All finalists for the Mormon Lit Blitz have been posted and voting begins today. Remember that you need to vote for your FOUR favorite finalists. Incomplete votes will not count. Voting instructions can be found on the Mormon Artist blog.
Admitting bias, I think this year’s finalists have been the strongest we’ve seen of the three Lit Blitzes. The abundance of fiction may be what tipped the scale for me, as last year’s competition seemed too poetry-heavy for my tastes. This year we have three fine poems and one prose poem, Marianne Hales Harding’s “Platinum Tears,” all of which serve as strong representatives for the world of Mormon poetry. (We’re yet to see how many more poems made it as semi-finalists.) Of the short stories, I feel all of them are strong pieces that convey an evident, timely optimism about the Church and its people. This even includes Stephen Carter’s brilliant and terrifying “Slippery,” my favorite finalist, which uses magical realism to satirize the materialism of a small Utah community (and the American church as a whole). By paralleling modern Mormons with greedy Book of Mormon Nephites in a way that is alarmingly accurate, Carter’s story reminds us that Samuel the Lamanite’s admonitions against avarice remain relevant and applicable even to those who profess the True Gospel of Christ (see Helaman 13:31). Like the Nephites, “Slippery” suggests, we can fall prey to our unrighteous desires if we persist in holding tightly to them. Hope comes in knowing that we are not yet as slippery-fisted as the foolish characters in the story—and still have time to change our ways.
Other short stories that work for me were Annaliese Lemmon’s “Curelom Riders” and Jennifer Eichelberger’s “And Through the Woods,” which typify the overtly-Mormon direction I would like Mormon science fiction and fantasy to take. Both stories create worlds that have neither been nor possibly ever will be, yet inject them with Mormon elements that ground them in familiar Mormon territory. I find “Curelom Riders” particularly intriguing for the way it opens the Book of Mormon up to a kind of fantastic embellishment that has been tapped by others before it, like Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming series and David J. West’s Heroes of the Fallen, but in a way that feels fresh. Overall, in fact, I think this Lit Blitz shows the utility of the Book of Mormon mythos in creating contemporary Mormon literature. My own short story, “Living Scriptures,” draws upon Three Nephites folklore to comment on some of the platitudes of contemporary Mormonism and its commercial culture. From what I understand of the semi-finalists, others are using the Book of Mormon in similar ways.
The stories “The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner, “Thick and Thin” by Vilo Westwood,” and “Sugar Free” by Emily Debenham form a triptych, in my mind, of stories that showcase the goodness of the Mormon people and the power of everyday charity. All three involve the experiences of Mormon women striving to make the Church a better place by reaching out to others in need. In this respect, each story seems to fit within the genre of uplifting, semi-saccharine stories that always have a place in the back pages of the Ensign; yet, because of their humor and honesty, I think these stories resist the formulaic traps that make their Ensign counterparts so dissatisfying to literary folk. That is, by refusing to push past moments of frustration, embarrassment, and bewilderment to arrive at the clear, soothing assurance of a life lesson, these stories show that you do not need to spell out the “moral of the story” to share a message.
While fiction always takes top spot in my book, I enjoyed Lindsay Denton’s personal essay “20/20,” which holds its own against the wonderful personal essays from the first Lit Blitz (see here and here), as well as the poetry by Merrijane Rice (winner of the first Mormon Lit Blitz), Doug Staker, and Jonathon Penny. Of these, Penny’s “Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” is the strongest piece, reminding me, despite the shortness of its lines, of the religious poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poem captures the most sacred experience of Mormonism—temple worship—with an ambivalent voice that recognizes how the endowment at once calms and unsettles us as it prepares us for exaltation. Considering Recent Events, I think this poem is especially important for the way it reminds us that covenants are designed to unhinge us, make us uncomfortable in our mortal skin, and force us to rethink (if not abandon) our basic, terrestrial assumptions.
When I began this post, I felt like I had my four favorite finalists already selected. I’m no longer sure that’s the case. But votes are due at the end of the week, July 5th, so I don’t have much time to make up my mind. Regardless of how I vote, though, I think the strength of this year’s finalists is proof for why the Mormon Lit Blitz is important. When James, Nicole, and I began the competition two years ago, our goal was to make everyday Mormons aware of great Mormon writers and the potential of Mormon literature. With each year, and each competition, these goals are coming to pass. As we share the finalists through social media, we create opportunities for readers throughout the world to become acquainted with Mormon writers and their works. Likewise, as we hold these competitions, we incentivize Mormon writers to produce literature that experiments overtly with Mormonism and its landscape, blazing new directions for the future of Mormon literary arts. To these ends, it is important that we continue to support and participate in the Mormon Lit Blitz. Until Mormon literature finds its feet, the Mormon Lit Blitz—and other projects like it—serve as essential supports, aiding weak muscles and bones as they strive for greater strength and stability.