Why Mormon writers thrive in the fiction genre, according to a New York Times columnist

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 9:00 a.m. MST

Author Shannon Hale (Shutterstock, DeseretNews.com) Author Shannon Hale (Shutterstock, DeseretNews.com)

Last week, the New York Times ran a column by Mark Oppenheimer that explored the world of Mormon writers, saying they “tend to cluster in genre fiction, like fantasy, science fiction, and children’s and young adult literature.”

In his column, “Mormons Offer Cautionary Lesson on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness,” Oppenheimer observed the optimistic writing many authors within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintain.

“I think Mormons tend to have hope and believe in goodness and triumph, and those portrayals can ring false in a literary world,” said Shannon Hale, a Mormon and author of “Princess Academy” in the column.

Oppenheimer said one reason people may clump LDS writers into a young adult genre is that they often do not write about sex, drugs or alcohol without attaching judgment or moral teachings.

Author Orson Scott Card (Stuart Johnson) Author Orson Scott Card (Stuart Johnson)

“There is a specifically Mormon logic to the trend, too. Realist literature for adults often includes aspects of adult life, like sex and drinking, and the convention is to describe them without judgment, without moralizing,” Oppenheimer wrote. “By writing for children and young adults — or in genres popular with young people — one can avoid such topics. Mormon authors can thus have their morals and their book sales, too.”

Writer Leah Libresco responded to Oppenheimer’s piece, saying books that do not delve into sexual themes do not make them less mature.

“It’s hard not to get the impression that sex and romance is the qualifier for moving up the shelves,” Libresco wrote in her article on Patheos. “After all, plenty of the ‘children’s’ books I love deal with mature themes: 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' forces its child protagonists to decide how far they can indulge their own ingenuity before it spills over into ruthlessness, the Young Wizards series involves a major character death, etc. There just happens to be little to no kissing.”

Author Shannon Hale (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Author Shannon Hale (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

She also commented that not all popular LDS writers deliver light topics and themes.

“The people who assume that LDS writers might gravitate to science fiction and fantasy because it suits the sunshine-and-rainbows, Book of Mormon-musical kind of chipperness would do well to actually reread ‘Ender’s Game,’ Libresco wrote. “Card uses fiction and children to explore the sacrifices of war that don’t feel noble and the pain of twisting empathy out of its natural function to use it as a weapon.”

In May, the New York Times ran an article called “When Hollywood wants good, clean fun, it goes to Mormon country.” The article talked about the positive reputation BYU’s animation program maintains, and it also touched on the values people expect from Mormon-produced works.

Author Stephenie Meyer (David Stone, Associated Press) Author Stephenie Meyer (David Stone, Associated Press)

“The B.Y.U. [animation] program is designed to be a similar kind of ethical counterweight: it’s trying to unleash values-oriented filmmakers into the industry who can inflict its sensibility,” the article reads.

Abby Stevens is a writer for the DeseretNews.com Faith and Family sections. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University–Idaho. Contact her at astevens@deseretdigital.com.

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