Summer, 2003: I was a wreck.
My sixth child was six months old, and I wasn’t even close to recovering from his birth and the trauma that followed: For him, lung failure and three weeks in the NICU. For me, a profound emotional and spiritual crisis. The combination of outward and inward events shook me hard. My testimony was intact, but I felt disconnected from it. Unmoored. All my usual connection points failed me: church meetings, scripture reading, even prayer.
Around this time I visited my friend Kylie Turley. She had recently received word that she had won Exponent II’s personal essay contest. Eager to read her piece, I asked for a copy of the magazine, took it home, and read it cover-to-cover, enthralled.
The issue was about grief. Essay after essay, poem after poem, women shared their experiences with death and loss in honest, vulnerable language. I had never before read such writing by Mormons. These women’s insights fed me–and so did the very reality of their collective voice.
And so, a few months later, when my distress was escalating instead of abating, I began to write. I had never written a personal essay before. I’m not sure I can describe the sensations of power and relief and enlightenment that filled me as I tried to pin down my experience with words. My first draft stunk (although I thought it was brilliant). After some crushing yet astute feedback from friends I revised the piece and submitted it to Exponent II, where it was accepted for publication as a co-winner in their essay contest.
I was elated. Yet by the time my piece was printed, I had some concerns. I had subscribed to ExII soon after reading the grief issue, and while I enjoyed much of what I read in the subsequent issues, there were pieces that didn’t sit well with me. Committed to exploring and celebrating the many facets of LDS womanhood, the magazine seemed particularly sympathetic to voices of women who were dissatisfied with Mormon culture, practice, even doctrine. I was sympathetic, myself. I had weathered an intense bout of feminism in years past and I remained sensitive to women’s issues. But I had made my peace, and I simply wasn’t interested in revisiting what were, for me, old questions. Furthermore, with a few exceptions, the women I most wanted to share my published essay with felt the same way. Some of them never struggled as women in a patriarchal church; others had had resolved their issues, or had found a satisfying way to live with the remaining questions. I felt stuck. I was grateful for ExII, honored to receive the award, eager to share–yet hesitant to hand out copies of the publication containing my work.
Shortly after the essay was published I had dinner with Kylie. A feminist who felt at home with ExII, she agreed with my assertion that there is large group of Mormon women who want to read insightful, probing writings about Mormon womanhood, but who do not want to read writings that question or criticize the establishment. We lamented the fact that there was no publication offering the former without offering the latter as well. We decided to start one of our own. And Segullah was born.
After much discussion, the small group of friends and friends-of-friends who had gathered for this purpose came up with an opening paragraph for our mission statement:
Segullah is a journal designed to encourage literary talent, provoke thought and promote greater understanding and faith among Latter-day Saint women. We publish insightful writings which explore life’s richness and complexity while reflecting faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our aim is to highlight a variety of women’s perspectives within a framework of shared beliefs and values.
I knew from the start that using a term like “faithful perspective” would raise a lot of questions, and hackles. To some, the term smacks of elitism. But it is a crucial part of our mission statement. It is an assurance to potential readers that their core beliefs and values will not be challenged when they pick up our journal. And I think this assurance is what makes most of our readers willing to give us a try. Independent LDS publications have earned an edgy reputation for themselves amongst mainstream members. Some people who embrace these publications believe that all “thinking” Mormons should do the same. I strongly disagree.
What do we mean by “faithful perspective”? The key word, “faithful,” refers to attitude. One of our evaluation criteria is respect for the Church’s established doctrines, leadership and standards. Segullah is not the place to lament policy, criticize leaders, or spin doctrine. There are plenty of other venues for that. One of our primary purposes is to disprove the mainstream assumption that probing, thoughtful, “unofficial” Mormon writing must reflect doubt, disloyalty, or dissatisfaction with the Church.
Additionally, we expect submissions to reflect the hope in Christ which is the very heart of the gospel. Pieces don’t need to have “happily ever after” endings–in fact, we purposefully include pieces that don’t. But we are not interested in submissions that bleed and breed discouragement. And we heartily reject the intellectual/artistic bias against happiness. We are out to break new ground by providing joyful Mormon writing that avoids sentimentality.
We’ve received some criticism for setting ourselves up as judges of righteousness. I emphatically state that our editorial staff does not attempt to judge the righteousness of writers. We’re not here to separate the sheep from the goats, for Pete’s sake. We’re here to support standards that have been set by the Church leaders we’ve chosen to sustain as such.
Some might be surprised to know that our staff members cover a wide spectrum of social-political views. Some of us have bones to pick with Church policy and practice, some of us do not. We don’t all resonate with every piece that gets printed, either. We rely on group consensus to decide which submissions will add to the overall atmosphere we have set out to create. And each of us is committed to maintaining this unique space.
It’s not easy. We walk a thin line, trying to push the boundaries of mainstream LDS culture without alienating the women we most want to reach. That requires us to exclude dissonant voices from joining the discussion. And I will not apologize for that.
I continue to remain grateful for Exponent II. I enjoy reading much of what’s published there, and I am developing a warm cyberfriendship with Deborah, who runs their blog. I’m impressed with Deborah’s commitment to providing space for Mormon women to speak. I believe every Mormon, every woman, and every Mormon woman has the right to voice her thoughts and feelings, and to belong to a community she feels comfortable in.
A few weeks ago the Segullah staff held our first annual retreat. A dozen women–nearly half of our staff–gathered at a mountain cabin to meet and eat and talk and talk and talk. We shared favorite scriptures and passages of literature. We told all kinds of stories–wild, poignant, hilarious, sober. We confided hopes and fears. It was beyond delightful. Here were intelligent, articulate, talented women with all kinds of personalities and perspectives who were united in their commitment to Jesus Christ and their loyalty to his church. One woman looked around at the laughing crowd and said, “I feel like I’m home.”
And this is why we invest thousands of hours of precious discretionary time in Segullah: so that many others can feel the same way.