Friday, March 30, 2012

From the Vaults: Susa Young Gates' "The Courtship of Kanosh"

This is something I uncovered recently during my research.  It's a 1905 short story by Susa Young Gates, early Mormon novelist and daughter of Brigham Young. The story tells of Sally, a thirteen-year-old Native American, who lives with a white Mormon family in Salt Lake City and is the object of desire of two Native American men: the "noble" Kanosh and the "savage" Walkara.

The story is of interest for several reasons. First, for BYU students and Provoans (?), it draws upon local Provo folklore and stages its climactic showdown between Kanosh and Walkara in Rock Canyon beneath the towering Squaw Peak. Second, and far more importantly, it's an interesting and problematic text about Mormonism, race, and gender. Scholars who wish to study more about Mormon literature's historic treatment and representation of the racial other, as well as its handling of issues like interracial marriage and the Lamanite curse, should not overlook "The Courtship of Kanosh." In fact, I read this story as a kind of precursor to texts like Arianne Cope's "White Shell" and The Coming of Elijah, which are very much in conversation with the kind of racism expressed within and through Gates's story.  

The Courtship of Kanosh:
A Pioneer Indian Love Story
By Susa Young Gates.
Improvement Era, Novemeber 1905

The few tins and coppers in Mrs. Mary's pioneer log cabin twinkled and flashed in the light of the blazing logs upon the great hearthstone, that chilly afternoon in September, 1848. Every article in that meagerly furnished room was clean and free from a housekeeper's reproach. The white chief's wife had gone across the fort with her baby, leaving the thirteen-year old Indian maiden, Sally, in full possession of the cozy log-cabin.

And lo, Sally had a lover! There he sat, on the door step, his great blanket folded about his arms and muffling his chin; his neck was sunk low in his drooping shoulders, and his attitude expressed either sadness or anger.

Sally paid no attention whatever to him. It was not that Kanosh lacked in rugged Indian manliness and strength, nor was he without a certain dark beauty, the beauty of primal nature, full and free. For his limbs were carved in heroic mold, and his dark, proud face was a model of Indian power and sagacity.

Kanosh had first seen Sally two months before, when he had visited the big white chief in company with Walker, Sowiette and a great band of Utah and Shoshone Indians.

The Indian chiefs had come in to the fort to learn what were the white men's intentions, and to make some sort of treaty for their own advantage, as well as to trade horses for food and firearms.

At the close of the long conference, in which Kanosh had accepted old Sowiette's position of conciliation, the chiefs had been invited to break bread with the white chief, their friend and brother.

On entering the large room of the central log cabin in the fort, Kanosh, a little in advance of the others, saw a maiden of his own blood assisting in the service of their dinner. Her long hair still hung down her back, but it was neatly braided in two broad plaits, and although her plump form looked somewhat awkward in the "civilized" dress which replaced the Indian blanket, the dark eyes were very soft and bright, and the lips were full of love and laughter.

The girl saw Kanosh quite as soon as he saw her, but no answering flash sparkled in her brown eyes. Instead, she coolly set the dish of meat she was carrying upon the table, and walked back to the inner room with a gesture that would have been a toss of the head in a white maiden.

Poor young chieftain! Although he tried to listen to the important discussions which his fellow chiefs were carrying on with the white Father, through the interpreter-and although there was very much that was novel and startling in this first civilized meal of which he had partaken-he could not listen, he could not attend, he could not eat. Fate, the hag, had thrust out her time-worn hand and had seized his quivering heart between her relentless fingers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Modern Mormon Men: Bad Press and the Conversations We're Not Having

I have a post up on Modern Mormon Men today. It is called "Bad Press and the Conversations We're Not Having." In the last paragraph I touch on Mormon literature's potential to get important conversations going among Mormons about topics we tend to avoid whenever possible. I recommend checking it out and joining in on the conversation. Also worth reading is Mahonri Stewart's post "The New Mormon Faithful," which went up on Dawning of a Brighter Day yesterday. I think the two posts are involved in the same kind of dialogue.

Also, in other news, my creative work will appear sometime in the future on Everyday Mormon Writer. I think I've mentioned before that I used to dabble in creative writing before graduate school, but gave it up when my degrees began to severely limit the time I could dedicate to it. Anyway, I caught the bug again during the Mormon Lit Blitz and decided to try my hand at short form fiction. One of the results, "Album," will appear on EMW, and I'm interested to read your reactions to it.

Finally, I should say that I've finalized my list of Mormon stories for my class "American Religious Landscapes." Here they are:

  • "Brothers"--Levi Peterson
  • "Wolves"--Douglas Thayer
  • "Blood Work"--Darrell Spencer
  • "Clothing Esther"--Lisa Torcasso Downing (you convinced me...)
  • "Thanksgiving"--Angela Hallstrom
  • "Quietly"--Todd Robert Petersen
This list has changed slightly from previous lists I've posted; the biggest change has been the addition of "Quietly," which I initially kept off the list because it does not take place in America. After some thought, though, I decided that using the story would be a good way to challenge narrow definitions of "American" landscapes.  So much of the story, after all, explores the main character's ambivalent relationship with the American "landscapes" of his religion. Besides, I'm too big of a Petersen fan to pass on teaching it. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My BYU Studies Review of Angela Hallstrom's "Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction"

Last summer, BYU-Studies contacted me about writing a review of Angela Hallstrom's Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction. The result is now up on the BYU Studies website and free to read and download.

You can access the review here. If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to leave them below.

Also, since we're on the topic of Dispensation, I should note that I am a little more than a week away from teaching my class "American Religious Landscapes." My class will be reading stories from Dispensation during the week of April 23rd, which is the week following my presentation at the AML annual meeting in Orem.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The International Imitation Douglas Thayer Competition

Now that the Mormon Lit Blitz is almost over, I’m feeling the post-contest blues. Since I’m a devout Mormon, and alcohol isn’t really an option, I’m trying to dull the pain by reading Douglas Thayer's Wasatch and thinking how fun it would be to hold an “International Imitation Douglas Thayer Competition” modeled on those competitions that encourage writers to submit their best imitations of stylistically distinctive writers like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Jane Austen for fun and glory.

Let’s face it: as Mormon writers go, Douglas Thayer has the most distinctive style. If you don’t believe me, read his fiction. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, and I exaggerate not when I say someone ought to introduce “Thayeresque” into Mormon critical discourse. He has a voice that is all his own.

Of course, I don’t think this contest will ever get off the ground, but it is fun to think about what the rules might be. As a Thayer fan, I think any competition of this kind would be a fitting tribute to a man who has contributed so much to contemporary Mormon fiction.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?

So, here are the rules I’ve come up with. Feel free to add to them in the comments section.

Also, if you don’t get any of what follows, repent and go here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Rule #1: The story must contain either Boy Scouts or soldiers.
Rule #2: The protagonist must have no qualms about wearing a Boy Scout uniform in public.
Rule #3: The antagonist must be a bitter middle-aged man or the wilderness.
Rule #4: The story must take place in Provo or have a main character who is from Provo.
Rule #5: The story cannot have a female protagonist.
Rule #6: Female characters must be mothers, girlfriends, and/or wise old women.
Rule #7: Post-1960s slang is not permitted, even when the story takes place post-1960s.
Rule #8: Teenagers must drink malts—even if the story takes place in the 1990s.
Rule #9: Protagonist must experience the death of at least one loved one.
Rule #10: The more loved-one deaths the protagonist experiences, the better.
Rule #11: The best character to kill off early in the story/novel is the father.
Rule #12: The best character to kill off late in the story/novel is the best friend.
Rule #13: The adolescent male protagonist must be obsessed with how his body feels.
Rule #14: Jock straps must be referred to as “athletic supporters.” They must be a source of embarrassment and pride.
Rule #15: If swimming occurs, characters must either skinny dip or think about the ethics of skinny dipping.
Rule #16: At some point, the young male protagonist must feel “important.”
Rule #17: If the male protagonist has a love interest, she must die as soon as possible.
Rule #18: If the male protagonist has a father, he must die or be overweight and close to death.
Rule #19: The protagonist’s last name must be Williams or Thatcher.
Rule #20: The word “very” must be used every third sentence.
Rule #21: Active Mormons must be referred to as “religious” and not “spiritual” or “active.”
Rule #22: Sadistic middle-aged male characters must be Eagle Scouts.  
Rule #23: Middle-aged male characters must go by their last names, especially if they are the antagonists.
Rule #24: Disillusionment and Grace must be primary themes.
Rule #25: The story/novel must contain—without exception—fishing, hunting, swimming, camping, warring, and/or firefighting.

Help me out. Am I missing a rule?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Voting for the Mormon Lit Blitz Begins!

The thirteen finalists for the Mormon Lit Blitz have now been posted, which means the competition is almost over. I've had a lot of fun working behind the scenes on this project, and I think many of those who have followed the Blitz and participated in the Facebook conversations will agree that it will be sad to see it over.

The good news is that even though the Mormon Lit Blitz is almost over, Mormon literature is not. Readers can still talk about Mormon literature on this blog and others like it (AML, AMV, and SofH). Also, original short-form Mormon literature can be found online at places like the Wilderness Interface Zone.   

Anyway: voting for the Mormon Lit Blitz starts today and goes until March 15th. Here are the voting instructions from the Mormon Artist blog:

The winner of the Mormon Lit Blitz will be selected by audience vote. Voters must first read (or hear, in the case of voters who are not yet literate) at least five of the Mormon Lit Blitz finalists and then rank their top five. These five ranked votes should then be emailed to with VOTE in the subject line. (One vote per person please, even if you have multiple email accounts.)

First place votes will be counted as five points, second as fourth, and so on. The piece with the most points by the end of March 15th will win.

Again, in order to be valid, votes must:
1) Be sent to with VOTE in the subject line.
2) Include five pieces ranked from 1st favorite through 5th favorite. Listing votes either by title or by author is acceptable.

Feel free to include any other feedback you have on the Mormon Lit Blitz in the body of the email below your vote list.

As a reminder, the finalists are
Marilyn Nielson’s “In Bulk,”
Wm Morris’s “The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop,”
Jeanna Mason Stay’s “No Substitute for Chocolate,”
Emily Harris Adams’  “Second Coming,”
Sandra Tayler’s “The Road Not Taken,”
Merrijane Rice’s “Stillborn,”
Kathryn Soper’s “Oil of Gladness,”
Emily Debenham’s “The Shoe App,”
Deja Earley’s “Cada Regalo Perfecto,”
Kerry Spencer’s “The Gloaming,”
Jonathon Penny’s “Babel,”
Jeanine Bee’s “The Hearts of the Fathers,”
and Marianne Hales Harding’s “Red Rock.”