Two weeks ago I was able to fly out to Berkeley, CA to attend the annual Association for Mormon Letters Conference. I have been to several of these before, often in Utah County, but it’s exciting that the group is trying to branch out to Latter-day Saint writers in other parts of the world (even if California isn’t all that far away). Money, of course, is always an issue. But it was a particular thrill to attend this conference, as I was selected to receive a significant award: The Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters. This is the first time I’ve been in a position to receive any kind of career recognition, and it’s humbling to listen to a panel of your peers discuss your work as if it’s been around for a while (which I guess it has; I just haven’t thought of it that way before).
AML member Mattathias Westwood, who apparently has been a fan of my work since he read Little Happy Secrets in high school (which in itself blew my mind) chaired the panel that discussed my work. He issued invitations to three of my close collaborators, inviting them to speak on the panel: dramaturgs Janine Sobeck Knighton and Shelley Graham, and director Chantelle Squires. And because I’m a ridiculously blessed person, all three of them attended the conference and presented in person (they are all, like me, based in Utah at the moment). Eric Samuelsen, unfortunately, was not well enough to participate, but Mattathias read from Eric’s foreword to Third Wheel to launch the panel, and it made me immediately teary. Let’s just say I spent most of the panel sitting in the back trying not to cry too loudly.
It was a wonderful, if brief, weekend. I grew up with Carol Lynn Pearson’s poetry book The Growing Season on the shelf in the living room. At the conference, I was able to meet Carol Lynn for the first time, which was pretty amazing. She lives in the Bay Area, and AML presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award. She was in attendance both when my award was presented, and on Sunday when we did a screening of Jane and Emma. I also spoke on a panel with James Goldberg, Scott Hales, and Angela Hallstrom, about our work on Saints.
After the award ceremony, it’s tradition for the winners to do brief readings from their work. Several folks whispered in my ear about reading a scene from one of my plays, and since Shelley was present—and an amazing actor—I put her, along with Chantelle and James Goldberg, on the spot to read the proposal scene from Pilot Program. Though I prefer to rehearse for these kinds of things, they all did very well for a cold read.
I wheedled Chantelle into doing a bit of sightseeing with me. We visited the famously weird Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. At a friend’s suggestion, we drove to Palo Alto to visit the Stanford Campus. There we sat in reverence in the Memorial Chapel, taking in the stained glass and the dome while listening to a choir rehearse. It was a gorgeous day, so we capped it with sometime outside on the grass of the Oval.
I confess to having a small crush on Berkeley. What a cool town (Palo Alto was pretty great, too). It was hard weekend to see end, but I’m so glad I was able to go, and I’m so thankful for the time spent with friends, as well as for the honor I received there.