Winter 1993, Volume 10.3
Neila C. Seshachari
We ring the bells for our 10th anniversary with a special issue on Tradition and the Individual Talent in Contemporary Mormon Letters.
This issue, which is also a celebration of Mormon letters by a Gentile journal, reminds me of a conversation following the founding of the Association for Mormon Letters in 1976. When I became a charter member of the AML, one of my friends asked me two questions in rapid succession: "Is there such a thing as Mormon literature?" and"Are you a Mormon?" Implicit in these questions were two assumptions: 1) Mormon writing is so faith promoting that it is inappropriate to call it literature in any aesthetic or critical sense. Arising out of this as a corollary is the conviction that 2) only Mormons would want to read this "literature." (In like manner, we may recall, many renowned American universities, even as late as the 1950s, questioned the validity of American literature to merit a course-offering.)
These assumptions are not altogether unfounded. The thrust of much Mormon "creative writing" produced today is faith promoting. This "literature" zealously bears testimonies for the faith and its faithful. But it would be a mistake to identify such efforts with the literature produced by a growing number of Mormon-born writers who take their vocation of writing seriously.
The best creative writing by Mormons in the last twenty-five or more years mirrors the tremendous fermentboth intellectual and spiritualthat is raging within their psychic boundaries. Their finest writing is the outcome, in human terms, of the conflict between the writers' most secure and secluded upbringing and their recognition of the larger doubt-ridden outside world of realities. These writers seem to have made a maxim of André Gide's as their own: "The writer must know how to swim against the tide." To make our readers aware of the richness and possibilities of this imaginative and creative literature is our intent in this special issue.
The idea for this special issue came to me quite unexpectedly as I heard William Mulder, in one of AML's "cottage meetings" as he calls them, propound enthusiastically on the renaissance taking place on the contemporary Mormon literary scene. That's it, I thought. I've got to share with our readers the exciting process of "coming of age" in Mormon letters. Before the evening was done, I had already "requisitioned" the services of William Mulder, as only a former student and long-time friend can her emeritus professor!
The second article, whose larger topic I determined, was to provide a thought-provoking counterpoint in highlighting Mormon women writers' unique predicamentscultural, intellectual, and spiritualin a faith and society that they both felt committed to and loved. Lavina Fielding Anderson, who has ably voiced this anguish both as a critic and a member of avant garde (Mormon) women's organizations, seemed a competent spokesperson. I thank her for obliging me.
On the spectrum of issues and possibilities raised between these two articles, you readers will find a range of fiction, personal essays, poetry, interview, and a parable that will delight you even as you read these writers presented somewhat artificially as "Mormon writers."
Not all the writers featured in this issue would like to be called "Mormon writers"Do we call Shakespeare an Anglican writer? But we think of Graham Greene as a Catholic writer; don't we? And we talk of Jewish literature even though all of them were baptized into the faith of Latter-day Saints (LDS, known also as Mormon). Their Mormonism provides them with a rich cultural milieu throbbing with faith, doubt, and uncertainties, which is a fertile seed bed for creative writing.
Many of the fictions and articles, though not all, were solicited for this issue. The writers were free to choose their topics and genres. If their fictional worlds collide with the ideal Mormon world of serene faith and obedience to authority, it only reemphasizes the power of art to reflect human psychic tensions. What was important to me in the final selection was to show the variety, range, and self-awareness that are the proliferating features of this wave of renaissance in contemporary Mormon letters. Constraints of space prevented me from soliciting or featuring the works of many who rightly belong in these pages. One writer turned us down politely.
I would be remiss if I did not (re)acquaint our newer readers about the origin and growth of this journal on the occasion of our 10th anniversary. The point was driven home to me recently. At a campus party a couple of months ago, a colleague and I fell to talking about an article in the latest issue of Weber Studies, when I happened to mention to him our 10th anniversary special issue.
"Have you been editor that long?" he asked. "No," I answered, "This is the end of my seventh year. I am the journal's third editor, but the journal went through substantive changes when I got on board." Prodded by my colleague's questioning, I found myself narrating, for the next 15 minutes, the life story of this little magazine's first decade. "I've been your reader for six years, but I had no idea of its interesting history," he said. "Be sure to write all this in your 10th anniversary editorial."
I can't be long-winded in this column, of course, but as I ruminate on the beginnings of Weber Studies, I can only recall myself gazing surprised and transfixed at the fragile source and beginning of the immense Athabasca riverthat little nascent stream of cascading watergurgling through the Columbia snowfield in Canada. Some publications begin in pomp and splendor, while others start out modestly. Weber Studies started as an annual publication "intended to encourage a broad exchange of professional work and to provide editorial design and printing experience for the faculty and students involved in its publication." It saw two editors in its first three yearsNikki Hansen, who edited the first issue, and LaVon Carroll, who steered the journal through its next two annual issues.
When offered the journal's editorship at the beginning of its fourth year, I remember negotiating hard with Sherwin W. Howard, then Dean of Arts & Humanities and the source of Weber Studies budget, to fund semi-annual publication of the journal if he wanted me to accept the editorship. He had doubts about our ability to sustain the publication twice a year, but he was willing that I try. I made other major changes as well. The journal 1) changed its name to Weber Studies: An Interdisciplinary Humanities Journal, to more accurately denote its new scope, 2) secured a nationally recognized editorial review board, 3) obtained a Library of Congress International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), 4) was indexed for the first time in five respected indexes, 5) started publishing book reviews, and 6) entered the national sales market with a subscription price tag. Within two years, Dean Howard was persuading me to publish the journal three times a year!
The most distinguishing feature of Weber Studies, the "Fiction/Poetry and Interview Series" which publishes original work by a well-known author followed by an interview with the author, was begun later in 1990.
Only last year, beginning with volume 9 (1992), Weber Studies became a triquarterly, with three issues published in January, May, and September and simultaneously started publishing one special issue per year.
In this, its tenth year, Weber Studies has begun to recognize its literary artists with cash awards in rotation for the best poetry, fiction, and critical or personal essay published in its pages, thanks to a bounteous grant from the Junior E. and Blanche B. Rich Foundation .
As the journal forges ahead gathering momentum and strength on its way to reaching its full potential, I want to thank all those who make its publication possible its contributors (poets, fiction writers, critics, book reviewers), its readers, its editorial board members each of whom gives so much time and effort, advisory board members, its staff and Weber State University, as well as those who make it possible for us to offer artists honoraria with graceindividual donors, Utah Arts Council, Utah Humanities Council, and other philanthropic foundations. As the Tralfamadorian from outer space in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter-house Five might say, It takes all the five different sexes on Earth to make and nurture this baby.