Honorary Lifetime Membership
Bruce Wayne Jorgensen
As an author, Bruce Jorgensen's publications have ranged broadly both in genre and in audience. His poetry has appeared in Mormon journals such as BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, and Irreantum, but also in national journals, such as the Carolina Quarterly. His poems are probingly occasional, or lyrical and personal; sometimes colloquial, sometimes historical. In every case they show acute sensitivity to form: image, cadence, length of line.
That same precision of diction and vividness of image is carried into his short stories, which focus on the tensions and the pleasures of domestic life, man and wife especially, where the erotic and routine are mingled in a subtle and productive tension. One such story, perhaps the finest literary story ever published in that magazine, appeared in 1979 in The Ensign.
But Jorgensen excels within the essay: sometimes of the personal variety, more often of the critical variety. He is one of the architects of contemporary Mormon literary history, probing the literary nature of the Book of Mormon, examining the major Mormon fiction writers-Whipple, Sorensen, Peterson, Thayer-and doing so from the vantage point not only of a studied appreciation of Mormon belief, but from a broad and deep knowledge of American and world literature. He models a type of careful and charitable reading that inspires readers to respect the potency of Mormon doctrine and to likewise know and feel the vividness of imaginative writing from within and outside our religion.
As a teacher Jorgensen has brought to Mormon readers an acute appreciation of important writers and thinkers such as Reynolds Price, George P. Elliott, and Gina Berriault. And his painstaking critiques of student writing have required that they give due appreciation to the medium in which they work.
As President of the Association for Mormon Letters in 1990, Bruce Jorgensen gave a landmark address, "To Tell and Hear Stories: Let the Stranger Say," in which he introduced the master metaphor of hospitality as a main course for Mormon criticism, grounding his argument in scripture and in the ancient traditions of honoring guests and strangers that was customary to the Greeks. This essay, urging Latter-day Saints to broadened awareness of storytelling beyond our culture, has sparked the sort of ongoing critical debate that demonstrates the robust nature of Mormon criticism and the health of AML itself.
Jorgensen has built a bridge from the Mormon literary world to a larger one, both taking Mormons meaningfully into genres, texts, and authors that deserve the careful reading he directs them to, but also taking those beyond Mormonism into Mormon texts by publishing criticism about LDS authors in national literary journals such as Western American Literature, where he analyzed the lyric form of Douglas Thayer's work.
Bruce Jorgensen is the only author to appear in all three of the important Mormon literary anthologies published in recent years: Harvest, for his poetry; Bright Angels and Familiars, for his fiction, and Tending the Garden, for his criticism. For modeling such breadth, for teaching us the vital relationship between reading well and writing well, for his years of playing such a genial host at the banquet of Mormon literary life, the Association for Mormon Letters, proudly bestows on him honorary lifetime membership.