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”

Doug Thayer on Mormonism as a faith that invites novelists

As I mentioned in my post Doug Thayer sums it all up, Thayer’s “About Serious Mormon Fiction” is remarkable for the in-depth and broad look he takes at the field. There are a numerous passages that I could quote that would lead to fruitful discussion, but I’m just going to focus on one.

After covering a lot of ground and then going in to some specific ideas for the types of Mormon novels that he would like to read, Thayer writes:

Contemporary Mormon life itself helps to create this need for a serious fiction. A faith that believes in perfection, a life filed with attainable goals, large beautiful families, the near Second Coming, personal revelation, daily guidance from the Holy Ghost, eternal life with an eternal family, righteousness materially rewarded in this life, and degrees of glory invites interpretation, explanation. In short, is a faith that invite novelists. Because we as faithful, intelligent Mormons want to help to understand it all, to see how it works, or might work. And this is often best done in the privacy of a novel that the readers enter into imaginatively to experience vicariously with the protagonist all that he or she experiences, understands, and learns in the process.

For example, what is spiritual experience? We Mormons talka lot today about the spirit — feeling the spirit, being guided by the spirit, following the spirit, seeking the spirit, losing the spirit, being filled with the spirit, leading a spiritual life. We don’t talk much about living a religious life, but living a spiritual life. So what is a spiritual life, to folow the spirit? Are we really talking about experiencing the Holy Ghost, and therefore should write spirit with a capital S? If so, what does it feel like? How do you know if ou’re leading such a life? Is it only feeling, emotions, impressions? Is the intellect, the mind, objectivity, reason a part of spirituality? In what ways are our spiritual lives powerful, compelling, directing, satisfying, divine? As Conrad said, the novelist’s task is to make experience, something to be tasted, seen, heard, felt, and smelled. A realistic serious novel could create characters, images, situations that would help readers experience spirituality, help them hear, feel, and see it, know what it is and is not. (39)

I don’t know how well we accomplish this, but I like this notion of making experience and helping understand a lot.

Doug Thayer sums it all up

I’ve finally got around to reading Irreantum 12:2, the fall/winter 2010 edition of the Association for Mormon Letters literary journal. Okay, so, how come none of you have mentioned that Doug Thayer sums up the entire field of Mormon fiction in its pages? Maybe you did, and I just wasn’t listening. And I don’t agree with everything he says. But still, his essay “About Serious Mormon Fiction” (which is a revised version of his 2008 Eugene England Memorial Lecture* at Utah Valley University) is remarkable for its breadth. In it he discusses:

  • Why he writes Mormon fiction
  • What he means by “serious” Mormon fiction
  • What he thinks about the “great Mormon novel”
  • Why serious Mormon fiction will offend Mormon readers (but in a useful way)
  • What he defines as the Mormon audience and how thinks it can be reached
  • The state of Mormon publishing and what he thinks is missing (in particular he sees a need for “a major popular web site for serious Mormon literature” [and also suggests that it might need a rating system, which we have also discussed around these parts])
  • Some theories on why Mormon literature “doesn’t flourish as it might be expected to”
  • How he answers LDS-centric criticism of serious fiction
  • Possible “themes, conflicts and plots” for Mormon novelists and some of the types of Mormon novels he would personally like to read
  • How Mormon doctrine might inform the themes of serious Mormon fiction
  • Who is going to write these Mormon novels (not his creative writing students, he says)
  • The craft of fiction writing
  • The fact that the novelists he is hoping for are likely to be Mormon women (and why)

That’s a lot of ground to cover and Thayer basically tackles here all of the major issues of the field and ties them together and sums it all up, and it’s well worth seeking out.

*It’s a pity these aren’t better documented.

Irreantum 13.1

Some quick, subjective reactions to the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Irreantum

Favorite review: “Modern Mormon Family: Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth” by Scott Hales. I find Scott’s writing style quite winning and charming in this review.

Favorite essay*: “Wrestling with God: Invoking Scriptural Mythos and Language in LDS Literary Works” by James Goldberg. His other essay is funnier and more interesting, but this is solid, critical (and critical) work. I haven’t read something that feels like it really moves the field in awhile. This does — both descriptively and prescriptively.

Favorite poem: “Disco Hero” by Liz Chapman. Uniquely Mormon, very funny, and totally approachable. Just what I need from poetry that appears in Mormon journals.

Favorite short story: “Flight” by Courtney Miller Santo. I love that it’s an old couple and how their oldness and their coupleness plays out and how real, yet unique, yet fictional it seems. I enjoyed the background presence of the mommy blogger daughter (although it’s maybe a little too hammered home in the end). The imagery with the hummingbirds somehow feels like it’s adding to the whole mix without screaming allegory. Very nicely done.

*Note that I’m bundling the critical essays and creative nonfiction, which I probably shouldn’t, but I see them as all on the same continuum and so react to them as such.

Irreantum miscellanea

I’m sure that by now you’ve seen the winners of the which were announced last week. But have  you also read Lisa Torcassso Downing’s post about this year’s fictioncontest? It’s very much worth checking out.

AMVer Tyler Chadwick won on honorable mention for his poetry. I hope that means that it will be published in a future issue. Although with only two issues a year and 5 poetry, 5 fiction and 4 essay winners (including honorable mentions), that’s pretty much both issues filled right there. I guess that’s why the publication no longer accepts rolling submissions.

I entered two stories in the contest this year: one was a piece of near future, post-apocalyptic science fiction that takes place in the same world as my 2010 contest entry; the other was a piece of contemporary literary fiction that takes place at an MLA conference in San Francisco. They definitely represent the two major tracks of my current fiction writing interests, and I’m currently wondering which one to go down.

Also last week: Volume 13, No. 1 of Irreantum arrived in the mail. I have yet to read it, but I did flip through it. AMVer Jonathan Langford contributes a review of Doug Thayer’s The Tree House. And several of our favorite commenters, including Scott Hales, Darlene Young, and James Goldberg have can be found in the table of contents. I also found myself looking at the cover and interior illustrations and thinking “huh, that style seems familiar to me.” Sure enough, Monsters & Mormon graphic novel artist Galen Smith contributed the art to this issue. I look forward to digging into it further.

I received a renewal notice with this issue. Printed at the bottom of the notice is — Irreantum featuring the NEW Mormon literature: “thoughtful, provocative, nuanced, articulate”

Irreantum 2010 Charlotte and Eugene England Personal Essay Contest Winners

Another AML news item:

The Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to announce the winners of the
2010 Charlotte and Eugene England Personal Essay contest. A committee of
judges considered 47 entries and awarded three cash prizes as well as an
honorable mention.

Continue reading “Irreantum 2010 Charlotte and Eugene England Personal Essay Contest Winners”

The evolution of Irreantum (spine edition)

This is every issue of Irreantum but one (and only in rough chronological order). Plus the last four AML Annuals that were published:

Irreantum

click here for a larger version of the photo

I finally unpacked the box with all my older copies of Irreantum and found a shelf for the entire print run. At some point I’ll put them in strict chronological order and also figure out which one I’m missing and see if I can track down a copy.