Wish you were here.
Saturday, the GTU sponsored the Mormonism and Asia conference (plenary session and concluding meet-and-greet at the Berkeley Institute. Here’s an excerpt from the flyer: Continue reading “An embarrassment of riches”
I’ve been following Margaret Young’s plans to teach the “Literature of the Latter-day Saints” class at BYU this coming semester, and I was pleased to see that she has posted her reading list for the course on her blog, and plans to post “parts of the class” on her blog also. I even suggested to my BYU student daughter that she take the class.
Nope. That won’t work. In addition to the students who have grabbed one of the 30 seats for the class, there is a waiting list of 63 (as of this morning).
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.
It’s taken the better half of a decade, but Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama is off to the printers. This is the description of the book on Zarahemla Books’s website:
Saints on Stage is the most comprehensive and important work on Mormon drama ever published. This volume anthologizes some of Mormonism’s best plays from the last several decades, many of them published here for the first time. Several of these plays have won honors from institutions as varied as the Kennedy Center and the Association for Mormon Letters.
This volume includes historical backgrounds and playwright biographies, as well as an introduction that provides an extensive overview of Mormon drama. The following plays are included:
Fires of the Mind ““ Robert Elliott
Huebener ““ Thomas F. Rogers
Burdens of Earth ““ Susan Elizabeth Howe
J. Golden ““ James Arrington
Matters of the Heart ““ Thom Duncan
Gadianton ““ Eric Samuelsen
Hancock County ““ Tim Slover
Stones ““ J. Scott Bronson
Farewell to Eden ““ Mahonri Stewart
Martyrs’ Crossing ““ Melissa Leilani Larson
I Am Jane ““ Margaret Blair Young
Recently, I sent Association for Mormon Letters President Margaret Blair Young a list of questions about her current projects with Darius Gray–a revision of their Standing on the Promises novel series and the feature film The Heart of Africa—as well as her own work as a creative writer and AML president. Kindly, Margaret took time away from her busy schedule to answer them for me.
I’ve split the Q&A into two parts. Answers to the questions relating to Standing on the Promises and The Heart of Africa will be featured on Modern Mormon Men sometime soon. Below are her answers to my questions about her earlier work, AML, and future projects.
NOTE: I plan to post the Q&A in its entirety on The Low-Tech World as soon as Modern Mormon Men runs the remainder of it.
Throughout your career as a writer, you’ve seemed to gravitate towards stories about marginalization within Mormon communities. For example, in your novel Salvador, your protagonist is a divorced Mormon woman who visits relatives who operate a fringe Mormon commune in Central America. Heresies of Nature centers around a character who has been severely debilitated by multiple sclerosis. What draws you to these stories? Why do Mormons need them?
What drew me to write Salvador? My life. You’d be surprised at how much of that is autobiographical. Heresies of Nature? My sister-in-law died of M.S. I turned that novel into a play, and my sister passed away on opening night. It was a remarkable experience for all of us. My husband had already written a tribute to his sister on the playbill, so every audience member received that. Cast members attended Nancy’s funeral, and Nancy’s nurses attended the play. But obviously, I believe in dealing with hard issues. If we don’t learn to deal with them, we will almost certainly lack empathy when others are hitting them. We need to train our minds and magnify our faith as our children grow in this internet age. They will come to us with questions to bridge what they learn in Sunday school and what they read online. Our answers will need to reflect our knowledge and the example of who we are in this age and place of Mormonism; what we cling to as our essential and inviolate morality. This is a dynamic religion. We may still stand in holy places, even while acknowledging that many in the past became detached from their “better angels.”
Can you trace the DNA of your work as a fiction writer? Who has informed your work the most intellectually, stylistically?
My first influences were the classics, Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov being my first teachers. And they were teachers. I took Melville’s book with me to Guatemala and read it three times without anyone guiding me.The Brothers Karamazov was the first book I fell in love with. It transformed me into a reader. Before reading that, I cheated. I read Cliff Notes. Stylistically? I read a lot of James Joyce, Alice Munro, Faulkner. When I turned to Black history fifteen years ago, I read history books. Seems like hundreds. I find I’m actually more at home with historians now than I am with fiction writers. A really good short story feels like dessert to me.
So there’s several Mormon novels I read that I kept meaning to review, but never got around to it. They were there in the back of my head, screaming at me, “Tell the world about us!” I looked compassionately at those great works of art and said, “Okay, I have a duty to you for making my life that much better. Okay.” So these are going to be fast and dirty, but they’ll be better than the guilty silence that has waited impatiently the past several years. So here’s a handful of some of the best Mormon Literature that I have come across the last several years:
THE PICTOGRAPH MURDERS
by P.G. Karamasines
Written by AMV’s very own Patricia Karasamines, this novel still has left a very vivid impression on me, despite the fact that it’s been probably six or seven years since I read it. It’s the story of Alex McKelvey, a Mormon convert who participates in a BYU sponsored archaeology dig in Southern Utah. Alex is a English/folklore student at the Y and a naturalist, so although she isn’t actually studying archaeology, her interest in the Southwest and the myths and culture of the Native Americans makes her interest in participating in the dig more than believable. At the dig, a disappearance and possible murder occurs, which leads us into an intriguing plot involving the possible involvement of mythological figures, culture clashes, and a tight, interesting thriller plot.
The characters in the novel were well drawn and intriguing, especially Alex (and, interestingly enough, her Siberian husky Kit), as well as the portrayal of the Native American mythological figure Coyote. Character driven in a magical realism setting, this was an achingly beautiful novel, despite masquerading as a thriller. The evocative language Karamesines uses, especially when describing Southern Utah’s emotional beauty or using her archetypal brush to paint new visions on Native American mythology. Being a lover of mythology, cultural exchange, and poetic prose, this book was right up my alley. Beautifully written, intelligently plotted, and deeply satisfying, I would heartily recommend The Pictograph Murders to nearly anyone.
The Grand Theatre in Salt Lake recently finished their run of Margaret Blair Young’s I Am Jane, but I am very glad that the show is also going to the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, UT, on July 22-23. I am glad because I want to shout from the rooftops to everyone who will listen to me, “Hallelujah! Go see this show!” Really, this may be your last chance. If you’re in driving distance of Provo on those nights, please, do yourself a favor and go see it. You’ll be a better human being for it.
Now the production isn’t perfect, nor is the script, and I’ll detail why that is later. But, in the end, my criticisms of the show don’t matter, because there are some productions that are simply important. Despite any flaws such shows have, the marred parts are overshadowed and outshone by the glory. And glory, as hyperbolic as that word can be, is the right word to use for this show. Glorious. Continue reading “Margaret Blair Young’s _I Am Jane_: A Truly Important Play”