Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters
I was introduced to Marilyn Brown’s work when I was in ninth grade and suffering all the traumas that come with Middle School and puberty. My mother, who realized that I needed beauty and inspiration in my life, gave me a lovely book of poetry titled Rainflowers. I loved it. I learned a new word: Mudfuddled. Over forty years have gone by and I remember little phrases from the book, which I read many times. Poems like this one grabbed me:
Who Are You?
If you are not
What is it then
That curls in your eyes
Beneath the evanescing sun
A thousand flames are not enough
Piling light into the shell of a walnut
To imitate these spheres
Hung from god strings.
Empty, I am measuring up
What is it then
That parts company with men
Marilyn continued publishing, and I continued growing up, and was cast as Aldonza in a 1975 production of Man of La Mancha. Marilyn was also in the play. I was still in awe of her. I think it took me a few days of rehearsal to tell her that I had read Rainflowers. As for Marilyn, she was extremely humble about her accomplishments, caring, encouraging, kind. After I performed one scene in the play, Marilyn would always be waiting for me, ready to say: “Oh Maggie! That was wonderful!” She was one of my main mentors in writing and also in grace.
She went on to publish three poetry books, fourteen novels, a history of Provo—her wonderful Earthkeepers — and two musical plays. (Her musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be playing this coming August, 2012.) Nor did she hesitate to take on difficult subjects, as she did in The Wine Dark Sea of Grass, contextualized within the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Her awards, from the Utah Humanities Council and the Association for Mormon Letters, are too numerous to mention. The best news, though, is what she told to me a few weeks ago—that she thinks her current project will be her best yet.
My connections with Marilyn continued beyond our experience in La Mancha, as she and her husband purchased an old movie theater in Springville and transformed it to a splendid place for plays. My play, I Am Jane, was performed there, and I saw my son perform in five plays on the Brown stage. Those performances were validating to him and deeply important for his own growth. So Marilyn’s artistic gifts to me went far beyond my first experience with her poetry.
Marilyn has served the AML community in ways many might not know of. She was the president in 2000, and created and funded the Marilyn Brown Novel award. Yes, she continues to support Mormon art and artists in every way she can. I wish the winners of the Brown award could hear her voice as they receive it — because her voice is there, saying, “Oh, that was wonderful!” As I look at Marilyn, I see a life full of beauty and giving, full of offerings to the future of Mormon letters — including her own fiction and poetry. I am happy to repeat the words she said to me every night when we performed together years ago, with just a bit of modification: “Oh Marilyn, YOU are wonderful.”
It is my personal honor to present Marilyn Brown with the Smith-Pettit award for her contributions to Mormon letters.
Margaret Blair Young
President—Association for Mormon Letters