Stephen Carter on his new collection of personal essays

WhatofTheNight_LGZarahemla Books has recently published What of the Night?a collection of essays by Stephen Carter, Director of Publications and Editor at Sunstone. Stephen was kind enough to answer some questions about the anthology and about his role as a writer and editor and critic in the world of Mormon letters. So read on for his thoughts on being both a writer and an editor, Eugene England, Mormon comics and the craft of writing.

For those AMV readers who haven’t followed your career as it has unfolded over the past several years (and documented on the AML-List), could you briefly explain your journey into creative non-fiction?

I had been working as a news reporter for a few years and having the time of my life, but my wife and I could tell that it was not going to pay the bills. So we made the decision to give our careers a much needed boost by earning MFAs.

I know. Not the smartest way to boost one’s career. But we were young.

So we moved to Alaska with our two young children to go to UAF’s creative writing program. I went in to learn fiction, but the thing that was taking up most of the space between my ears at the time was my relationship with Mormonism. I found myself writing to understand that relationship, going into my past and teasing out the experiences that had brought me to this point.

My first attempts weren’t very good, and my essays turned out to be undisciplined and wandering. Fortunately, my studies in fiction had started to teach me how a story works. Once I learned to use those mechanisms, the essays began to take on a constructive shape and people started to like them. I got rejection letters with handwritten notes attached. And one day, Dialogue decided to print something I had written. Dialogue has always had good taste. Continue reading “Stephen Carter on his new collection of personal essays”

Craft and art; arts and craft

In a comment to my post on Richard Sennett’s new book The Craftsman, Moriah raises the issue of art vs. crafts, artists vs. craftsman. She writes that originally she had thought that “Artistes come up with original ways to solve the same ol’ problem. Craftsmen implement existing ideas.” But that now she thinks: “I don’t have an answer to this question anymore. Yes, I used to, but now I think there has to be a measure of both art and craft (skill) involved in each, most likely at different percentages along the spectrum.”

Patricia replies: “Mojo, interesting question. If we divest artistry of its romantic baggage, as William suggests, I think the answer would be ‘No.'”

Moriah also mentions:

“When I think of the word “craft,” I think of the medieval guilds: the stonemasons, the goldsmiths and the other metal workers, the gem cutters, the embroiderers, the tailors. You went to apprentice and there were levels you attained to master. Were any of these people less artists than craftsmen?”

Funny you should mention that, Moriah. Continue reading “Craft and art; arts and craft”

Too much Romantic baggage

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman contains the following paragraph near the end:

“An eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that the word creativity appears in this book as little as possible. This is because the word carries too much Romantic baggage — the mystery of inspiration, the claims of genius. I have sought to eliminate some of the mystery by showing how intuitive leaps happen, in the reflections people make on the actions of their own hands or in the use of tools. I have sough to draw craft and art together, because all techniques contain expressive implications. This is true of making a pot; it is also and equally true of raising a child.” (290).

I have railed against this Romantic baggage in various electronic forums over the years — most notably the AML List. I have also discussed the whole notion of artistic inspiration in light of LDS belief in the Holy Ghost. What I haven’t done very well is elaborate a positive description of how I think Mormons, especially believing Mormons, should approach artistic creation. Reading The Craftsman has brought me one step closer. I still don’t have anything fully formed, but two specific ideas from Sennett are currently bouncing around my head: the importance of repetition and the valuable effects of play.