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For the love of his craft, author left Mormon Church (audio)

By Carolina Astrain
Oct. 15, 2013 at 5:15 a.m.
Updated Oct. 16, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.


It has been more than a decade since Brian Evenson said his goodbyes to the Mormon Church.

After the publication of his novel, "Altmann's Tongue," in 1994, a Brigham Young University student wrote a letter to church leaders calling the book wrong and evil.

"Some of the stories were quite dark, but I also think that there was a purpose for that," Evenson, 47, said. "I felt like I could stand by them."

Evenson, the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, will give a reading at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday as part of the American Book Review's reading series.

Evenson, who was a Brigham Young University professor when "Altmann's Tongue" was released, chose to leave the university as a result of the student's complaint.

"I kind of struggled with explaining myself in that Mormon religious school setting," he said. "It became clear that really all they wanted me to do was just not write anymore books like that."

About five years after leaving the university, Evenson chose to leave the Mormon Church.

"It was a very big shift," said Evenson, who credits part of first marriage's failure to his move away from Mormonism.

"My work has been very important to me, and I feel that if you believe in what you're doing, then you really have to stand by it," Evenson said. "I think a lot of writers never really have a moment where they really have to think seriously about how important their work is to them."

This fall, Evenson, now a professor at Brown University in Providence, RI, has been on paternal leave because of the birth of his third child.

The author is working on a collection of short stories and a novel.

Evenson credits his love for writing to his mother.

"My mother was a science fiction writer," Evenson said. "To give herself time to write, she would encourage all of us kids to do something else - it was a way of getting five kids out of her hair."

Although Evenson's "Last Days," (2009) received the American Library Association's award for Best Horror Novel, the author said he rejects the label.

"What I would say about my own work - I don't think it's horror exactly; I think it's literary work that has a kind of darker, unsettling element to it," Evenson said. "It's work that's very psychologically disturbing."

In his 2012 collection of short stories, "Windeye," the dedication, "For my lost sister," is a metaphorical extension of the collection's theme of lost sisters, Evenson said.

"I just liked the idea of having a dedication pushing the boundaries of the book a little bit," Evenson said. "I have three sisters, but none of them are lost."

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