Angel Chaparro on his dissertation on Phyllis Barber

Ángel Chaparro Sainz recently received summa cum laude marks for his dissertation “Contemporary Mormon Literature: Phyllis Barber’s Writing” from University of the Basque Country (Universidad del País Vasco – Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea) in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. He was kind of to answer some questions about his dissertation and Mormon literary studies in general.

How did you first come in to contact with Mormon literature?

At college. When I began my postgraduate studies, you had to follow three different steps. First one was going back to class. One year taking some new lectures, getting ready a few essays and getting good marks. Then you had to write like a little dissertation, a first attempt. People usually took advantage of it to write a chapter, or a couple sections of their future dissertation. Third step was writing the dissertation. In the first step, I took a lecture on Western American literature. There, the professor who was to become my advisor gave us to read a short story by Phyllis Barber and he told us a little bit about Mormon history. He also pointed out that nobody was researching the Mormons in Europe. Most of my fellow students were interested in Chicanos, Basque-Americans and so on. Me too, but I wanted to do something about rock lyrics from a literary perspective. I was not brave enough to propose that topic though and when I was desperately looking for a topic for the second step, I went upstairs and I told that professor that I was thinking about researching Phyllis Barber and the Mormons.

Why did you decide to do your dissertation on the work of Phyllis Barber? What about her work led you to decide that it was a viable project?

I say in my introduction to the dissertation that it was “by accident” that it was Barber whom I came to know first. And it’s plain truth. That first short story I read was “Mormon Levis”. I thought it was a pretty good piece of fiction, and some of the inner motivations of the story were a mystery to me. I began reading the rest of her fiction and I did not stop discovering new things and new mysteries that I wanted to resolve. But my conviction came after the decision. In that sense, it was a good love story, a real love story. It was not “love at first sight”. I had to work hard on that relationship, reading and rereading, making questions and leaving them unanswered. I found a literary body which was complex and compelling. Her fiction led me to so many different paths, paths in which my own involvement was as important as understanding what she was saying. When I was done reading all her work I realized I had taken the right decision, but the decision had already been taken anyway. Now I know I took one of the best ways to understand Mormonism and Mormon literature. In my dissertation, I talk about the idea of the “middle way” as a moral stance, both personal and universal, in which the risks taken gave more value to Phyllis Barber’s literature. That was the main reason why I thought hers was the best work to make this project viable, as you said. Continue reading “Angel Chaparro on his dissertation on Phyllis Barber”