In working on the Welcome for the opening day of the AML conference, I wrote these two things before settling on the final version.
Welcome to Berkeley, everyone. We’re glad you made it.
Living here, as I do, I have heard a lot these past couple years that the world is tipping precariously toward the endtimes, a rhetoric I thought I’d left behind, given the Church’s lean away from millennial rhetoric during my adulthood.
I hadn’t missed it, to be honest. I remember images of the world afire as the righteous floated naked above the confusion—as a 1967 illustrated Book of Mormon storybook had it—but I’m not anxious for the world to end! Even if there is plenty happening today over which reasonable people may reasonably find themselves reasonably stressed. You don’t need me to make a list.
On the other hand, as a human, you are less likely to die a violent death today than ever before in human history. So that’s something! Granted, you’re safer in Helsinki than Caracas, but, on average humans, are figuring this life-on-planet-Earth thing out. Assuming we don’t melt the place first, we should be okay.
I picked “Helsinki” as my low-violent-death place because of something funny the U.S.’s ambassador to the U.N. said last week. I picked “Caracas” as its counterpoint because, on the uncheerful Wikipedia page “List of cities by murder rate,” it comes in number two. And number one has a tenth the people of Caracas.
111.19 homicides per 100,000 people in 2017. Which is a lot of people. Saying it’s only 0.1% misses the fact that 3,387 people died that year, more than lived in my hometown the year I left it for California.
Another fact I pulled from Wikipedia.
Wikipedia, by the way, is the best evidence I know that the Lord Almighty is unlikely to smite us with a planet-consuming baptism by fire to float naked above anytime soon. The glory of God is intelligence which I am going to lazily equate to information here, and Wikipedia is the children of God sharing with each other more information than can be processed without the artificial brains we have created and distributed over our home planet to make ourselves more like God. We are slowly collecting and democratizing the history of our planet. We are sharing all we know and are learning about linguistics, literature, theology, thaumaturgy, and manga. There’s so much in Wikipedia about manga, guys. So, so much.
It’s also got somewhere between 500 and a thousand articles related to, as our name would have it, Mormon Letters. I’ve written a few myself.
Incidentally, back to Caracas, the Church’s newsroom tells me that 0.53% of Venezuela’s population is members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 168,123 members. And you know what I know about them?
Wikipedia’s great, but it’s not going to tell me what it’s like to be a Latter-day Saint in a city that kills off my hometown each year. Me, in my padded Berkeley life—how can I even imagine that? I could tell that story, but it would be wrong. Much better that I read that story.
This is a refrain we’ve been talking about in the AML for years—how shall we hear the international Latter-day Saint voice? We’ll be hearing a bit about that today and tomorrow, but even with an intended international thrust, we won’t be hearing a lot.
We, as the Association for Mormon Letters, need to remember the little word that gets left out of our initialism: FOR.
We are FOR Mormon Letters. And right now, though the how is unclear, it may mean leaving behind the one for a moment and seeking out the ninety and nine. To get hyperbolic about it.
I am excited for the lineup we’ll be hearing from this weekend, but as we regale in its brilliance, let’s remember there are more voices out there. The human family is international. The Church is international. Let’s keep striving to take AML international as well.
Let’s learn how to listen.
Andrew and I were talking about Maurine Whipple yesterday. The author of The Giant Joshua, one of the most significant novels in our field, left behind boxes of papers and unfinished works, including the two sequels to Giant Joshua.
Earlier this week, we received news that Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire passed away. A prolific short-story writer and poet, the Queen of Eldritch Fiction, and proud queer punk transvestite Mormon. We may never see his like again.
And on Monday, Ángel Chaparro Sainz was forced to tell me his funding was not happening after all and he would not be flying in from the Basque country to be with us this weekend.
I was born the same year the Association for Mormon Letters was founded, which makes me older than Stephen Crane or Jane Austen or Edgar Allen Poe or honorary AML founder Joseph Smith when they died.
People don’t last long on this earth of ours. Institutions hope to have better longevity but you never know. That’s why it’s vital we meet every year. That’s why we need to share and promote and publish.
It’s easy to forget which little word left out of the initialism connects Association to Mormon Letters. But the word is FOR. We are FOR Mormon Letters. And today we’re here to take other’s output seriously by sharing some output of our own.
Welcome to Berkeley. Let’s do something FOR Mormon Letters while our sun still shines.