2015 AML Conference: Everything you wanted to know about Mormon Literature (but were afraid to ask)

NOTE: James Goldberg has provided the following information about the AML Conference on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

AML Conference: Everything you wanted to know about Mormon Literature (but were afraid to ask)

First: get out your calendars: mark Saturday, March 28, 1-5 pm, as a time to go down to the Utah Valley University Library (rooms LI 515 and LI 516).

Now: Let me tell you why.

Since the late 1970s, the Association for Mormon Letters has been holding annual conferences. If you’ve ever been to an academic conference, you know the drill: organizers send out a call for papers, scholars try to say something specific enough to be new, and then sessions are scheduled. When the conference comes around, some speakers will hold their audiences rapt as they broaden their horizons or change the way they think about the field. Others do their best not to bore themselves to sleep.

The conference model works reasonably well for testing out new ideas in a field and spreading them to the relevant experts. But it’s less effective at introducing the big ideas: if you’re new, a conference takes you straight up to the newest leaves of knowledge without always bothering to show you which trees they’re on, let alone letting you see the forest.

This year, we want to remedy that. There are many people who get curious about Mormon Literature at some point in their lives, but “know not where to find it.” My friends: wait no longer. At this conference, we’re going to put off the long, carefully-footnoted papers for a moment and get straight to your questions. And we’re going to do it–through panels, live debates, a writing workshop, a poetry slam, and an awards ceremony–over the course of a single afternoon.

Here’s a sampling of questions the conference will respond to:

Do interesting Mormon books exist? Where can I find them?

This is the question I’ve heard most about Mormon Lit. People who’ve never tried to read a Mormon novel or play or poetry collection often ask it with a skeptical intonation. As if to say: “I’ve heard Michael McLean. Isn’t that enough?”

People who have just read a Mormon book they liked for the first time tend to ask me the same question, but with a different intonation. Like: “is there more of this stuff hiding from me somewhere?”

Whether you’re still looking for your first love connection with a Mormon book or hoping to add to a long list of must-reads, you might want to go to “My Favorite Mormon Book–And Why It Matters.” We’ll open with a panel featuring the likes of Freetown screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson, YA critic Glenn Gordon, historian Ardis Parshall, and poet Lance Larsen giving you the personal stories behind their reading recommendations, and then take recommendations from the audience.

You might also want to stick around for the 2014 AML Awards Ceremony, where we’ll unveil which works made it off this year’s short lists and onto the pages of Mormon Lit memory as outstanding titles in their genres.

What sort of people get into Mormon Lit? And what are they trying to accomplish?

For a practical guide to the landscape, we’re offering a panel, led by Katherine Morris of Mormon Artist, called “The Mormon Lit Scene Today” with a discussion of the publishers, events, awards, interest groups, and online spaces that make up the Mormon Lit scene in 2015.

For a deeper look into what Mormon writers want, you might want to check out the debate between Stephen Carter of Sunstone and James Goldberg of the Mormon Lit Blitz over the question “What Is the Role of the Mormon Writer in the Mormon Community?”

What’s the future of Mormon Lit? Where do things go from here to the Mormon Shakespeare? And what about flying cars? When will we get flying cars?

So”¦you want to see the future? Consider attending the debate between the incomparable Eric Samuelsen and the unforgettable Orson F. Whitney* over what Mormon Lit needs now to reach the next level of awesome in the near future.

You might also want to attend the conference’s poetry slam, organized by Fire in the Pasture editor Tyler Chadwick, to see the future up on its feet. Or else learn to be the future you want to see in Mormon Lit through a writing workshop from a few of the geniuses who run Segullah.

The Schedule:

12:30: Free registration opens, mingling begins

1 pm: Carter vs. Goldberg Debate / “The Mormon Lit Scene Today”

2 pm: Writing Workshop / Samuelsen vs. Whitney* Debate

3 pm: “My Favorite Mormon Book” / Poetry Slam

4 pm: Announcement of Annual AML Award Winners

*Update: It has come to the attention of the conference organizers that Orson F. Whitney died in 1931 and will thus be unable to attend the conference in corporeal form. Eric Samuelsen remains committed to a public debate, but his replacement opponent and the topic are once again TBD.

UVU Lecture, AML Conference next week

Two events  will take place next week (the week of March 23) that are of interest to Mormon literature fans who live in or can travel to the Provo-Orem area:

2015 Eugene England Memorial Lecture

WHEN: Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m.
WHERE: the Utah Valley University Library Lecture hall (LI 120)
WHO: Robert A. Rees who will speak on “Reimagining Restoration: Why Liberalism is the Ultimate Flowering of Mormonism.”

Robert Rees currently teaches at the Graduate Theological Union and University of California at Berkeley and is co-founder of the Liahona Children’s Foundation. Dr. Rees is an scholar, author, and poet, and a voice of reason and compassion in Mormon Studies for almost fifty years. He he served as the second editor, following Eugene England, for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought from 1971-1976 and coedited with England the Reader’s Book of Mormon. He also edited Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England.

Association for Mormon Letters Annual Conference

WHEN: Saturday, March 28, 1-5 p.m.
WHERE: Utah Valley University Library (see signage for exact rooms)
WHO: A whole bunch of people. There will be a writing workshop featuring writers/editors from Segullah; a poetry slam organized by Tyler Chadwick; possibly a debate on the topic “What Is the Role of the Mormon Writer in the Mormon Community?”; a panel on the Mormon Lit scene today, etc. And the AML award winners will be announced. The schedule is still coming together, but from what little I’ve seen of the discussion of what it will be and who will be involved, it’s going to be well worth devoting a Saturday afternoon to.

Mormon narrative art: writers and critics

Some of the comments (across twitter, the blogs and Facebook–ah, the joys of online discussion in a social media world) about the Association for Mormon Letters deal with a core tension that has existed in the AML, and, of course, in the project of literature itself: the writer and the critic.

This is not a tension that the AML is going to solve. But I do think it has a decent chance of pulling in some of each crowd for the following reasons:

  1. Many of the most active personalities in the field are both writers and critics.
  2. There are not many other viable forums for writing — creative or critical — that focus on Mormon thought and the Mormon experience.
  3. Mormonism does not have a theology per se, but Mormons themselves are used to talking about various aspects of doctrine and interpreting them in different ways and telling stories that relate to them and our understanding of them. The project of literature, both writing fiction and writing criticism, is not all that different. And I would hope that both writers and critics experience that commonality as the go about their work and that they are both interested when their thoughts about Mormonism intersect with the work they write and read.
  4. Related to that, I don’t see how you can be engaged with the project of narrative art without being both a creative writer and a critic. No writing is truly autonomic. It all comes from engagement with particular concerns and forms and images and stories and those are shaped by other things that the author has read as much if not more than their direct lived experience.
  5. Writers and critics have overlapping needs/interests but not the exact same ones. They also have needs/interests that can be better met by other organizations. And, I hope, ones that can be best met by the AML. One of the things that we need to do moving forward is look at how the activities of the AML fit with that spectrum of needs. It seems to me that those projects where there is overlap between the two (messy) categories should be a priority. But that there should also be activities that speak more strongly to one or the other to help strengthen overall engagement with the AML.
  6. One concrete idea: while it’s nice to have a journal that includes both criticism and fiction, one or the other category (not to mention the various forms of fiction [film, drama, etc.]) tends to be lose out depending on the primary interest of the editor. It might make sense to split out the two projects so that there’s one publication for criticism and one for narrative art. Or perhaps one publication but rotating editors/themes.
  7. Note that by criticism, I include all reader reactions to narrative art, including formal and informal reviews as well as scholarship and reporting that deal with all the extra-textual stuff related to the production, distribution and reception of narrative art.

What am I missing? Or even more bluntly: am I completely wrong? Is there no way to attract both narrative artists and critics? What do you all find most interesting in the intersection between the two? What bores you?

Mormon narrative art: interesting — not serious

I’ve been following with equal parts hope and concern, the conversations on Dawning of a Brighter Day (see here and here) that are attempting to revive the Association for Mormon Letters. I have written a guest blog that should be appearing in that space soon that lays out my thoughts on the foundational stuff for the AML — mission and board structure/purpose.

I have many other thoughts as well, but the primary one that I want to address is the tension between literary fiction writers/readers/critics and genre writers/readers/critics. There are other important tensions that impact the AML, but this is a foundational one. And one that has the potential to foul things up considerably. It has already cropped in the comments to Theric’s post and was a contributor (although not the driving factor) to the creation of LDStorymakers and also to the Whitney Awards.

I use the terms literary and genre in the previous paragraph. I don’t like those terms. And neither do some of the people who get labeled with them. They have their uses, but they can be quite limiting. And some of the best works of Mormon narrative art completely break down when trying to categorize using that division.

One way to get around the use of “literary” is to deploy the related term “serious literature”. Serious just isn’t a very useful descriptor. And it’s insulting. As in: if someone using that term doesn’t include certain works in it then that by extension means that those works aren’t “serious.”

All creative work is serious (even, often especially, if it is humorous).

So what I propose is that as we think about what narrative art should get attention from the new AML, we use the word interesting. Not actually use it as a term, a label. But rather that that’s a* key metric for what works get attention.

The nice thing about interesting is that it doesn’t exclude genres and audiences. There are many ways that a work can be interesting in a way that fits with the AML. For example: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is not very interesting in terms of sentence level prose or overt Mormon content or use of poetic imagery or plot structure or narrative voice (all qualities that many people would file under the umbrella “literary” or “serious”). And yet it has received attention from LDS literary critics because it is interesting in terms of thematics, plot, reception among readers, including LDS readers, and reception among national reviewers/critics.

Stories can be interesting in many different ways and interesting in different ways to different audiences. But, at least in my experience, not every story is interesting enough to write about, talk about, receive consideration for awards, etc. So using interesting as a metric doesn’t mean that every single work get the same amount of attention. It simply means that the works that the AML engage with need to have aspects that stand out, that are worthy of taking notice and considering further. And that’s regardless of how “literary” or “serious” they may or may not be.

*There’s another key metric. But that is covered in my guest post for the AML.

AML Website Down

Hi folks,

The AML website is unexpectedly down (unexpected by me, at any rate), with a message that the account has been suspended. I’m not able to do anything about it (and don’t know the cause), but am attempting to draw it to the attention of those who (hopefully) can do something about it.

In the meantime, I thought it would be polite to let people know what’s going on — at least, to the degree that I know anything…

Replacing Irreantum: Staffing/Production

Wm discusses staffing and production for any potential successor to Irreantum.

This is a continuation of my analysis of the barriers involved in replacing Irreantum, the now defunct literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. Other installments:

Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up

STAFFING/PRODUCTION

A literary magazine/journal is nothing without an audience, but it can’t even try to establish an audience without staffing to create the thing. That’s an obvious statement, but in the world of Mormon letters it represents a major challenge to any ongoing attempt to publish fiction. Very few fiction magazines can support a full-time staff. Many rely on institutional affiliation or at the very least on key staff who have faculty positions at institutions that will give them the time and even credit towards promotion/pay increases for their work on the journal. As far as I know there is no institution that would be willing to provide that. I don’t know that that’s the best idea anyway because of the issues I raise in the previous post. Academic or foundation support comes with a certain set of expectations that are often inimical to the more populist scope that a successor to Irreantum probably should attempt. Irreantum struggled with staffing, especially succession planning. In fact it’s amazing that it lasted as long as it did, and I personally am grateful for all of the hours that its various editors and other staff put into it. Continue reading “Replacing Irreantum: Staffing/Production”

Replacing Irreantum: Scope/Positioning

Wm explains the scope/positioning issues that Irreantum had and what that might mean for any replacement to the now defunct Mormon lit mag.

Earlier this month Margaret Young confirmed that Irreantum , the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters is now defunct. For all I know there may be a crack team of AMLers working to revive it, but I want take this opportunity to think through some general notions of what this unfortunate turn of events means for the field and specifically what (if anything) we should replace Irreantum with. Note that at the moment these are just some musings on my part that are independent of any specific actions I might personally take to help out with any effort that steps up to fill in the vacuum left by Irreantum’s demise. I start with where we should start: scope/positioning.

Links to other installments: Scope/Positioning | Staffing/Production | Generating Submissions | Financial Models | Starting Up

SCOPE/POSITIONING

One of the things that the AML in general and Irreantum specifically have struggled with is positioning, that is, where Irreantum fell in relation to other Mormon culture endeavors. It began as a literary magazine that had low production qualities but was more popular in tone, including author interviews, industry news and genre fiction. In that incarnation, it didn’t really have a competitor, but it also struggled with the fact that it was trying to bring together a variety of very different audiences (to be reductive: the LDS fiction crowd, the Mormon fiction crowd and the Mormons into SF&F crowd). Later it morphed into more of a traditional literary journal with higher production values and a focus on literary fiction/essay and poetry, which competed in the same space as Dialogue and Sunstone. This made it a more natural fit with its parent organization, but also meant that it had little to differentiate itself from the other publications other than it offered solely creative narrative work (while the other two also publish essays in academic disciplines such as history and sociology). It offered more creative narrative work than the other journals, but that wasn’t necessarily a strength as it would seem that the audience for scholarly Mormon journals is skewed (more on audience in the post on readership) more towards the social sciences. This should not be a surprise as the same is true of the overall in the field of Mormon Studies (in terms of courses, fellowships, endowed positions, book-length works, seminars, conferences, etc.). Continue reading “Replacing Irreantum: Scope/Positioning”