Writing Mormon Literature for a Non-Mormon Audience

Guest speaker Tim Wirkus shared his new book City of Brick and Shadow, an example of Mormon literature written for a broader audience.

IMG_5274PROVO, Utah (September 11, 2015)—For many, Mormon literature is just another niche genre, confined to the bookshelves of stores like Deseret, Beehive, and Seagull Books. But some authors are demonstrating how wide an audience the genre can really have.

In the semester’s first installment of the English Reading Series, guest speaker Tim Wirkus shared his new book City of Brick and Shadow, an example of the new roads Mormon literature can take.

The book follows Elder Schwartz and Elder Toronto, two Mormon missionaries searching for a missing convert in the fictional Latin American town of Vila Barbosa. Their search quickly becomes a detective story as they interview the man’s family and associates and delve into the town’s criminal history.

A difficulty in writing about missionaries, and a challenge shared by all writers of Mormon literature, is the threat of alienating readers who are unfamiliar with the world or situations encountered by members of the Church (i.e., missionaries and proselyting). However, Wirkus found a solution that he compared to writing for police or crime shows on television:

“There’s a lot of jargon that gets thrown around that lends a kind of authenticity to the story, but that the audience isn’t expected to understand,” he said. “That was the guideline I followed: If missionaries are using a word that’s only familiar to a Mormon audience, is it essential to understand it to care about what’s going on?”

Following this guideline, Wirkus produced what has been described by one critic as a spin on the classic buddy-cop story, with “a pair almost like Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, the main character being a slightly dull Watson dragged along by his energetic and condescending senior companion.” Using these twists on well-established tropes of the mystery genre, the story invites readers outside of the Mormon faith to ask the same questions common to LDS thought and visit a new perspective.

For information on upcoming speakers, visit the English Reading Series website.

—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)


Samuel covers the English Department for the College of Humanities. He is a junior pursuing a degree in American studies with a minor in editing.