Two interesting (and short) Mormon comics out in the last little while (or midsized while, if you consider their original appearances online). Scott’s book just dropped. Noah’s arrived last July. Noah’s is about a Mormon kid whose connection to that aspect of his identity has largely lost its definition. Scott’s is the ultimate in insider humor.
MY HOT DATE by Noah Van Sciver
I was pretty much the perfect Mormon teen, I suppose. I didn’t swear, I showed up on time to Church, I went to seminary. Because I was a teenager, I imagined that was because I did these things myself. Of course, that’s nonsense. What if I had been thrust into young Noah’s circumstances? Continue reading “Newish stuff from Van Sciver and Hales”
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.]
Now that the busyness of Christmas has passed and the final performance in the 2nd Annual #MormonPoetrySlam has posted (see the event archive here), it’s time to determine the winner of the Audience Choice Award. For your consideration and reviewing pleasure, here are the eighteen entries, listed in order of appearance (you may need to hit “Read next page” at the bottom of the Storify to review all of eighteen).
I’m reading the Mahonri Stewart-edited collection Saints on Stage, the first play in which is Robert Elliot’s Fires of the Mind (1974). One of the great things about Saints on Stage is Mahonri’s historical descriptions of the impact the plays had during their original productions. In the case of Fires of the Mind, seems like it was something of a doozy when it showed up on BYU campus. A contemporary account from the Daily Universe recounts this story:
George Clooney, I’m told, uses his star power for good. That is, he makes a blockbuster—say, Ocean’s Thirteen—to keep his box-office mojo shiny, then spends that star capital on getting Burn After Reading made. Or The Perfect Storm so O Brother, Where Art Thou? can exist. The Coens, it would seem, owe megamovies a great debt.
In July 1915–nearly one hundred years ago–Nephi Anderson traveled to San Francisco to attend meetings at the International Congress of Genealogy held in connection with the Pan-American and Pacific International Exposition. While there, he also attended the exposition’s Utah Day celebration and spent three days seeing the sights. Overall, he writes in his journal, he “had a splendid time.”
He was back in San Francisco five years later, vacationing and conducting some Church business. He stayed at mission headquarters on Hayes Street, where he had Thanksgiving dinner, and attended meetings in Berkeley and Oakland.
The house where Anderson stayed during this second visit (1649 Hayes Street) still stands, although it is now the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ rather than an LDS mission headquarters. I had the opportunity to drive past it last weekend when I was in San Francisco to talk about Anderson at the annual meeting for the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies. It’s in a busy neighborhood just north of Golden Gate Park, so I couldn’t find a place to park nearby. I was able to snap two pictures of it, though, before San Francisco’s traffic nudged me along.
In many ways, Anderson’s history with San Francisco is unremarkable. He was never more than a temporary resident of the city–a vacationer, a passer-through–and what he saw and thought of the city is mostly a matter of conjecture. (As a journal and letter writer, Anderson was an ardent minimalist!) Still, when Sarah Reed, Eric Jepson, and I met last Saturday at the SASS meeting to present papers on his life and work, the fact that he had been to the city and left a brief record of his visit seemed to add to the occasion. As Theric pointed out in his presentation, Anderson’s visits to the city remind us that he was not a provincial writer, holed up behind the mountains of Utah and indifferent to the world beyond Mormonism, but a man who traveled throughout the United States and Europe and became well-acquainted with the important issues and ideas of his day. In fact, it was from this perspective–Anderson as a man of his times–that each of us seemed to approach his work.
If you read Nephi Anderson’s fiction for its aesthetic value, as the Mormon critics of the 1960s and 70s did, you’ll likely be disappointed–unless your aesthetic standards allow for “preachiness,” that catch-all term commonly used when describing Mormon fiction’s apparent tendency to use art as a vehicle for gospel teaching.
If you read his fiction as products of turn-of-the-century Mormon and American culture, however, you’ll likely have a more satisfying experience. Anderson, after all, was very much a man of his day–and keenly aware of the world around him. Rather than being an aesthetic failure, his work is a rich repository of responses to the cultural changes happening in Utah and the rest of the nation.
In fact, looking at Anderson’s work from this perspective helps us better understand some of his more problematic works, like his 1918 short story “Forfeits,” a second place winner in one of the monthly fiction contests the Improvement Era sponsored for a time. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can check it out here.)
In the story, a young man, Gale Thompson, returns to his Utah hometown nearly five years after “seek[ing] adventure and perchance fortune in the world” (519). By chance, Gale meets up with Dick Stevens, a friend who once accompanied him in his wanderings, who has since returned home and married Gale’s sister, Laura. During this reunion, it comes out that Dick and Laura’s child–an ambiguously sexed child that both men refer to only as “it”–was born blind because of a sexually transmitted disease Dick had contracted while he and Gale lived in Chicago and “dabble[d] in forbidden things” (521). The news sobers Gale, who fears that he may still carry the disease–even though a quack city doctor once pronounced him cured. His joyful return is over in an instant:
Scott Hales digs into the Church History Library archives for more information on Mormon novelist Nephi Anderson and his potential link to a Deseret News columnist named “Scriptus”.
Wm writes: Scott Hales — who most AMV readers will know from The Low-Tech World and Modern Mormon Men — spent some time earlier this year doing archival research on Mormon literature. Here’s a guest post by Scott that comes out of some of that research.
Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?
by Scott Hales
In the Nephi Anderson Collection of the Church History Library is a folder that contains newspaper clippings that Nephi Anderson collected throughout his life. Most of these are of articles, letters to the editor, or poems he published in newspapers in Utah, a few eastern cities, and England. Many of them, like clippings about missionary work or anti-Mormon activity in England, are unremarkable because they represent the kind of thing you would expect Anderson to save. Others, like a few describing violent crimes (“Child Murder Near Southend, Head Broken with a Slater’s Hammer,” “Ex-Convict Found Drowned”), raise fascinating questions about why an author known for his sentimentality, “lovely spirit,” and the “gentleness and kindness in his being” would be drawn to such grisly stories. (I have my own theories about the dark imagination of Nephi Anderson, but I’ll save them for a later post.)