It is sometimes hard to get a sense of how much is going on in Mormon literary studies. The problem is that there is a lot going on that isn’t happening in Utah or among those associated with the Association for Mormon Letters. I’m not suggesting that the AML and what is happening in Utah isn’t valuable, just that some subjects attract others.
Unlike many, I do not believe a text can truly be divorced from its author. Maybe it’s the historian in me, but the more I find out about an author, the more I am fascinated and enlightened by the text. So it’s difficult for me to address a work, when I have met the author, not to bring my experiences with, or knowledge of, the author to the text. So, first, I’ll talk about the author James Goldberg, as well as his relation to New Play Project. Then I’ll address his beautiful, award-winning play, “Prodigal Son.”
JAMES GOLDBERG AND THE COMMUNAL NARRATIVE
Now I wouldn’t call James Goldberg my best friend, although we are friends, and I certainly would love to be even friendlier. Yet there seems to have even been awkward tension during a few moments. We’ve seriously disagreed a couple of occasions. And I could tell that I annoyed him on at least a dozen occurrences..
However, I do think the world of him. And I think he is one of the best and unique writers Mormonism has. We should value him and the wealth of multiculturalism he brings to his Mormon faith and writing. It’s interesting, the more and more I find truth in other religions, the more and more I believe in Mormonism. Comparing religions and cultures highlights the Gospel tinged truths whispered into the ears of every culture. And I get the sense from James that he believes the same thing.
James Goldberg comes from Jewish and Sikh heritages, while also happening to be a card carrying Mormon. When you talk to him, he isn’t shy about his diverse background and proudly celebrates his cultural past and freely intermingles it with his cultural present, not really distinguishing them. Because he shouldn’t distinguish them. Because Mormonism embraces all truth. That is, if we should trust Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to be adequate spokesmen for Mormonism.
This idea of intermingling one’s diverse cultural and even religious identities is wonderfully evident in a good deal of Goldberg’s work, perhaps no where I have it seen so clearly so as in his fascinating and moving “Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenburgh.” In Mormon Artist’s first Contest Issue Goldberg mentions in an interview about the story , something that struck me:
Because the stories I was writing were so short, I didn’t have time to explain all the culture in them: the Jewish holidays that were thematically connected, the immigrant groups in each story. I figured in the age of Google, smart people could look up the stuff they didn’t get and discover the extra layers in the story, like mining for gems. Understandably, many of my class members didn’t take the time to look stuff up. What surprised me, though, was that the same people who hadn’t invested their time in the story were telling me to simplify it, to explain it more in terms they could understand. Some said they felt like I wasn’t including them because I wasn’t writing in their culture and explaining anything that came from anywhere else. And I thought, these stories wouldn’t be as beautiful if I explained them. And the best readers would get less out of them.
I also thought, I have unique stories to tell because of my own life heritage. Why should I only tell stories you can already fully understand? Isn’t one purpose of fiction to expand the reader? Continue reading “James Goldberg, Communal Narratives, plus Faith Lost and Faith Born in “Prodigal Son”: Reactions to _Out of the Mount: 19 from New Play Project_, Part Three”
I was startled recently to find myself described (in response to my review of Alan Williams’s novel Ockham’s Razor) as acting like a gatekeeper for Mormon literature. Partly this was because I had seen my comments mostly as definitional rather than exclusionary: Ockham’s Razor is a book of type X, as opposed to type Y. Mostly, though, I think it’s because calling me a gatekeeper seems to imply a level of power I don’t see myself as having.
The question of who gets to define Mormon literature, and what is good and bad within it, is an area where it seems to me that this kind of conflicted perspective is common. We here at A Motley Vision don’t see ourselves as a center of power and authority in the discussion of Mormon literature: rather, simply as a place where some of us get to hang out, shoot the breeze, talk about things that interest us (and that usually have nothing to do with our day jobs), and spout opinions that generally encounter as much disagreement as agreement from other posters (as witness the reaction to that same review). But to others, we are a bastion of The Establishment in Mormon literature — or so I suddenly perceive or guess. It is (would be) to laugh, if it were not also such a sad commentary on the state of Mormon letters.
I was over at Amazon.com the other day, trying to figure out someplace to post about my book in the Mormon community. I mean, I was able to find a couple of places to post in the Gay etc. community. Surely there ought to be a place to post in the Mormon community.
Except, not. Oh, sure, there’s a lot of activity over there, but it all really seems to amount to people screaming at each other about whether LDS doctrines and practices are justified. Which, okay, fine, if that’s your thing. Except that it’s really not mine — the whole virtual-shouting-at-people thing, I mean — and, hello? I think of Amazon.com as an online bookstore, not an online debating club. So how about some talk about books here, people?
AMV bloggers and friends are taking part in two interesting Mormon literature events this week, and I invite all our readers to participate as well.
LDS Publisher contest
Voting recently opened in LDS Publisher’s Book of Mormon Story Contest. The contest features young adult fiction stories with a Book of Mormon setting by both published and unpublished authors. Theric Jepson and I both submitted entries as did AMV reader/commenter David J. West. A few other AMV readers may also have participated (if so, let us know in the comments). And no, we aren’t going to tell which stories are ours — that’s against the rules.
Now, you may be asking yourself: do I really want to wade through 26 pieces of fiction (16 if you just read and vote for the published authors)? Probably not, but you should anyway — some stories are better than others, but all of them are interesting in how the engage with the Book of Mormon.
AML Annual Meeting
The Association for Mormon Letters will hold its annual meeting this Saturday, Feb. 27, at Utah Valley University Library in Orem. The theme of the program is “”˜One Eternal Round’: Mormon Literature Past, Present, and Future” and AMVers Tyler Chadwick, Harlow Clark, Patricia Karamesines and Katherine Morris will all be presenting. So will other folks whose names should be familiar to our readers — in particular: Lisa Tait, Ardis Parshall, Gideon Burton, Angela Hallstrom, Lee Allred and James Goldberg. If you are within driving distance, you should go — not only because of the interesting presentations and excellent company, but also because the meeting will feature a rare screening of the 1931 film “Corianton: A Story of Unholy Love.”
Right now, Chris Bigelow and I are collaborating on a volume tentatively titled “The Latter-Day Saint Family Encyclopdia,” which will be published this fall by Thunder Bay Press and sold fairly widely. As you might imagine, we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to write a good, meaty entry on Mormon literature. Chris has posted my draft over on the AML blog website. We’d like to invite you all to review it and post comments and suggestions. We can’t let this entry get any longer, but we can certainly refine what’s here. Thanks in advance for your help!