74: Writing Mormon Lives

Phyllis Barber and Joanna Brooks are two of Mormonism’s bravest voices, writers of memoirs in which they offer us privileged glimpses of their inner lives, their comings of age in all the kinds of awkwardness that entails, including learning how to inhabit their bodies and sexuality in healthy ways, tensions between the path indicated by LDS narratives and the various other possibilities suggested by other stories that surround them, struggles with theological ideas and legacies that are especially difficult for women, their searches for place in and peace with the tradition and people into which they were born and “cultured.” Their memoirs serve their own Mormon people through telling Mormon stories that offer companionship to other Latter-day Saints who have been shaped by the same or similar ideas, rituals, and messages–both the ennobling ones and those that miss the mark, even sometimes harm. These books and these writers’ willingness to be exposed personally as well as to share an insider’s view of Mormon teachings and rituals also serve as powerful bridges to those outside the LDS community. Through their intimate depictions of the particularity of their Mormon upbringings and lives, these books provide connection to what is universal in human experience. It is in this way that we truly do become “no more strangers and foreigners.”

We trust that you will enjoy this far-ranging but very personal visit with these two remarkable writers and powerful human beings. Comment in the section below. Share your stories. Let’s connect!


Invite wonderful companions into your life! Support these writers!

Below are Amazon.com links to their books. Also check out Kindle and Nook options for some of them. They are also available through certain other mercantile sites.


Raw Edges: A Memoir

How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir

(For Phyllis’s out-of-print books, she recommends contacting Benchmark Books)


The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith



15 comments for “74: Writing Mormon Lives

  1. February 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Loved this!!!  Thank you for sharing your stories and creative process.

  2. Joanna Brooks
    February 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you, Katie!  Happy reading!

  3. Jeralee
    February 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Love, love, loved this discussion!  I was very familiar with Joanna Brooks prior to listening, but Phyllis Barber was new to me.  Ok, I just purchased both The Book of Mormon Girl, and Raw Edges, and can’t wait to dive into the reading!  I come from a family that has somewhat whitewashed personal histories, and this is so refreshing to me!  We all have a story to tell, and there is so much value in learning from one another!  Thanks Dan for bringing these wonderful *Mormon* women into our lives!

  4. Phyllis Barber
    February 16, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Thanks, Jeralee, for your mention of “whitewashed personal histories.” I think there are quite a few of those out there, and yes, we all have a story to tell (and then some). Thanks for responding. 

  5. Mary Lynn Ashworth
    February 16, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve known Phyllis most of her life  — 5th ward in Las Vegas, danced next to each other as Las Vegas Rhythmettes, Maid of Honor at my wedding, having kids, divorces, etc.  I admire her ability to be upfront about the frustrations regarding religion and marriage.

  6. Mandy Ward
    February 18, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Beautiful!!  It makes me want to write my stories too.  How do you know where to start?

  7. February 18, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    I’ve had a story in my head for a few years that I really want to write and this podcast had me planning out how I can get it done. All of our stories are important. I’m not even done with this podcast yet but I’m sitting here crying listening to @571234271570e22a1860ac434a20eb41:disqus tell about her 3 year old son & his death and the mild struggle she had with understanding if she qualified for God’s love. I don’t want anyone to question that because it’s a dark place. I’ll expose my vulnerability if it means there is someone who may be able to identify with it and feel less alone.

    Ok I’m going to go finish listening now.

  8. LilyTiger
    February 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you for this podcast.  I loved “The Book of Mormon Girl” and am excited to learn about and start reading “Raw Edges.”

    I also loved that “Refuge” was referenced in the podcast.  Another great biography of a woman coming to terms with her Mormon roots is “Riding in the Shadows of Saints: A Woman’s Story of Motorcycling the Mormon Trail.”  I read it every Pioneer Day and cry. 

    Finally, I find it interesting that only women are commenting on this podcast.  What gives?

  9. Phyllis Barber
    February 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    In answer to Mandy’s question about getting started, I will offer advice given to me many years ago. I went to a children’s book writing conference, had an interview with an editor who had read my submission, and she told me that I needed to know more about the craft of writing. Period. I went back to school and finally received an MFA in writing. There is much to learn as writing is an instrument, much as a piano is an instrument. Learn as much as you can about it and read, read, read the kind of stories you want to write. This will give you a wider sense of what is possible. Best of luck.

  10. Jen White
    February 22, 2012 at 5:53 am

    Both of you are amazing! I am hope one of these times I get to be on a podcast with Joanna Brooks.

  11. Brian Derrick
    February 24, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Joanna and Phyllis (and Dan) what an amazing podcast!  I loved your rawness, your vulnerability, and authenticity!  I was running with my dog through the desert here in Arizona, when Phyllis shared her story about her son Jeff.  My oldest son is Jeff, and my youngest is 4.  I just ran with my dog and cried as you told that story Phyllis.  Thank you for sharing the most painful moment I’ve heard.  We are all broken on some level and it’s so helpful to share and hear these stories.  I’ve heard the phrase, “Old soldiers will show you their medals, but they never talk about their scars.”  Hearing you share your scars is so helpful to the rest of us.  Joanna, it’s why I love your voice too, you always are willing to share your scars.

    I just wanted to give you a virtual hug for being so honest with us.  I hope we have more and more writers with your talents sharing with us.  It makes us all better.

  12. Danielle
    February 29, 2012 at 4:21 am

    I love these ladies (and Dan, of course.) What a neat spin these women have on Mormonism. Thank you for sharing your very personal experiences. It is sad that in some of our most heartbreaking moments in life, specifically our struggles with faith, our self efficacy, and our family relationships, we often struggle alone in an attempt to appear strong and hide our flaws.


  13. Melody Newey
    March 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Raw Edges — did not bog me down in the least, lifted me in many ways. The most perfect writing advice I have ever heard: Write down one honest sentence after another. (I don’t know who said it.) Honest sentences are what this memoir is.  What a gift. Thank you, Phyllis.  Also, lovely interview and conversation. “We just don’t do this in Mormonism. . .” True and troubling. Thanks to both authors for contributing to the remedy for this not-uniquely Latter-day Saint ailment. God bless you. 

  14. October 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Four years later. I needed this today. Thank you all three of you.

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