What of the Night?

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Stephen Carter’s 2010 essay collection, as you might expect, provides plenty stellar examples of the form, what with the personal essay being The Great Mormon Form (or so I hear) and Stephen Carter being Stephen @#(*&$^ Carter.

Before taking the helm at Sunstone, Carter racked up a few Eugene England Memorial Personal Essay Competition notations, had been cited in Best American Spiritual Writing, and scattered his work through the major Mormon literary rags. He’s Stephen Carter, folks!

(Obligatory note: Although I paid for my copy, I still may be biased as Stephen is a friend of mine. Who knows.) (In similar news, see Wm’s earlier review.)

First, as an object (this is not relevant if you’re planning on saving money and ). The cover has really grown on me since the book was first released. The type is huge making this 168-page book an even quicker read.

But the words, the words. What about the actual words? Continue readingWhat of the Night?

Bright Angels & Familiars: “The Week-end” by Donald R. Marshall

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Before I can write about this story, I need to talk about Stephen Carter’s “Winter Light” (in What of the Night?) because as I read “The Week-end” I kept thinking This could have been May Swenson.

Carter’s Aunt May is one of the Twentieth Century’s great poets and she was an expat Utah Mormon living in the wilds of New York, leaving behind family and faith for poetry and pretty girls. “Winter Light” discusses May’s career from the point-of-view of her family. Over the course of the essay, Carter becomes more sympathetic to her plight, but the family in general views her as a lost soul, eternally trapped in a waiting place, separated from the family she loved.

What’s lacking from “Winter Light” (and Carter knows it) is May’s own perspective.

And as I read Marshall’s “The Week-end”, I kept wondering if this is what May would have become had she never left Logan. Continue readingBright Angels & Familiars: “The Week-end” by Donald R. Marshall”

Stephen Carter’s What of the Night?

WhatofTheNight_LGI’ve been following Stephen Carter’s career for several years — from his participation on the AML-List during it’s heyday, to his graduate studies in creative writing, his work on the Sugar Beet and then as editor of Sunstone. I like Stephen, and I like his essay collection What of the Night? (Zarahemla Books — note that the e-book editions, including Kindle, are only $2.99) I’ve put off this review long enough (not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of time) so I’m not going to go into detail about the collection, but I will make a few points.

1. What of the Night? is like a really good album. It’s of one piece but with variation. Themes repeat, tone modulates but doesn’t swing to extremes, length varies but within a range. These essays go together. There’s a rhythm to the collection and the reader (or at least this reader) feels that they were all written within the same energy.

2. There is humor. There is earthiness. There is doubt. But on the whole I like that the Church’s pull on Stephen is generally a good thing. Sometimes a perplexing thing, but a good thing. And that the essays are more about Stephen figuring out where he is located in relationship to the LDS Church, to Mormon culture, to the gospel, to his family than trying to make grand, global pronouncements about how the reader should feel about such things. He’s a dude trying to figure things out. I can relate, even if my particulars are very different because I never quite felt the pressures of Utah culture that he did growing up.

3. I like the cover.

4. There are a few sections where the writing seems too honed and needs to loosen up and breathe a bit. Endings end too early sometimes. Stephen seems at times too allergic to sermonizing or drawing larger conclusions. But really, that’s okay — he needed to err on that side of things as he learned his craft, and so does Mormon letters in general, I think. Right now honed and more personal, less socio-cultural is good.

Note: this review is based on a free PDF of the book provided to me by the publisher

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”

Best of Mormonism 2009 (in brief)

I was pleased to receive a copy of Best of Mormonism 2009 (edited by Stephen Carter) by virtue of my Irreantum subscription. That was a nice bonus. I mostly endorse Theric’s review and recommendations. But to be brief and positive:

My Favorite Work: Neil Aitken’s poem “Traveling through the Prairies, I think of My Father’s Voice”

The One I’ve Been Thinking About: Lisa Torcasso Downing’s short story “Clothing Esther”

Prose I Most Admire: there’s some very good writers here, but the one that really got me in the flow of the language is Joshua Foster’s essay “God Damned the Land But Lifted the People; Or, A Redemption in Three Levitations”

Best Use Of Humor: To be honest a bit disappointing overall, but this sentence from Lynda Mackey Wilson’s essay “We Who Owe Everything to a Name” cracked me up — (talking about a book about she received from her agnostic parents called The Origins of Life) “There were dramatic pictures of lightning flashing over moody ammonia seas.” (152)

Favorite Sentences/Lines: I’m going to pick two. From Aitken’s poem — “…Here, the wind sounds the same/ blown from any direction, full of dust, pollen, the deep toll of church bells/ rung for mass, weddings, deaths. …” (1)

And from Lance Larsen’s essay “A Feeling in Your Head”  (which is about him as a young boy with an uncle fighting in Vietnam and the fragile hope for his return) — “On winter Sundays, we entered the church for sacrament and sermons in afternoon light, then exited in darkness, as if our praying brought on the gloom, our singing caused it to lick at the chapel windows, our amens led it to press down on the station wagon my father maneuvered through the streets like an elegant hearse.” (115)

The Best of Mormonism 2009: An interview with its editor

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When I first heard of this anthology, I did not know it was intended to be a yearly series. So when I noticed the 2009 on the cover I was thrilled.

The anthology includes work from Irreantum to The Iowa Review and points inbetween. A goodly percentage of it is from LDSy publications, but not at all all — just over 50% (I redid my math after the interview, but I’ve put the full contents and their original sources up at The Mormon Arts Wiki if you want to know more.)

The anthology is solid. Not entirely representative of my own taste, but why should it be? I interviewed the book’s editor (Stephen Carter, also the head editor of Sunstone) about this exciting new addition to Mormon letters — one I hope lasts a long, long time.

Someday I hope to have a full shelf of these babies in all different colors. Continue reading “The Best of Mormonism 2009: An interview with its editor”

Holy fools wrestling with god

Somehow I missed that Eugene Woodbury had posted an essay titled on his Web site. Or perhaps I knew about it and then forgot about it and then rediscovered it. Whatever the case it’s a fantastic read. So go read it.

It was written as a response to an essay by Stephen Carter and Stephen and Eugene did their duo-presentation at a Sunstone Symposium and the back in 2007.

Eugene (summarizing Stephen) begins with:

We propose that narrative fiction constructed in a Mormon context and for Mormon audiences often strays from conventional storytelling in several ways. Principal among these is the negation or diminution of the “second act.” These stories skip from the first act (the set up) to the third act (the reassuring resolution), leaving out the struggle in between. Continue reading “Holy fools wrestling with god”