Monday, April 28, 2014

No Mormon Literary Giants?

by Kasey Tross

Last year I came across this article in the New York Times by Mark Oppenheimer:

I was bereft of post ideas for today so I turned to my “Writing Articles” files and found this one to share. It’s a juicy one, that’s for sure.

I’ll give you a minute to click on that link up there and have a quick read. Because I’m too tired today to do a lengthy summary.

All done? Great. :-)

So, there are several things I agree with in this article- Shannon Hale’s (ILOVEHER) observation that much “serious” literature is on the gloomier side is one thing (“Of Mice and Men”, anybody?). Another would be Rachel Ann Nunes’ assertion that LDS writers try to avoid time in the bedroom in their books. Also very true.

What I didn’t agree with was the conclusion that Mormons can’t be “serious” because it is a part of our culture to essentially “put on a happy face.” It’s no wonder to me that Brian Evenson moved toward writing literature that resulted in him getting kicked out of BYU and eventually excommunicated if he grew up in a family culture where (from what he said) it appears that he was forced to repress all negative feelings. I certainly hope I am correct in saying that his situation was was an unfortunate anomaly in the Mormon culture and not the norm. 

While I do believe that as a whole we Mormons are fairly cheerful because of the gospel knowledge we have and the resulting testimonies, faith, and spiritual fortitude we enjoy, I would hope that we are not propagating a culture where we quash feelings that don’t “fit” with that mindset. First and foremost we should be practicing a culture of love, and that includes loving not only the pretty smiling mom with her kids all lined up in matching outfits but also the homeless man who is struggling with a drug problem. 

Do we focus on the ugly side of life? Not usually, but we shouldn't hide from it, either. When I read the article I thought a lot of Ender’s Game by LDS author Orson Scott Card, and about the struggles the main character, Ender faced. These were not just your typical coming-of-age struggles, either. They were serious moral questions and while Ender was certainly a hero, he wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, because that book falls in the science fiction genre, it may never be applauded for its “serious” themes.

As LDS authors, we write what we know, and it’s true that we know a culture of hope. We can and do address serious themes, just with a dash of hope (and sometimes sci-fi) thrown in, not only because that’s what we believe but because that’s what the world needs. Most of us probably see our writing abilities as a gift from God, and we feel inclined to use it to uplift our fellow man, because we believe that is what He wants us to do with the gifts He gives us.

What is your take on this article? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions? 

(And is anyone else feeling the pressure to achieve literary greatness after reading that? Yikes.)


  1. I remember reading this article and deciding to be proud instead of offended. Yes, we are happy people. Yes, we fill the books we write with hope. No, that's not a bad thing. And why does "literary" have to mean "depressing"? Who made that decision? I think the writer of that article is just too narrow minded. His loss.

  2. Yeah, why does literary have to mean depressing, anyway? Maybe it’s just a trend, like how back in the day it was more attractive to be chubby (I keep hoping that trend will return). Maybe one of these days the trend will be happy literature! :-)

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I want to gobble up everything I can about Storymakers. I'm bummed I missed this year, but next year, it's on!

  4. You said exactly what I was thinking! I had the same thought when I first read the article when it was published. I thought "good for members for standing for what we believe instead of filling the world with more darkness and despair." It would be soooo easy to write trash and to make bigger names for themselves. But they don't. Instead, they're filling the world of speculative fiction with the best books out there. And that's something to be truly proud of.

  5. Haven't heard of Storymakers but still found this interesting

  6. I think it's also funny to note that some of the authors we revere as super famous now were essentially pop culture/mass market when they were alive. Example: Shakespeare was not considered high brow Literature (of course, it was plays anyway, but the point is that he wasn't considered elitist and literary). His plays were essentially genre writing. Some of the most famous poets too were considered pretty scandalous and catering to the lowest common denominator when they were first published.

    Essentially, I don't think the world is very good at judging what is going to be enduring writing. So maybe some of our writers now will actually someday be Miltons and Shakespeares. (Well, and if not, I still don't really mind. :) )

    Depressing writing may get you noticed, but hopeful writing is what adds actual value to the world, in my rarely humble opinion. :)

  7. Great comments, Jeanna! I think you’re right- I just read Dani’s post about LDS Storymakers and I loved what she said about how Jane Austen was completely unappreciated until after her death. Good to remember. :-)



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