Scholars Terryl and Fiona Givens discuss life, love and their new book, 'The God Who Weeps'
They met at Brigham Young University’s Comparative Literature 301 class in the fall of 1979. He was a returned missionary who spoke Spanish and Portuguese. She was an LDS convert who spoke French and German. Their backgrounds varied, but they shared a mutual love of classic literature and the arts.
Terryl and Fiona Givens remember that meeting as the beginning of something special.
“We didn’t have a common language, not even English,” Fiona Givens said with a crisp British accent. “When I met Terryl, what really struck me was the expansiveness of his mind. We could share the things that I loved — literature, art, music. And so really, our courtship was just a long walk-and-talk. He was sexy all over, but his mind was particularly sexy.”
Six children and several decades later, the husband and wife from Richmond, Va., have come full circle in their relationship. The intellectual couple that cherished beautifully written works has now collaborated to co-author “The God Who Weeps,” a book intended to help readers understand how Mormons make sense of life.
The story behind the book is interesting, and so are the lives of the authors.
Religion has been an important part of Terryl Givens’ heritage for generations.
His family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Arizona when he was a young boy. Shortly thereafter, the family was surprised to learn they had both LDS and non-LDS ancestors. One forebear was Warren Foote, a Mormon pioneer, colonizer and polygamist. Another ancestor was the Rev. George Lane, a Presbyterian minister who told Joseph Smith that his visions were of the devil.
Givens’ grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and his father was Methodist before becoming a Latter-day Saint.
“I feel fortunate in that I have a dual heritage,” Givens said. “I can consider myself a descendant of pioneer stock, or I can consider myself a 20th-century Mormon convert.”
Givens had “an experience of the divine through prayer” as a young teenager, but a full commitment to the gospel didn’t come until he was a little older. That occurred when his father decided to move the family from Arizona to Virginia. For a few months during a humid summer, the family of seven children and two parents lived in a tent while their father looked for employment.
“Like Lehi, my father felt moved upon to uproot the family and we lived in a tent. We thought maybe it would be a good idea to look up the church as we hadn’t been for many years,” Givens said. “It was really the loving embrace with which we were greeted there that drew us into the church with strong cords and (we’ve been) committed ever since.”
Givens served a mission in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and graduated from BYU with a degree in comparative literature. He did his graduate work in intellectual history at Cornell and comparative literature (Ph.D.) at the University of North Carolina, working with Greek, German, Spanish, Portuguese and English languages and literature.
He currently holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English and is a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond.
Givens started writing books when his father, a book collector, challenged him to look at what he thought were the unusual depictions of Mormonism in 19th-century fiction. The literary dare led Givens to write his first book on Mormon studies, “The Viper on the Hearth,” in 1997.
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