Barbara K. Richardson’s Tributary, Winner of the 15 Bytes Book Award, 2013

In the fall of 2013 the winners of the first annual 15 Bytes Book Awards were announced. As the literary editor of this online arts magazine, I had the privilege of working with other magazine staff and the editor, Shawn Rossiter, to determine all the particulars of launching a new statewide program of this type. In part, the 15 Bytes Book Awards was in response to the fact that the Utah Book Award went on hiatus. (Whether it returns is still in question.) But, being an art magazine for adults, we decided to limit the categories to literary fiction, poetry and art books. This seemed enough for the first year. At the moment we are engaged in the second iteration of what we hope we become an annual affair perhaps someday expanding its categories to include narrative nonfiction.

The winner of last year’s fiction award was Barbara Richardson’s Tributary, a novel set in the 19th Century. I had the privilege of writing the review/citation for this extraordinary book which, coincidentally, falls within my own long-term interest in Mormon letters. I found this book not only worthy of a 15 Bytes book award, but also worthy of note for those within the admittedly small but rather obsessed cadre of “Mo-lit” enthusiasts–a group to which I often feel ambivalent toward, even though my own forays into writing suffer (or benefit) from my seeing Mormonly. (With apologies to Emily Dickinson’s phrase to describe her own poetry as “seeing New Englandly.”)I fear still, and perhaps always will, as I express below in the review, that Mormon literature, such as it was, is and might in the near future become, will fail to find an audience. One thing is certain: no one is in charge of this train–not the institutional church, not its dissidents, apostates and true believers either within our without the academy, and not its rank-and-file. There are broader, indiscriminate and enigmatic forces blowing through the attempts of not only Mormon writers but every writer right now…not only technological but social forces (both of which continue to profoundly inform each other).

In the end, serious writers of every stripe can only do what serious writers have always done and what they’ve always been called to do: write and write well. Perhaps writing well is like loving well. It is its own reward. 

“Remarkable as Barbara K. Richardson’s novel Tributary is, it is most remarkable, perhaps, because it seems to be one of the first literary works in memory that positions the history of the Great Basin in the broader context of its time. Set in the years following the arrival of the Mormons to Utah, this sprawling tale told in the first person dignifies the region, if rarely the “saints” who people it, with the weight of its narrative. Here the territory is not just a placeholder in the story of the west—or in modern parlance, a ‘flyover state.’ Its heroine, plucky Clair Martin—the woman with the red stain of a birthmark on her left check—is its product, and its curse, its orphan and its lay prophetess. Clair is a proto-feminist—not entirely likable—and, lucky for the reader, stained with much more than just the splotch on her face.

“Of the many questions this Western epic raises in the course of its scene-shifting from Brigham City to the Mississippi Delta and back to the Utah/Idaho border is, what happened to those 19th Century Mormons who left their tribe?”
Read the full review

Tributary by Barbara K. Richardson
Torrey House Press (September 2012)
352 pages
$15.95

About the Author
Barbara Richardson’s debut novel, Guest House, launched the first literary Truck Stop Tour in the nation and was a fiction finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2010. In Tributary,
she claims the land of her Mormon ancestors who settled the northern
Salt Lake Valley. Richardson earned an MFA in poetry from Eastern
Washington University. Barbara is also an avid environmentalist. She now
writes and designs landscapes in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.
Visit the author’s website: www.barbarakrichardson.com