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”

Critic’s Corner: Eugene England on OSC’s Pastwatch

I’m pleased to announce the launching of Critic’s Corner here at AMV. As with our other Friday/Weekend features — Short Story Friday, , and Weekend (Re)Visitor — I’m hoping that my co-bloggers and AMV’s readers will help me with the effort, which was inspired by the responses to a previous post on works of literary criticism found in Dialogue’s archives.

For the launch, I’ve decided to highlight Eugene England’s response to Orson Scott Card’s novel Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher ColumbusAmazon ) because it captures well, I think, a specific, fascinating moment in both of these great men of Mormon letters’ careers.

Title: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Orson Scott Card

Author: Eugene England

Publication Info: Mormon Literature Database; text of a paper presented at Life, the Universe, & Everything XV: An Annual Symposium on the Impact of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Provo, Utah, February 28, 1997

Submitted by: Wm Morris

Why?: Wm says, “What fascinates me about this paper is that it represents an attempt by England to convince himself that OSC is back in his corner (so-to-speak). It is as much about the socio-cultural politics of Mormonism as it is about the novel Pastwatch.”

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Beyond Prescription? Problematizing Mormon Identity and the Future of Mormon Literary Studies

Note: What follows is part one of a serialized essay in/on Mormon literary criticism. It was catalyzed by William’s series on the radical middle and some other recent posts elsewhere dealing with the problem(s) of Mormon literature (that litany of links is just a sample). My hope is that this series and any ensuing discussion will be something of a departure from “normal” conversations about Mormon lit and that it can open up new ways of reading as a Mormon.

Feel free, of course, to talk back with me as this four to five part series unfolds. The “theory” I posit is still very much in progress.

Look for part two sometime Thursday.

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Beyond Prescription? Problematizing Mormon Identity and the Future of Mormon Literary Studies

[T]he multiplicity of religious and irreligious practices engaged in […] by those who lay claim to the nominations “Mormon” and “post-Mormon,” much less “Jack Mormon,” […] boggles the mind.

-Bryan Waterman

Confluences

These past several months I’ve been wrestling with myself, with the Heavens, trying to gain some hold for my intellectual desires and work in a broader conceptual universe. This struggle has really just been an extension and intensification (due to the academic path I’ve been negotiating recently) of my continuing quest to find what Wayne Booth might call “a plausible harmony” between “my many selves.” Among others, the believing Mormon, who seeks greater communion with God by trying to live by His laws as voiced by His prophets and to serve with faith in what he considers God’s church (no matter the institution’s flaws); the husband, who has obligated himself through what he considers unbreakable promises to honor his bride, her potential as a human being, their combined potential as wife and husband, and the fruits of their eternal marriage; and the poet, teacher, and literary scholar who is compelled by the incessant prodding of vocation to share his rhetorical gifts with the world–you know, the whole don’t-hide-your-light-under-a-bushel deal.

My continued challenge is learning to balance these passions, to engage with each in an honest, quality, pleasing, even–ideally–transformative experience for the parties involved. In short, I yearn to make a positive difference in the world (though I admit the intangibility and the potential “O, that I were an angel“ discontent of that desire), to create a space in which I can identify with and influence others, in which I can allow their voices, their stories, their selves, to gather, to mingle, to develop, to expand into and revise the stories I came from. Continue reading “Beyond Prescription? Problematizing Mormon Identity and the Future of Mormon Literary Studies”

The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical

Previous Posts: Part I: Origins | Part II: The Middle 

So now that I’ve explored the origins of the term radical middle in relation to Mormon arts and culture, and teased out some of the issues related to the middle, it’s time to get radical. In the first post, I mentioned a radical movement in British Islam and noted the adjectives (creative, positive, revolutionary …) that were being used in describing this Radical Middle Way for Islam. What those adjectives indicate to me is that radical is meant to show that the middle is a dynamic place to be; it has energy; it’s in motion. It’s rising.

Now, radical is generally not the most welcome term among American Mormons. It smacks to much of the Left and/or of the political fringe. This is why it’s important to confine the term the radical middle to Mormon arts and culture and emphasize that there is room for artists, critics and readers with a multitude of political leanings (assuming, of course, that their politics isn’t the sole thing driving their artistic activity). Indeed, I think by pairing radical and middle and applying it to Mormon arts, England and anyone else who invokes the term is reinscribing its’ meaning, appropriating the adjective for our own use and changing it in the process. I’m a fan of such appropriation by an ethnic group/sub-culture. But what do we really mean by radical and how does it play out in Mormon arts and culture? The short answers are: nobody has really said much, and it doesn’t really. So unlike with the middle where I was able to explore it in depth in a descriptive way, I’m going to have to get speculative and prescriptive with the radical. But first…

Radical history and doctrine

Whatever our position in American society now (that is the tenuous semi-mainstreamed stability achieved through the embrace of the meritocracy and of alliance with conservative politics [allowing, of course, for the few liberals and crunchy cons and libertarians]), it must not be forgotten that we have radical roots. From the restorationist claims of Joseph Smith to the communitarian projects of Brigham Young, and, yes, the scandalousness of polygamy — whether you believe all that to be a concatenation of American (not forgetting the European streams of thought behind them) influences (with a touch of native genius) or the opening of the heavens and streaming of restored truths, the radical, as in the challenge to the status quo, roots of Mormonism run deep. And are the wellspring of latter-day Mormon art. Continue reading “The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical”

The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Middle

The middle is an appealing place to be albeit a difficult place to define and defend. And it brings with it its own dangers. By very definition it relies on other operative ideologies and is thus too often reactive. By inclination, as I mention in the first post, it tends to be wish-washy and self-conscious (or even anxiogenic), often producing thousands of words on what it isn’t or is, seeking to write itself a space, to carve out its outer limits and vigorously defend what falls in to that space. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the middle, but is merely an attempt to define some important strands that are woven into the concept.

Between the poles

If we take our cues from England’s essay “Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left!,” the middle is the place between two poles of Mormon narrative art. In most specific terms, it is the works that fall between the two 1990s Mormon short story anthologies Turning Hearts: Short Stories on Family Life (Bookcraft) and In Our Lovely Deseret: Mormon Fictions (Signature). It is represented by the works England selected for his own, earlier anthology Bright Angels & Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories (Signature). Now England does make some larger philosophical claims for what this middle is, in particular linking it to the idea of ethical fiction, but in terms of defining the middle, well, the middle is in between these two poles — between the right and the left. Continue reading “The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Middle”

The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: Origins

Several months ago Theric asked me to define the radical middle — this term that I and others at AMV have been throwing around. More recently, Association for Mormon Letters President Boyd Petersen invoked the same phrase in his inaugural post on The Dawning of a Brighter Day. I’m hesitant to write manifestos or get in to long drawn out debates over what counts or doesn’t (c.f. the what-counts-as-indie debates of the ’80s and ’90s), but if we’re going to use a label we should be willing to engage it and so I’m going to do just that in three posts over three days: origins, the middle and the radical.

It all starts with Eugene England

As far as I know, the first use of the term radical middle in relation to Mormon narrative art is in Eugene England’s Dialogue essay/review “Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left! The Ethics of Recent Mormon Fiction,” which was published in Fall 1999. Continue reading “The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: Origins”

Short Story Friday: Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left! by Eugene England

For today a departure from our normal reading — a piece of criticism rather than a short story. Read it and then go back and read one or two or three of the Short Story Friday stories you haven’t read yet.

Title: Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left! The Ethics of Recent Mormon Fiction

Author: Eugene England

Publication Info: Fall 1999 — Dialogue, Volume 32, Number 3

Submitted by: William Morris

Why?: 1. Because it’s the most significant piece of Mormon criticism published so far that focuses on short stories. 2. Because I think it gets at what I mean by the radical middle (but not entirely) 3. Because it has an hilarious title. 4. Because it’s criticism that actually dares to not only examine ethics but use specific examples! 5. Because it’s Eugene England.

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