The conference consists of two panel discussions, two live debates, a writing workshop, a poetry playoff, and an awards ceremony with readings from some of the winners.
There is one important catch, though: there are two sessions going on most of the time, so you can only catch half the program. What will you choose?
Here's the agenda:
Registration and mingling outside library auditorium
Room 515: What is the role of the Mormon writer in the community?
Debate: Stephen Carter vs. James Goldberg
Room 516: The Mormon Lit Scene Today
Panel: Laura Hilton Craner, Nicole Wilkes Goldberg, Katherine Morris, Boyd Peterson
Room 515: Should Mormon writers study Mormon literature?
Debate: Gideon Burton vs. Eric Samuelsen
Room 516: Inventing Truth: The Art and Craft of the Personal Essay
Workshop Leaders: Sharlee Mullins Glenn, Cheri Shulzke, Melissa Young
Room 515: Poetry Slam
Competitors: Emily Harris Adams, Shawn Bailey, Laura Hilton Craner, Marianne Hales Harding, Michael Hicks, Clifton Jolley, Kevin Klein, Steven Peck, Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen, Darlene Young
Room 516: My Favorite Mormon Book and Why It Matters
Panel: Glenn Gordon, Lance Larsen, Melissa Leilani Larson, Shelah Miner, Ardis E. Parshall
Announcement of Annual AML Award Winners
Presenter: Scott Bronson
Selected readings by award winners
Selected readings by award winners
And here's my advice on what to take in:
It's worth it to come early--half the fun of conferences is the hallway discussions. I, personally, am hoping to find some people to toss around Mormon alternative history ideas with. There may or may not be a betting pool on which shortlisted titles will get awards come afternoon. And even if you're more the fly on the wall type, with enough writers around, there's always something interesting to listen to.
Room 515: My debate with Stephen Carter should be a lot of fun. Political debates today are so much about personality and image that they're mostly unwatchable--Stephen and I have basically nothing at stake personally, so this one will be all about the ideas. That alone is probably worth the hour.
The topic is also pretty interesting. Stephen Carter, who's the editor of Sunstone, will be arguing for Mormon writers to follow the grand Western tradition of the writer as social critic, a voice of conscience within the community. While I think conscience has value, I'll argue that there are some dangers to casting oneself in that role, and argue that Mormon writers should work to engage the Mormon imagination more than to expose the weaknesses in the culture. Sort of the aesthetic of the Mormon Lit Blitz, as it happens.
The division isn't just theory. If you get into literary Mormon fiction, you'll see the same debate playing out in the way people structure their stories. And you'll probably recognize the same styles in the ways people blog and talk about Mormonism online.
I highly recommend this session to two groups: 1) those who are already heavily involved in Mormon Lit, and 2) those who don't care that much about Mormon Lit, but are at the conference 'cause it sounded fun.
Room 516: Between the two groups I recommend the debate for is another group that I hope to see well-represented Saturday: those who aren't very involved in Mormon Lit now, but who are interested. "The Mormon Lit Scene Today" is a panel designed to give you a quick survey of what's out there in terms of organizations, online resources, publishers, awards, communities, etc.--and what purpose they all serve and how they fit together. Different readers and readers want different things, and it can be hard at first to find the place within Mormon Lit that fits you best. This panel could help you figure out what exists and how to tune into what you're most interested in.
Room 515: I could listen to Eric Samuelsen and Gideon Burton debate tooth paste brands, so this one would get my entertainment value vote. It's also the best session we have for anyone interested in the Mormon literary past: if you don't know much about the Mormon literary past the debate is over, this is probably a great session to go to.
I expect the debate will also end up touching on some thoughts that go beyond Mormon Lit into Mormon identity: how much do we gain by looking within and how much do we gain from looking without? Obviously, both are going to be beneficial, but playing the two alternatives off each other might shed some light not only on what aspiring Mormon writers should read, but on how we might think of our dual identity as members of a very distinct community living in an age of increasingly open global culture.
Room 516: Eugene England and other giants in the Mormon literary past have made strong arguments for the essay as a form Mormons are culturally equipped to get a lot out of. And the team at Segullah have a growing track record behind them of using well-crafted essays to shape a vibrant online community capable of talking about more than the issue of the week.
Whether you are an experienced writer or not, the essay workshop would be a great choice if you feel like you have a story to tell. Words have always mattered, and probably matter more than ever in today's new media world, and we need people willing to do the hard work of turning experience into usable story. Maybe one of them can be you.
Room 515: Stay here if you're a fan of spectacle. Poetry has a reputation for being bookish, hard to connect to, and self-important. But that's only come because live audiences largely abandoned it. There have been plenty of cultures where poetry gathering were and are electric and exciting. So come: vote out what you don't love. Vote on what you do. And watch the ranks of poets whittle down until we crown a champion of the hour.
Room 516: This is the room where you should go if you've always figured Mormon Literature is stupid. Write down the titles of the books people recommend, make a goodwill effort to read them, and if you still don't like anything, you will join the elite ranks of those whose sweeping condemnations of Mormon Literature are supported by any meaningful kind of experience.
This is also a great session to attend if you love Mormon literature. I will be extremely surprised if anyone who attends the session will have read all five books the panels recommend: it's a great place to find new treasures and expand your reading list with books that have touched people in an unusual way.
A bonus for this session is that we'll open up at the end for audience members to share their own recommendations--and their stories of why a certain book affected them the way it did. So if you're planning on it, feel free to bring your own story.
I realize that we're ending just an hour before the General Women's Meeting and that young fathers may want to rush home to cook dinner for their kids. But we're going to pack an awful lot of awesome into this final hour. This is the first year the Association for Mormon Letters has released short lists for its awards, so there's more than the usual suspense about which titles will be announced as we get started. And we're anticipating that a lot of shortlisted writers will be there, so there will be quick readings from a wide range of the interesting voices in Mormon Lit today.
In any case: if you're along the Wasatch front and free, I'd love to see you sometime tomorrow afternoon. Be sure to introduce yourself if it's the first time we're meeting. If you live far away, I hope you at least enjoy knowing this sort of thing is happening. We do hope to get recordings posted online fairly soon after the conference so you can listen from a distance. And another year, maybe we'll be organized enough to broadcast events live and take questions on Facebook.
Whether you're going or not, I'd also love to hear your feedback on what sounds interesting. It's a lot of work to corral together this amount of talent, and we'd love to come up with the most compelling ways to use it at future events. So let me know how these sessions sound.