Mormon fiction writers and the spectre of excommunication

I recently had a Twitter conversation with Mette Ivie Harrison about an experience where at an author appearance in Logan she met an LDS author who was afraid to be honest about their Mormonism in the current climate because of the possibility of excommunication. I’m not going to repeat the particulars of the conversation because I don’t think it’s fair to transport the context of a Twitter conversation with its character limit constraints to the longer form of blogging. So instead I’m going to start with an observation and then a claim based off of that observation.

The Observation

Most Mormon fiction writers who leave the LDS Church do so because they become alienated from it. That’s not a good thing or (I hope) an inevitable thing. It also often leads to active members of the Church dismissing their work, which is often (but not always) unfortunate, especially since I think Mormons should seek to develop a better of understanding of the Mormon experience when it doesn’t match up with their own.

But for this post I want to stick with the formal relationship of an author with the LDS Church. The reason for that is that over my 17+ years of interacting with the Mormon literature community, I’ve periodically seen a conventional wisdom expressed in various ways that the great Mormon novelist will inevitably be excommunicated. Or more generally: LDS writers can’t write candidly about the Mormon experience because then they’d be excommunicated.

The Claim

I’m going to make a claim about this fear and then complicate it. The claim is this: Mormon fiction writers don’t need to worry about excommunication because of the content of their fiction*.

Complication 1: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about excommunication if their fiction exists alongside with affiliation with other activities/groups that could lead to excommunication. That is, it’s possible that fiction could be used a data point in showing that the writer is actively working against the LDS Church, but if the concerns are limited to what is represented in the fiction then all current evidence suggests that

Complication 2: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about excommunication if their fiction isn’t well-wrought fiction. That is, if you’re writing polemics against the LDS Church or crossing hard boundaries (certain depictions of the temple or LDS Church leaders) then, yeah, that could be a problem. But that’s not good fiction. And that’s not honest fiction either.

Complication 3: Mormon fiction writers may need to worry about fellow members reporting their fiction to LDS Church authorities. My understanding is that this happens (or happened — I have no idea if it’s ongoing) to Orson Scott Card quite a bit. If one is a believing, active LDS in good standing, then this won’t be an issue. If one is not, then it could be because it could precipitate declarations of honesty on the part of the author that could lead to disfellowship and potentially excommunication.

Complication 4: Mormon fiction writers who specifically write for the LDS market** need to worry about their relationship with the LDS Church. I believe that hypocrisy is deadly for writers of all stripes and active LDS who become disaffiliated*** from the Church should stop writing for the LDS market. I recognize that that’s a harsh stance with difficult social and economic consequences and deserves a longer treatment (which I may attempt at some point).

Complication 5: All of the above is in relation to Mormon fiction writers who specifically write about Mormonism and/or target the active LDS audience. I’m trying to think of a scenario where writers who don’t write Mormon content could find themselves in a situation where their fiction impacts their Church membership. I suppose Mormon writers of erotica could be at risk for excommunication. I don’t know how much of a risk, although I imagine it would largely depend on what kind and how out they were as an erotica writer.

So except for Complications 4 and 5, I don’t see how the Mormon writer of fiction with doubts, fears, stances that differ from the LDS Church, etc. is in a different position from any other member with doubts, fears, differing stances, etc. And 4 and 5 relate to specific marketing categories an author has a choice to engage in or not. In other words, excommunication shouldn’t be a worry for LDS writers vis a vis their fiction.

But all the above is specifically only about the content of the author’s fiction in relationship with the Church. When it comes to the act of writing fiction itself, a different dynamic may be in play. Because while excommunication is something that either happens or doesn’t, there is a complex matrix of personal, familial, and social relationships and beliefs that impact the Mormon writer when they go to write fiction. That’s what I’ll be exploring in my follow-up post: Self Censorship and the Mormon Author.

For now, I’m interested in discussing:

1. Any complications I have missed
2. Any complications I have I downplayed too much
3. Why the fear of excommunication persists among Mormon authors even though none have been excommunicated for their fiction****

*For non-LDS readers, excommunication is a formal process by which members of the LDS Church may be restricted from some aspects of Church membership or lose their membership in the LDS Church. It is generally reserved for acts like adultery, murder, felony crimes, etc., but there have been a few instances when members of the Church have been disciplined for what they have said. Largely, that is because they have specifically arrayed themselves against the Church, but they’re also complicated cases with, naturally, differing views on the ultimate reasons for the excommunication as well as a variety of dynamics and individualized situations and information that often is not public. For more, see Church Disciplinary Councils at LDS.org.

**This is where the LDS vs. Mormon terminology is useful (even though I dislike dogmatic usages of the two terms in opposition to each other) in that by LDS market I mean the publishers and retail outlets that specifically market to faithful, active members of the LDS Church. The Mormon market, in my view, includes the LDS Market but also brings in any and all publishers, retailers and audiences who are interested in work about the Mormon experience.

***I am not going to attempt to delineate what level/type of disaffiliation should trigger a voluntary removal from the LDS market. That’s a matter of individual conscience.

****As Andrew Hall reminded me on Twitter, Brian Evenson did lose his position at BYU because of concerns over his fiction and Neil LaBute was disfellowshipped for his portrayal of Mormons and violence in his fiction. Both eventually became disaffiliated from the LDS Church.

25 thoughts on “Mormon fiction writers and the spectre of excommunication”

  1. A follow-up thought: this is not to say that Mormon fiction writers have nothing to fear. But I think it’s important to be precise about what we should fear (and that’s getting into my post on self censorship, which probably won’t happen until early next week).

  2. I know that for myself, I agonized over how much to say or not to say in my memoir. It isn’t fiction,(which is what your topic is about, but since it is rare to find a discussion about honesty in Mormon writing, I am jumping in anyway) but I had the same struggles with how to portray Mormon-centric events without causing major heartburn for my more sensitive LDS readers.
    At some point, I just said “Screw it. I’m writing my truth and they can go suck it.” Easier to do with non-fiction memoir than fiction.
    In the end my perspective seemed to work. Mormon and non-Mormon critics alike had no problem with my writing. But I will be completely honest and say I lost a bit of sleep while my bishop read it.
    Luckily, his comments were positive. I don’t know what I would have done if I had to take major heat from church leadership. I know for sure I wouldn’t have taken back my words, probably just explained things a bit more for their benefit.
    Sort of like explaining to a teenager that your commenting on their need to improve doesn’t mean you hate them, you are trying to help.
    The final assessment of my efforts came recently from Kirkus review. which expressly pointed out the Mormon conundrum in their comments. Whew! Dodged that bullet.
    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/search/?q=Ezra+and+Hadassah&t=all

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience, Heather. Considering your experience and the main subject of your memoir, honesty is a requirement (but then I tend to think it is for all writing–although honesty gets complicated).

    And I know it’s unfair for me to limit this to fiction because most writers write across a variety of genres, but I’m specifically interested in the limits and fears of those writing Mormon-themed fiction. Partly because that’s the main (but not only) subject of this blog and partly it’s because it’s a big part of what I write.

  4. “Because while excommunication is something that either happens or doesn’t, there is a complex matrix of personal, familial, and social relationships and beliefs that impact the Mormon writer when they go to write fiction.”

    Excommunication may be pushing it, but there are other difficulties that may result when an LDS/Mormon writer writes about the church. The difficulties listed above are strongly considered by writers when choosing how and what to write.

    The idea that writing about the church in an honest way could/should lead to excommunication is alive and well (even if it isn’t true) and very well may prevent many writers from reaching their potential.

    I put off writing as a career for years because I believed that being a good fiction writer and being a Mormon were incompatible. I no longer worry about church discipline, but I do worry about my relationships and my family’s relationships and interactions with the church because of my writing.

    The personal beliefs that impact my writing are enormous. Until this year I purposely never wrote about the church because of my difficulty assessing how to write honestly while writing well and avoiding the problem of turning off readers. That isn’t to say that my feelings haven’t come through in other works, but I now find some real fear in publishing a work that seems so bare. Mostly, I fear repercussions from my husband’s family and I worry that it isn’t really fair to him.

  5. A few words about how this can look to a “Mormon culture” outsider: it can look like a romance of persecution. It can look a bit like fantasy and self-aggrandizement. Maybe I’m totally wrong about that. I can’t say whether it is or not but that’s what it can look like from outside. The spectre of excommunication (well beyond the disapproval of loved ones) adds drama to the slow, arduous, sometimes impossible process of actually writing a book. Drama and fantasy as welcome–heck, they’re necessary–in a pursuit like creative writing where we depends on them to produce our product (in fiction or non-fiction). Sometimes I wonder if this “conundrum” for writers might be more self-serving than self-preserving. Just sayin'”¦

  6. I’ve been following this discussion both here and on Twitter, and, like Wm, I’m not convinced that “honest” Mormon creative writers are in danger of being excommunicated–mostly because I also see the lack of precedent.

    One thing that was brought up on Twitter, though, which hasn’t (I think) been brought up in this discussion, is how national prominence factors in. Mette Harrison’s book has received more national attention than most Mormon novels, and therefore may attract more attention from ecclesiastical leaders at both the local and general level–which may mean it stands a better chance of censure. Instances of censure are extremely rare, though, as far as even widely-released fiction goes, and I don’t think it is something fiction writers need to worry too much about. As Wm points out, if censure does come, it will likely come because the fiction writer has written other non-fictional pieces that have raised eyebrows.

    I think the bigger problem is self-censorship, so I’m interested in reading Wm’s thoughts on that later on. Sometimes I wonder if Mormon writers use the excommunication excuse as a way to justify their own compulsion to self-censor–or to not write about Mormonism at all.

    Incidentally, I had a conversation yesterday with a Mormon writer who said she doesn’t write for a Mormon audience–even when her work contains overt Mormon elements–because they are a fickle audience that rarely appreciates what’s offered them. I think, in some ways, we have more to fear from the Mormon audience than we do the Mormon hierarchy. I think most cases of artistic censure have come only after a member or members tattled on the artist to a bishop or stake president. There are always zealous self-appointed gatekeepers, watchmen, and watchwomen, and I think they pose the bigger threat. At the same time, they usually don’t have much authority to do anything but complain and tattle–so the threat is really not that big. It could be that the Mormon writers simply needs to develop a thick enough skin to shrug off the criticism. That can be a challenge for some, but its crucial in American Mormon culture if you want to write about Mormons–especially for fickle Mormon audiences.

  7. Here is what I know about the cases of Evenson and LaBute mentioned above.
    Evenson was hired by the BYU English Department in early 1994. Late that year, well before his third year review (part of the “continuing status” process, the BYU equivalent of tenure), a student had complained about the violent content of his short story collection Altmann’s Tongue. The chair and dean talked to him, and found that his upcoming work would include even more violent and bleak content. There was discussion about how the propriety of publishing such work while employed by BYU. The chair, Fox, claims that Evenson’s position was not “in immediate jeopardy”. (https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/099-86-95.pdf) But Evenson felt like he was put under undue pressure, and resigned from the university in 1995. So, he was under some pressure, but saying he was forced out of BYU would overstating it. After that, there is no indication that there was any ecclesiastical action against him. In 2002 he resigned his membership from the Church, he was not excommunicated. But Evenson is often described as an “excommunicated Mormon” in articles. Deseret News, Aug. 12 2006: “Evenson asked to be excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he says, “not because of a profound disagreement with the doctrines of the church or because of moral differences” but because he felt he couldn’t be both a writer and a Mormon. If he remained a member, he says, he found himself “too consciously weighing the church’s opinion” of what he was writing. Being a member also limited “the way in which I processed emotion in my work,” he says.

    I will look up the details of the Neil LaBute and Judith Freeman cases a little later.

  8. I was VERY worried about this with my first book, putting Mormons and sex together, then (much less so) having a character severely psychologically damaged by the way his stake president father raised him. But, like Heather, I said, “Screw them. I’m writing the story I want to tell.”

    I talked with my husband about this extensively before publishing it, and we together decided that if I were excommunicated, it would be man’s decision, not necessarily the Lord’s because no, I don’t believe every decision is inspired and yes, I do believe lots of things (good AND bad) are done for expediency. Since he’s in this with me, it was his decision to veto or not. He has more faith in me than I do.

    I had much LESS problem by the time Magdalene rolled around, but I was still worried till Theric put his calming and reassuring opinions in.

    I doubt any church leader would actually read my books past the first page or chapter, but whether they do or not, I just don’t worry about it anymore.

  9. .

    Moriah just hinted at my opinion, but I think Jennifer stated it best. Persecution is a delightful/terrifying fantasy writers bring to themselves. Largely because we think what we’re doing it important enough to warrant that kind of attention.

    In fact, pretty much no one cares.

    I bet I can count on one hand the number of people in my stake who’ve read one of my books.

    >sadface<

  10. Writers have to take risks. If we are constantly worried about what some segment of a Mormon audience is thinking, it can impede our development and put limits on our art. I’m afraid I’m with Evenson on this one; my only caveat is that I’d say we can remain members and not be “weighing the church’s opinion.” For me, there is no stronger tool for empathy than writing. Limiting what we can/can’t write about limits our ability to understand others.

  11. Judith Freeman had written four books, several of them with Mormon characters, before her 2001 novel Red Water, historical fiction about the John D. Lee family and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was published (see Scott Hales’ positive AMV review: http://www.motleyvision.org/2013/thoughts-on-judith-freemans-red-water/).

    In a 2012 Los Angeles Review of Books article, she reports
    “Not long after my novel, Red Water, came out, I received a letter from the Stake President of the Mormon Church in Los Angeles. It was dated July 15, 2002 and addressed to me at both my residence in L.A. and my place in the country in Idaho. It read:

    Dear Ms. Freeman:
    It has come to my attention that you reside, at least some of the time, in the Wilshire Ward of the Los Angeles Stake of the Church. I am generally aware of your reputation as a gifted writer. I am also aware of public reports that you have long since become disaffected with, and estranged from, the Church. I would be grateful for an opportunity to meet with you in person to discuss your feelings concerning the Church and what, if anything, should be done about them. I invite you to call me at my office number to see if there is a convenient time when one of my counselors and I could meet with you.
    Sincerely,Ӭ
    Michael J. Fairclough
    ҬStake President

    The moment I read this letter, I knew what it represented. I was being called to an ex-communication hearing, not because I’d become “disaffected with” or “estranged from” the church, but because I’d written about a taboo subject, The Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    I didn’t mention the letter to many people, but when I told my best friend, she said, What did you feel like when you read it? I told her it gave me a stomach ache. More precisely, I said it make me sick.
    Even more exactly, I said it brought up old feelings of fear and shame that I had felt so often as a child when I was told I had done something wrong and was about to be punished for it.

    I never called President Fairclough “at my convenience.” I never set up that meeting, though later I sort of wished I had. The little bad self in me wished I’d shown up with a tiny tape recorder concealed inside my pocket in order to record what exactly goes on during a modern-day religious inquisition because, let’s face it, just how often do you get to do that?

    Whether I was ever actually ex-communicated I don’t know, but I don’t think I was. I don’t think so because last summer, when I put in a change of address form in my local post office and requested that my mail here in the country be switched from being delivered at a P.O. box in town to rural delivery, I got an official letter from the Church saying, Are you the Judith Freeman who used to live at such and such an address and now lives at blah blah blah . . . ? We’re just trying to update our records.”

    In a 2003 AP article, Fairclough denied his letter was a prelude to church discipline. “I just wanted to talk to her,” he told The Associated Press. “I haven’t read the book. I’ve only read about it.” (http://tdn.com/lifestyles/mormon-novelist-fears-book-may-bring-excommunication/article_0323d0fc-7173-529e-abad-ca861eaf31d5.html)

    Freeman appears to have been naïve about the nature of discipline procedures, being asked to come for a talk with a Stake President is a long way off from excommunication. Unfamiliarity with these kind of procedures is probably common among members. Still, I see this as a story of someone looking for a reason to leave, found it, and left on her own, rather than being leaving under the threat of Church sanction.

  12. Looking some more, I see that Freeman describes herself as having left the Church years earlier. In her Random House page, she says, “Like many Mormon girls, I married young, at the age of seventeen, and by the time I was eighteen, I had a son. When I was twenty-one, I was divorced. But around this time I discovered literature and I began reading–Willa Cather, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence–and I decided this is what I wanted to do: I wanted to write, to give expression to my own experience rooted in this world. By that time, I had left the church as well as the place where I grew up. I really didn’t publish my first book, a collection of stories, until many years later, after I’d raised my son.”
    Freeman has won two AML Novel awards, for The Chinchilla Farm (1989) and Deseret of Pure Feeling
    (1996).

  13. The case of Neil LaBute is the one case where I think it is fair to say that the art the author produced led to Church discipline.
    Two articles based on interviews with LaBute discuss his history and departure from Mormonism. A 2007 Jewish Journal article (http://www.jewishjournal.com/arts_in_la/article/neil_labute_bears_a_heavy_load_20070316) started with a description of the violent and cruel characters which appear in LaBute’s plays and films.

    “LaBute prefers to view himself as a chronicler of transgression, and of how ordinary people can tumble into ethically questionable territory. He believes in what the late Holocaust scholar Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil” and says he “ascribes to the effect that banality can have on an audience — that cool, calculated moving forward, one step at a time, until you cross the line. It’s the insidiousness of it, you know; it doesn’t take much to go there.” . . .
    “My kids were raised in the church, and they hate almost everything I write,” he says, with regret . . .

    To understand LaBute’s preoccupation with sin — and casual brutality — one has only to ask him about his childhood in a town outside Spokane, Wash. The model for many of his male “beasts,” he says, was in part his father, Richard, a volatile truck driver who infused the house with a sense of menace. The elder LaBute was also handsome, charming and seductive. But when LaBute’s father returned home, the writer recalls, “You never knew what would set him off, and it was that unpredictability that created fear.” . . .

    Because LaBute’s home was “a tough house and a small house to grow up in,” he sought safe havens outside the family circle. He escaped into his school’s theater department — and into services and Bible study classes he attended, alone, at a nondenominational church walking distance from his house. “[The atmosphere] gave me a sense of quiet, of peace and especially of community — everything I had been missing growing up,” he says.

    LaBute chose to attend the Mormon Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah, because, “It seemed as far away as I could get from my father, not just geographically, but spiritually — a place he wouldn’t follow.” LaBute converted to Mormonism in the 1980s, before he married Lisa Gore, a family therapist who was deeply involved in the faith and eventually held a church office.

    “I was never the most devout or straightforward of the flock,” he says. “I like to say ‘I was practicing, although I needed more practice.'”

    “But I don’t think I would have stayed had I not gotten something out of the [religion],” he adds. “I certainly had questions about the church, but I didn’t find its structure or history to be problematic.” LaBute cites the Mormon belief that theological history was engraved on golden plates and buried in ancient times: “While that might sound outlandish to members of other religions, I’m like, ‘Yeah, what about an ark of the covenant? A Garden of Eden?’ The Mormon stories are no more outlandish.”

    When LaBute returned to Brigham Young to earn his doctorate in the early 1990s, he squabbled with officials who found his work brilliant but scandalous.

    Administrators locked him out of the theater to prevent the staging of “Lepers” (later the play and the film “Your Friends and Neighbors”). LaBute was allowed into the building only to give an exam in a class he was teaching — and then he cheekily cut the test short in order to show his play.

    At Brigham Young, he also directed a student production of David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” after removing the expletives to meet university standards. . . .

    The tension between LaBute’s work and his faith also played out in his personal life. In the late 1990s, his wife phoned him on the first day of his “Neighbors” shoot, to beg him to cancel the production. LaBute has been reported to have said that his work created great stress in his marriage, but he was not about to let anyone dictate what he should write. (LaBute said he is still married, but declined to say anything further.)

    Mormon officials mostly left him alone until his 1999 trio of playlets, “bash” (later a 2001 Showtime production), depicted clearly Mormon characters hurting babies and homosexuals. LaBute was summoned before a 15-person tribunal and interrogated.

    “It was upsetting because I felt misunderstood and misread,” he says. “I understand that Mormons have a defined sense of what art should be and the kind of art that Mormons should be making. It should be uplifting, even if there is a darkness to it. I agreed that one can write dark things that still show a moral side, and I said that’s what I think I do.”

    LaBute said he had intended “bash” to show how even devout people can commit atrocities; he made the characters Mormon “because I was too lazy to research other religions.” He agreed to refrain from writing about Mormons ever again.

    Nevertheless, LaBute was disfellowshipped, which he describes as “a kind of limbo where you can work back into the good standing of the church or toward excommunication. In my case, the issue raised enough questions and made me angry enough that I did nothing about it for a while.”

    The author decided to withdraw his church membership around 2005, when he was informed that his excommunication was imminent. “It was like quitting before you get fired,” he says. “But I realized that it was actually better for my kids to have a father who wasn’t a member of the church than what they considered a bad member.”

    The decision was also best for LaBute: “When I finally focused on the fact that I was making R-rated movies, and Mormons aren’t supposed to attend them, I had to say ‘I’m hustling here, I have to choose one or the other,'” he recalls. “You go along, and you hope nobody busts you on it, but then you bust yourself. It wasn’t really a brave choice, it was just a choice, and in the end it was relatively selfish — I was just doing what I wanted to do.”

    A 2014 Guardian article recounts the story in a similar way: (http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/13/neil-labute-mormon-bash-latterday-plays)

    “Bash: Latterday Plays . . . changed its author’s life. It was Neil LaBute’s first published play, though it is actually comprised of three short pieces: a duologue sandwiched between two monologues, each part updating a different Greek tragedy to modern-day America with the gruesomeness intact . . .

    When it first appeared under the title Bash: a Remembrance of Hatred and Longing in the December 1995 issue of Sunstone, a forum for the discussion of Mormonism in a cultural context, LaBute was himself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints . . .

    “It wasn’t until the first production was reviewed in 1999 and got national attention that I heard anything from the church,” he says, sounding comically exasperated even after all this time. He had become a filmmaker by this point, with a pair of fastidiously savage dramas to his name: In the Company of Men, in which two men woo a hearing-impaired female colleague as part of a cruel and clinical experiment, and Your Friends and Neighbours, which multiplied the miserable or misanthropic characters, among them an emotionally sadistic doctor who recounts tenderly his memory of raping a male classmate at college.

    “Those films had way more explicit material than Bash,” he says. “You’d think that would have made the church sit up and take notice. The difference was that the characters in them weren’t Mormons.” Even once objections were voiced over Bash, which features Mormon characters recounting confessions of murder, hate crimes and infanticide, many of the church elders hadn’t even seen the play. “They noticed the reviews. I’m not even sure they read them. But one in particular had the headline ‘Murderous Mormons’. So, you know, it wasn’t seen as good PR. Those two words don’t look good together.”

    He was disfellowshipped, a step short of excommunication ““ it still permits a way back, a reprieve. But rather than forcing LaBute to change his writing, it led him to examine the limits of his own faith: “I had to make the decision to go forwards or backwards. I couldn’t live in that limbo and decided it was better for me not to be a Mormon than to be a ‘bad’ Mormon. I don’t think I was ever really devout enough. When someone would ask me if I was a practising Mormon, I would reply flippantly, ‘Yes, but I need more practice.’ I was doing things blatantly that Mormons were not supposed to do. Members of the church are asked not to see R-rated movies and here I was making R-rated movies ““ spending most of my days crafting them. At some point you hold up these two different ideas of yourself and choose between them.”

  14. The LaBute case is strange, and we only have his side of the story. I find it hard to imagine that any Priesthood leaders would disfellowship someone because of the misanthropic nature of their work. Like William said, if the fiction is part of a larger effort the author is doing to form or participate in an organized effort to push a social agenda against the Church, the fiction can be seen as one data point, part of a larger effort. But LaBute was not calling for more violence or misanthropy. It is very odd that he would be disfellowshipped for that. Others have written similar works, and have not had any trouble with Church authorities.

  15. In one of the essays that’s part of a forthcoming collection from the Maxwell Institute, Tom Rogers says that after he was asked to withdraw his play Huebener from availability, because of that and some other instances, he worried that he might lose his job at BYU or even have his church membership called into question. However, nothing of the kind happened. Of course, he complied with the request. Might things have been different if he had refused? I can’t help but think that he might at least have lost his job at BYU–but that’s a far cry from having one’s membership called into question.

    I think I remember Willem Pugmire saying that he had been instructed to stop publishing erotica if he wanted to be rebaptized into the church. Reasonable enough, I would think.

    For myself, I never feared any kind of official action. However, I did make sure that my local stake president read No Going Back just in case anyone raised questions about it. (He’s a reader to whom I regularly recommend books.) Mostly it was because I thought it might interest him as a reader and wanted his reaction–but I have to admit that part of me thought it as insurance of a kind.

    What I was really nervous about was reaction in my extended family, including my in-laws. I actually contemplated using a psuedonym for that reason. However, all the reactions from family members who read the book were positive, while those who didn’t read the book mostly seemed not to care.

  16. Update: I have a bunch of notes for the post on Self Censorship, but I’ve been on a bit of a roll with the novel I’m working on so I didn’t get the post actually written this week.

  17. I’m glad you expanded on the Evenson situation, Andrew–I’ve long been unsettled by how people assume he was kicked out of BYU because of his fiction. I’ve never believed it.

    I took a class from Evenson spring term of 1994–a course on Neoclassical English literature. Yet he spent a good amount of time talking about things like his violent stories (“Killing Cats,” I think, was the title of one he was particularly proud of) and being snarky and critical about the Church and Mormons in general. (One head-scratching example: “Not many Mormons would still like The Lion King if they realized that Elton John is bisexual.”) Even the way he talked about his wife unsettled me. On top of that, he just wasn’t a good teacher during the moments he stopped ranting and actually tried to teach.

    Let’s just say that I learned more from reading the texts than I ever did from attending class, and that it wasn’t a surprise to me in the least when he both left BYU and the Church.

  18. I took a creative writing class from Evenson in the mid nineties as well. It was incredibly disappointing. He would name drop famous writer people he knew–Gordon Lish, etc., but he did not spend a lot of energy nurturing us as writers. The more I learn about writing the more I think that he was just phoning it in. There’s just so much he could have taught us, and he chose to ramble and namedrop. The workshops weren’t that valuable either, because he didn’t spend a lot of time teaching us to critique. Maybe in a different setting he might have been a better teacher, but I was disappointed. I think his leaving BYU was no great loss.

  19. That’s unfortunate. Good writers don’t necessarily make good teachers. Just like good scientists, accountants, machinists, nurses, etc. don’t necessarily make good teachers.

  20. .

    But (speculation) if he thought Mormon writers were oxymorons, that might be why he wasn’t really trying. I wonder what his students at Brown think now. (Is he still at Brown?)

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