All posts by Shelah

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

A Journey to the Heart of Africa: A Conversation with Margaret Blair Young


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lisowski at well celebrationMargaret Blair Young is an award-winning short story writer, playwright, essayist and novelist. Several years ago, she also took on the mantle of filmmaker when she and Darius Gray created the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. After centering her writing and research on Black Mormons in America for so many years, it should come as no surprise that she’s now turning her attention to Black Mormons abroad– her new film, Heart of Africa, is currently in production. It centers on the question of whether a former revolutionary from Congo and a farm boy from Idaho can transcend their pasts to become mission companions. There’s a kickstarter campaign for the film going on right now, and Margaret joins us at Segullah today to talk about the story.

What inspired you to undertake the Heart of Africa film?
My husband and I were in a French-speaking MTC branch, and sent many young men to the DR Congo mission.  I adopted these particular missionaries.  (Anglo women are not yet called there.)  I wrote to at least fifteen LDS missionaries and to their companions over three years, and so I went through at least fifteen missions in the DR-C via email.  We are STILL family, and these young men are very much involved in the film.  When I began writing to Aime Mbuyi, a Congolese companion to one of “my” young men and a former revolutionary, I saw the rich possibilities for a film. Aime had been a revolutionary, trained at a boarding school to distrust white people, and he’s paired with a naive kid from Idaho who doesn’t realize how deep his own prejudice is. Continue reading

Looking down the road not taken

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Photo Credit: Crooked Pinkie Photography

A few years ago, we were your stereotypical Mormon family: a husband, a wife, and four kids born in a span of six years. Our youngest was five, old enough that we could vacation without a stroller, and starting a PhD program or going back to work were definitely part of my five-year plan.

Then we stepped onto the road not taken.

I was pushed onto it by a force I hardly recognized, and within little more than a year, we had adopted two babies from China.

We are not the kind of people who do things like traveling around the world to adopt orphans. We’re a little selfish. We’re introverts at heart; the kind of people who like quiet, who need down time, who crave creature comforts, like sleeping in on Sunday mornings, and urinating without company. But when the little voice in the back of my mind told me that we should adopt, it didn’t stop pestering me until we had both of our kids safely home. Continue reading

Passion: Christmas songs you love, Christmas songs you hate

IMG_4884Over the next two weeks, we’re all going to hear a few Christmas songs. Make that a LOT of Christmas songs. Between next Wednesday night and next Friday morning, I will have the pleasure of attending one junior high Christmas concert, two elementary school Christmas concerts, and two preschool Christmas concerts (in case you were counting, that makes five concerts in 36 hours). By the time they’re all over, I’m sure I’ll be vacillating between cuteness overload and wanting to wear noise-canceling headphones through the New Year.

One thing that most of us can agree on is that Christmas songs are awesome. Part of it is probably because we only listen to them for six weeks out of the year (if we adhere to the “only after Thanksgiving” rule, and I refuse to acknowledge any other kind of people). Part of it is probably because we associate them with all kinds of happy memories. In my mind, Amy Grant equals baking cookies. After performing for a season with The Nutcracker, the opening strains of Tchaikovsky’s ballet will always be linked with the musty smell of my mouse costume as I watched the party scene from the wings. I associate listening to The Forgotten Carols with holiday road trips when I was a teenager (although I gathered my kids to watch a video of the production a few years ago and I was sort of shocked at how bad it was). I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Continue reading

Passion: Or maybe just a fad?

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Running with The Raven on Miami Beach. He has run eight miles on Miami Beach every single day of my life– talk about passion.

Six years ago, I had a routine: get all the kids ready, drop the two oldest  off at the elementary school, then head over to the gym, where I’d put the baby and the preschooler in kid care, and I’d go off to spend the next two hours doing whatever I wanted. Usually, I wanted to take a spin class. I was pretty fanatical about my spin classes. I had teachers I loved and teachers I barely tolerated. Some songs were great for spinning (Latin dance music– who knew?), while some songs made the class almost unendurable– and if you asked (and even if you didn’t), I’d be happy to expound on which was which. In class, I’d sit in the back, right under the fan, with my water bottle full and my game face on. I was the annoying girl who grunted and sweated and tried to race you. It was awesome. If you had asked me what I was passionate about back in those days, spinning classes surely would have been on my list.

Five and a half years ago, we moved, and I can probably count on one hand the number of spin classes I’ve taken since. I haven’t even been on a bike.

Looking back, it’s obvious that spin classes were, for me, just a fad. An enjoyable fad, to be sure. My butt looked amazing, and my abs were much tighter than they’ve ever been before or since. But when we relocated, there wasn’t a gym that had classes at a time that worked, and my kids were old enough that I didn’t need my daily interaction with the girls at the gym (as competitive as it may have been on my part) to save my sanity.  Continue reading

Book Review: Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons by Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith

20717469Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lessons in Everyday Life
Authors:Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith

Back in 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel (aka Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith) for the Mormon Women Project. They were fantastic to talk to– funny and very real and willing to open up about why, as black Mormons and converts to the LDS Church, they felt they had a unique perspective to offer readers to their blog. In the years since that conversation, they have found even more success, launching their own radio show, speaking at various engagements, and now publishing their first book together, Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.

In the book, the Sistas start out speaking generally on various topics (“Breaking and Entering” is about finding God, “Stand” is about having standards and standing things that are important to you). They expound on these topics in their trademark style– talking forthrightly, with lots of emotion, in language peppered with Ebonics. Their book is at its strongest when it delves into their personal stories, which is something that they do to highlight most of the points they want to make. They talk about the time Sista Beehive got caught shoplifting, when Sista Laurel pretended that her mom was dead and her hilarious experience at EFY as a teenager. They’re willing to talk about hard things and to help us see that even if we have hard circumstances in our lives, that shouldn’t separate us from the love Christ has for us or from his plans for our lives. The book is a quick, useful read. I think it’s important because of its perspective and because of its wonderful storytelling.