planning on saving money and ). The cover has really grown on me since the book was first released. The type is huge making this 168-page book an even quicker read.

But the words, the words. What about the actual words? Continue readingWhat of the Night?

Call for submissions at WIZ

AMV’s sister site Wilderness Interface Zone is searching for longer forms.

While WIZ loves poetry and heartily encourages poets to continue sending their nature-romancing verse, it’s perhaps time to follow nature’s own example of protean morphologies and bring more rhetorical diversity to WIZ’s environs.  WIZ is issuing a call for short, creative non-fiction and fiction pieces for publication on its site.   If you have a nature-oriented essay or field notes that run between 500 and 1300 words, please consider sending them to WIZ.  Longer essays will be considered if they can be divided into parts.

Nature-based flash fiction or short stories running between 100 and 1300 words are also welcome; longer pieces that can be serialized up to four or five parts will be considered also.  Excerpts from longer stories or novels up to 1300 words are encouraged”“though pieces may run longer if they can be broken into multiple parts.

If you have written up adventures in the garden or the wilds or have a story that features a scary white whale or incorrigible pocket gopher, or even bees sleeping on flowers in a garden, please consider sending it. Fiction not directly about nature but whose drama unfolds against nature’s backdrop are encouraged.  Please read WIZ’s submissions guide before sending your work.  Then electronically submit your work either to wilderness@motleyvision.org or to pk.wizadmin@gmail.com.  International submissions and submissions from nature writers who are not Mormon but are comfortable interfacing with Mormons are welcome.

A quick poll on the 2011 Irreantum fiction contest

The deadline for the is this evening. I’m curious about what the rest of you are submitting. The Irreantum admins usually release how many total entries in a category, but I’d like to dig in a little deeper (but not in a way that tips your hand on exactly what you are submitting).

This poll is completely non-scientific, and I’m quite sure that most of those who enter don’t read AMV, but for those that do, please take a moment and fill out the following. Also: this poll (or rather series of polls) is more oriented towards fiction writers (who may also be poets and essayists). If there is interest in polls that come from the point of view of poets or essayists, let me know, and I’ll set something up.

So here’s what I’d like to know:

[poll id=”4″] [poll id=”5″] [poll id=”6″] [poll id=”7″]