In April 2020, I launched a page on the web service Patreon, which allows people to make monthly pledges to support artists whose work they'd like to see more of. If you're reading this, I hope you'll consider visiting the page and making a monthly pledge of support.
Why did I feel like taking this step? The story stretches, roughly, from 1888 to March of 2020:
Shakespeares of Our Own
In 1888, Orson F. Whitney spoke to Latter-day Saints about how we as a people could have "Shakespeares of our own." His quote has often been interpreted as meaning we'd have famous writers (and in many genres, we do) but what Whitney most wanted was a literature of our own. "Our literature must live and breathe for itself," he said. "We must build our own hive and honeycomb."
Many writers have worked before and since on trying to capture the restored gospel in literary forms. They've also used fiction, poetry, and essay to explore what we might still call Mormonism: the mix of stories, speculation, culture, and customs that aren't necessarily from God but are nonetheless woven into our history and lives. These writers' work, though, has typically depended either on day jobs or the whims and tastes of a national audience. Often that shows, either in uneven craft that never reaches its peak or in national market depictions that distort Mormon life to meet voyeuristic outside expectations.
We'd be better off as a culture funding a few writers of our own. It's not impossible: there are far more Latter-day Saints today, enjoying far more wealth, than the 200,000 people in Shakespeare's London. We have yet to organize well enough, though, to give literary writers the luxury of focused time to build up the literature of our own Orson Whitney longed for.
My Work and My Worry
For the past 14 years, I've been writing about both what it means to be a Latter-day Saint religiously and what it means to be a Mormon culturally. I've done my best to stretch myself and improve my craft while writing unabashedly Mormon plays, poems, essays, short stories, novels, histories, documentaries, and literary translations. I've won the Association for Mormon Letters' annual awards for Drama and Novel and been a finalist for the awards in Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Literary Criticism. Just as importantly, I've learned craft while helping other writers, musicians, and visual artists to find the resolve and opportunities to create work about the restored gospel and Mormon cultural experience.
My work has mattered in real people's lives. I've heard from people who felt like my writing reawakened their religious imagination after they'd fallen into spiritual cruise control. I've heard from people who turned to my work as a lifeline through difficult times and pressures. No matter what crazy things I've had to deal with (like two rounds of cancer, family health scares and hard losses, and the steady grind of living in a society plagued with racism) I've kept writing Mormon Lit because I know how deeply this kind of work matters for its audience.
My worry is that all that passion on its own won't be enough to let me leave my audience, my people, the literary legacy they deserve. I already feel like years are going by too quickly. And 20th century funding models simply aren't enough to offer me the luxury of focus in the years ahead. Book royalties reward breadth more than depth: a book earns the same few dollars per copy whether it's a filler in a grocery store or a life-changing work of art.
My wife and I calculate that, to complement her income, I would need $3,000 per month in writing income to focus most of my time on writing. My books have sold well by comparative standards, but in a niche audience, like literary Latter-day Saint readers, there is simply no chance I'll sell the thousand or so book copies per month it would take to reach that threshold. To reach my literary peak working with the themes and for the readers I love most, I'd need some other form of patronage.
A Fork in the Road
In March 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, my position at an educational writing company was eliminated in an internal reorganization. While I have some leads on what might turn out to be stable job prospects, I've also allowed myself more time than I usually do to write--and have been so happy with the results. I've been feeling increasingly strongly that I need to take this moment to see if it's time to really focus on my writing.
Patreon is a platform where people can set up monthly pledges of support to independent artists. For the cost of a drink, meal, or outing per month, you can get advance and/or exclusive access to my writing, reflections, and gifts of thanks. You can also be part of something big: making possible a body of literature that can stand the test of time, that future generations can look back on and be proud of.
You may not be able to give much, but small and simple things can make a huge difference. For those between jobs like me, I'll be regularly posting some free content and gladly accepting any words of encouragement. For those with income: my family's $3,000/month goal is within reach if I can get regular support from as many people as are in an average ward.
There are so many books, poems, plays, and essays I'd still love to write. On my own, I anticipate getting three books finished and out this year. With your help, I really think I could finish six.
Whether my books have meant a lot to you or whether you're exploring my writing for the first time through the free pieces I've posted here, I hope you'll consider supporting my quest to build us a richer literature of our own.