Orson Scott Card gave an incredibly memorable speech at the LDS Storymakers Conference last week. Like many at the Conference, I was eagerly anticipating Mr. Scott Card’s keynote speech. In our collective minds, getting writing tips from the person who not only wrote the Enders Game series, but also scripted the Hill Cumorah pageant and the Living Scriptures, was going to be a real treat, comparable only to singing with Gladys Knight, or tossing the pigskin with Steve Young.
My friend and I arrived early and found seats close to the podium. We chatted easily with the ladies near us as we watched the other tables quickly fill up with attendees. Laughter and conversation drifted across the packed room. There was a palpable feeling of excitement, a feeling that we were in for a real treat.
And it was a treat—a wickedly, wickedly delicious treat. After some preliminary advice, Mr. Scott Card wasted no time in blasting, not only some ideas the attendees may have had about writing, but aspects of LDS culture itself.
He started by saying an LDS writer should not try and preach the Gospel through writing. His advice? “If you find yourself preaching, break the pen”. At this, I sat up a little. I noticed a few women around me perk up as well, but their faces weren’t full of unbridled interest, like mine; they were clouded with doubt. A preeminent LDS writer, telling other writers not to preach? Mr. Scott Card went on to explain (paraphrased), “If you are a faithful LDS member, your beliefs should come through in your writing, without trying to preach.”
Orson Scott Card continued to state one should never ask if the work is inspired. A lot of times, writers will try to write with “the Spirit,” a colloquial LDS term describing when someone is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He abruptly told the audience he often finds “a direct correlation between people saying their work is inspired, and how crappy it is.” At this comment, I saw the women at an adjacent table turn to each other, murmuring and glancing repeatedly at the speaker with slight disbelief on their faces. A few audience members chuckled, but I could see the worry beginning to ripple around the room. Not have the Spirit when writing your book, 100 Uses for Lard at Relief Society Luncheons? Unthinkable.
I, however, was highly amused, and continued to listen as Mr. Scott Card went on to eviscerate what he deems to be the LDS Church’s tendency to push away members who are “highly verbal readers”, particularly the youth members. He related the exclusionary activities of the “spiteful, anti-intellectual [Church] youth program,” such as participation in the Boy Scouts, with its non-literary merit badges, and basketball. It was very obvious that his experiences in the LDS youth program had negatively impacted him as a teenage intellectual. But honestly, as much as I admire his guts for saying this to a predominantly LDS crowd, I had to roll my eyes at this point—or, I would have, if I weren’t assessing the shocked faces of my co-attendees. At this point, it was obvious that Orson Scott Card had fully deflated all their hopes for a testimony-building, fireside-type address—and the hushed countenances of nearly all the women around me reflected their disillusionment.
Mr. Scott Card did offer some final comforting words for the audience. Along with advising LDS authors to avoid salacious scenes and offensive language in their writing, Orson Scott Card offered this golden counsel: if you LDS writers are the outskirts of your less-literate wards, then find your value in the Church—not as a writer, but as a volunteer. His suggestions, from personal experience, were to join the choir; set up chairs; and take out trash. This makes you part of the LDS community, and they will think you are “one of them”. Ultimately, this inclusion allows you to express yourself more freely as a writer, and you won’t be shunned for having slightly different opinions from the general group.
So this is a faithful re-telling of my experience at the keynote address for LDS Storymakers. And to be honest, it was pretty darn amusing. But do you think Orson Scott Card was right? Does the Church alienate its highly verbal readers and intellectuals? If so, why?