Recently, I sent Association for Mormon Letters President Margaret Blair Young a list of questions about her current projects with Darius Gray–a revision of their Standing on the Promises novel series and the feature film The Heart of Africa—as well as her own work as a creative writer and AML president. Kindly, Margaret took time away from her busy schedule to answer them for me.
I’ve split the Q&A into two parts. Answers to the questions relating to Standing on the Promises and The Heart of Africa will be featured on Modern Mormon Men sometime soon. Below are her answers to my questions about her earlier work, AML, and future projects.
NOTE: I plan to post the Q&A in its entirety on The Low-Tech World as soon as Modern Mormon Men runs the remainder of it.
Throughout your career as a writer, you’ve seemed to gravitate towards stories about marginalization within Mormon communities. For example, in your novel Salvador, your protagonist is a divorced Mormon woman who visits relatives who operate a fringe Mormon commune in Central America. Heresies of Nature centers around a character who has been severely debilitated by multiple sclerosis. What draws you to these stories? Why do Mormons need them?
What drew me to write Salvador? My life. You’d be surprised at how much of that is autobiographical. Heresies of Nature? My sister-in-law died of M.S. I turned that novel into a play, and my sister passed away on opening night. It was a remarkable experience for all of us. My husband had already written a tribute to his sister on the playbill, so every audience member received that. Cast members attended Nancy’s funeral, and Nancy’s nurses attended the play. But obviously, I believe in dealing with hard issues. If we don’t learn to deal with them, we will almost certainly lack empathy when others are hitting them. We need to train our minds and magnify our faith as our children grow in this internet age. They will come to us with questions to bridge what they learn in Sunday school and what they read online. Our answers will need to reflect our knowledge and the example of who we are in this age and place of Mormonism; what we cling to as our essential and inviolate morality. This is a dynamic religion. We may still stand in holy places, even while acknowledging that many in the past became detached from their “better angels.”
Can you trace the DNA of your work as a fiction writer? Who has informed your work the most intellectually, stylistically?
My first influences were the classics, Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov being my first teachers. And they were teachers. I took Melville’s book with me to Guatemala and read it three times without anyone guiding me.The Brothers Karamazov was the first book I fell in love with. It transformed me into a reader. Before reading that, I cheated. I read Cliff Notes. Stylistically? I read a lot of James Joyce, Alice Munro, Faulkner. When I turned to Black history fifteen years ago, I read history books. Seems like hundreds. I find I’m actually more at home with historians now than I am with fiction writers. A really good short story feels like dessert to me.