The June 2014 issue of Sunstone hit my mailbox earlier this week. As I glanced at it, I saw it was an anniversary issue, celebrating 40 years of existence since its origins in 1974 (when I was a high school sophomore). The whole issue is a cornucopia of navel-gazing, but I rather enjoy some navel-gazing and after 40 years I think they’re certainly entitled. I just this moment finished reading the issue, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re not a subscriber, this would be an excellent issue with which to initiate a subscription.
Overview of the Contributions
- The issue begins with the memories and reflections of Scott Kenney about the origins of the enterprise, including the idea, early contributors, the quarterlies, the magazines, rescue, transitions, and estrangement and reconciliation.
- Next comes an essay by Allen Roberts, in three parts: (i) joining up, board service, and early writings; (ii) the magazine, cartoon books, and the symposium; and (iii) his sun sets but Sunstone continues.
- Peggy Fletcher Stack cannot contribute anything on her personal religious views due to her employment by the Salt Lake Tribune, and so this lacuna was filled by an old column she had published in the magazine in 1985 and a new piece here, “Reflections on Peggy,” by John Sillito.
- Susan Staker reflects on her four years of editing (and this section also talks about the Sunstone Review, a newsprint tabloid companion to the magazine that ran for three years and which I well remember).
- Connie Disney talks about her on the job experience with learning to do page set-up back in the pre-desktop publishing era (I found the description of old-school paste-up very interesting).
- Dennis Clark reflected on his stint as poetry editor from 1980 to 2000.
- Elbert Peck (starting here to get into the era of Sunstone I remember) contributed an article titled “Thinking Is a Social Act.” I was especially interested in his account of their efforts to reach out to Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, and how they seemed to backfire. I could empathize with the severe case of burnout with the enterprise that led him finally to leave (admittedly somewhat later than he should have).
- Dan Wotherspoon then writes about his time at Sunstone (for me personally this correlates most closely with my own experiences with the organization; I still think of Dan when I think of Sunstone).
- Toby Pingree reflects on his journey to becoming the chair of the Sunstone board, which reminds us that organizations like these need serious business and financial chops, not just edition and scholarship prowess.
- John Hatch (a BCC alumnus) recounts his experiences organizing the symposium for a three-year period.
- Then there is an article about Carol Quist, who in many ways WAS Sunstone for many, many years.
- Mary Ellen Robertson takes us behind the scenes at the symposium (with a nice postscript on how she and Michael Stevens ended up finding each other through Sunstone).
- This is followed by Stephen Carter with his reflections on growing with Sunstone.
- Hugo Olaiz contributes a short piece on his experience as news editor, followed by short pieces on Lisa Torcasso Downing and Jett Atwood (I love her!).
- And finally, Bob Rees comments on the name Sunstone, which he suggested lo these many years ago.
My Own Experience with Sunstone
I first encountered Sunstone and Dialogue simultaneously in 1980 in the BYU Bookstore. This only happened because they had a very prominent display featuring both publications, which seems impossible to believe now, but I swear it’s true! I had (and continue to have) an interest in the Book of Abraham, and the Sunstone issue with an orange cover featuring Ed Ashment’s article on the reconstruction of the Facsimiles caught my eye, and I actually bought it (and given how poor I was, that was a significant sacrifice at the time). I still have that issue as the beginning of what eventually would become my personal collection. I would later be able to read back issues in the Institute library at the University of Illinois–again, something that seems impossible to imagine today.
I would begin subscribing to both publications once I got my first real job in 1985, and have continued ever since.
As I recall, my initial experiences with the Symposium were at the Regional one we used to hold in Chicago a long time ago. I thoroughly enjoyed these affairs, and remember rubbing elbows with such luminaries as Neil LaBute and Wayne Booth. One presentation that sticks out in my mind from those early days was by a medical doctor (I want to say his name was Hatch) on the phenomenon of intersex, which was a completely new topic to me and one that he hit out of the park with a very strong presentation. I also remember Elbert holding Town Hall type meetings on the future of Sunstone. I managed to make it to all the Chicago symposiums except the last one, which I missed due to my first kidney stone.
The Chicago symposiums were important to me, because they gave me a sense for what the symposiums were like, and I knew that I enjoyed them, and so somewhere along the line I graduated to the big leagues and started going to the main gatherings in Utah. I’ve been to more sessions than I recall and have learned a lot, but for me the real draw is the people themselves and the socializing that goes on.
I haven’t presented a lot at Sunstone; I actually prefer not to have to obsess over a presentation and just focus more on the social experience. But I have presented some. A few examples are a panel on Inoculating the Saints in 2007, a later panel on apologetics, a review of Ed Kimball’s Lengthen Your Stride, commenting on a session devoted to Feminist Mormon Housewives, and I’m sure a few others I’m not remembering right now.
I’ve published a lot with Dialogue, but I’ve only published one piece with Sunstone: My “Hugh Winder Nibley: In Memoriam” piece from May 2005.
What have your experiences with Sunstone been? Has the rise of the Bloggernacle diminished the impact of Sunstone, or does the organization still have a vibrant role to play? If you could sit down with the PTB of the organization, what counsel would you give them for the future direction of both the magazine and the Symposium? Your comments on all things Sunstone are invited below.