Is There a Distinctive Mormon Literary Esthetic? Part Two

In my last installment, I mentioned my skepticism about a Mormon literary esthetic. I’ll start this round by explaining in more detail my reasons for that skepticism.

Differing values are relatively easy to come by. Differing stylistic preferences likewise. What group doesn’t vary within itself — often widely — in the personal styles of its members? Within my own immediate family, there are those who are melodramatic and those who are reserved; those who crave excitement and those who prefer contemplation; those with a taste for the subtle and those who like the blatant. (But no one who likes rap.)

A distinctive group esthetic is a rather taller order to fill. A distinctive esthetic, it seems to me, extends beyond differing preferences to become almost a different symbolic language, where words and phrases and characters and stories mean something different to those inside the group than they can ever possibly mean to those outside the group. Outsiders, by and large, don’t “get it.”

Continue reading “Is There a Distinctive Mormon Literary Esthetic? Part Two”

Parsing the “Mormon” in Mormon Literature

Ever since Scott Hales announced his plans to edit a new anthology of Mormon literary criticism, I’ve been thinking off and on about my own past grapplings with Mormon literature and where I’d want to take them — had I world enough, time, money, and the requisite academic chops. What follows isn’t that essay, but comes about as close as I can manage at present. Consider this my submission!

Why do or should we — as readers, writers, and/or literary critics — care about whether a text is Mormon? Potential reasons are legion, as varied as readers themselves. Among the most typical and (it seems to me) important are the following:

  • To understand Mormonism better — as a culture, religion, historical movement, or what have you
  • To investigate specific elements of Mormon experience, thought, and culture through literary works
  • To explore the purpose(s) and role(s) of literature in Mormon experience and worldview
  • To articulate ways that literature has influenced Mormonism
  • As a test case to investigate the interrelationships of literature and religion, literature and identity, literature and culture, and a host of other potential intersections
  • To understand better particular literary works that incorporate manifestly Mormon elements
  • To assert our own membership (or non-membership) in the Mormon community
  • To explore what it means to be Mormon and a reader, Mormon and a writer, or Mormon and a critic
  • To seek out and encourage literature we think is worthwhile, in whatever particular relationship to Mormonism we endorse: celebratory, investigatory, critical, or other[1. The purposes listed here include many I have seen explicitly or (mostly) implicitly pursued via published essays, blog posts, discussions on the email discussion list once sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters, and a variety of other venues — plus a few I’ve not seen much of (such as the influence of literature on Mormonism) but that seem like logical and potentially interesting possibilities.]

Continue reading “Parsing the “Mormon” in Mormon Literature”

_Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama_ is Now Available

SaintsOnStage-Cover.inddSaints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama is now available at Zarahemla Books’ website, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

After a half decade of delays, obstacles, research, and revising, I am so pleased that this behemoth is now ready to release onto an unsuspecting world! The plays it includes (from such Mormon Letters luminaries as Eric Samuelsen, Margaret Blair Young, Melissa Leilani Larson, Thomas F. Rogers, Susan E. Howe, James Arrington, Scott Bronson, Tim Slover, Robert Elliott, and Thom Duncan) have effected my life in profound ways and I hope other people will feel the same. They make up some of the finest accomplishments in the history of Mormon Drama. The volume is huge… nearly 700 pages. It has 11 plays, playwright biographies, and a 30+ page introduction on the history of Mormon drama. We’ve tried to be thorough, we’ve tried to give you something meaningful. I hope you’ll see why this is a project I thought was worth working and waiting for.

Eric Samuelsen interviews Matthew Greene about his new play Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea

Playwright, retired BYU professor and literary critic Eric Samuelsen interviews Matthew Greene about his play Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea.

Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre Company is staging the world premier of Matthew Greene’s Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea at the end of this month. The play opens Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 10.  Tickets and details are available at planbtheatre.org or 801.355.ARTS.

Here is the description of the play from Plan-B:

Adam is LDS. Steve is gay. Set against the backdrop of the passage of Prop. 8, these childhood friends grapple with religion, sexuality,politics and adulthood.”¨ A world premiere by LDS playwright Matthew Greene. Featuring Logan Tarantino as Steve and Topher Rasmussen as Adam, directed by Jason Bowcutt.

AMV readers may recall that I interviewed Greene is about his play #MormoninChief. LDS playwright, retired BYU professor and literary/cultural critic Eric Samuelsen recently interviewed Greene about Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Greene attended BYU during the time Eric taught there so that also is discussed. Enjoy!

One Playwright to Another: Eric Samuelsen’s Interview with Matthew Greene

I guess it would have been five years ago now that Matthew Greene showed up in my beginning Playwriting class at BYU. Mild-mannered kid, obviously exceptionally bright, but rather quiet. I assigned the kids to write a ten minute play, due the next class period–jump right in and start writing something, anything. And his play was smart and funny and real. I knew I had someone special in that classroom. He’s had his New York debut, with #MormonInChief. And now Plan-B Theatre in Salt Lake is producing his play Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Continue reading “Eric Samuelsen interviews Matthew Greene about his new play Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea”

Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon edited by J.Michael Hunter– coming soon to a university (but probably not a personal) library near you

praeger.

On December 12, I received my copy of the two-volume Mormons and Popular Culture in the mail.  know it’s not out until the 31st, but Praeger‘s the sort of classy joint that hooks the contributor up before the general population. I think this is the first time in my career I’ve received a copy of my work before the general public. . . .

Anyway, the two-volume work covers the gamut from film to football, with surveys on everything from comics to historical sites and closeups on folks from Stephenie Meyer to Glenn Beck. Some of the essays are versions of ones we know like Randy Astle’s work on cinema and some are utterly new. I mean—did you know about Rose Marie Reid? Continue reading “Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon edited by J.Michael Hunter– coming soon to a university (but probably not a personal) library near you”

Avoiding dismissiveness

Wm furthers the thinking of his classic Mormons and media consumption post and suggests why we should avoid dismissiveness in our attitudes towards art.

A May 2012 episode of The Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat featuring host Stephen Kapp Perry interviewing retired BYU professor Eric Samuelsen crystallized something for me. In the podcast, Eric discusses how excellence in human striving (in sports, in art) can lead to moments of spirituality and how we shouldn’t dismiss.

I’ve been thinking about the boundaries we draw quite a bit that last few months and from a variety of angles — literary fiction vs. genre fiction, male vs. female readings, cosplay and authenticity, LDS vs. Mormon vs. exMo fiction, film narrative vs. gaming narrative, etc. I’ve become ever more convinced of the rightness of my post Mormons and media consumption, and I highly recommend the podcast with Eric and Stephen — it contains some fantastic examples of what can happen when you avoid dismissing certain art forms or content issues as well as others experiences with art.

I have something else to add to my prior thinking on this:

On the one hand, I understand why artistic expression makes us uncomfortable. Why certain folks are scared to death of didactic-ness and others of in-appropriateness. But the longer I live and the more art I experience, the more I’m amazed by how essentially conservative (maybe meaningful would be the better word) most art is. Or rather, how it all comes back to questions of love, faith, loyalty, creativity, fidelity, charity, integrity, friendship, family, etc. Continue reading “Avoiding dismissiveness”