Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism


By Jack Harrell

“Thought-provoking, inspiring, and beautifully written.” — Margaret Blair Young
“You need to add this book to your library.” — Eric Samuelsen

2016 Best Literary Criticism Award,
Association for Mormon Letters

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Book Description:

Continuing a conversation as old as Mormonism itself, Jack Harrell explores the relationship between Mormonism and the writer. Mormons see the universe in mythic proportions. Their God is a creator, their devil a destroyer. This makes meaningful conflict fundamental to their worldview, and begs the terms for religious redemption, as well as the redemptive power of art. Harrell urges writers to be authentic as they embrace the difficulties inherent in the creative process. His essays blend faithful intellectual inquiry, personal narrative, research, and application to offer insights for anyone who cares about writing, creativity, and the human condition.


Read a Q&A with the author 

Listen to an AuthorCast interview with the author

Listen to Jack Harrell read "Making Meaning as a Mormon Writer"

2016 AML Award Citation:

“The Association of Mormon Letters is pleased to present the award for Criticism to Jack Harrell for his collection of essays on literary theory, creative writing strategies, Mormon literary history, and his advice to would-be Mormon writers and critics, Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism, published by Greg Kofford Books. The best of the essays, “Toward a Mormon Literary Thought,” is a worthy successor to the work of Eugene England, one of the author’s heroes. And rightly so. At his most engaging, Harrell speaks bluntly, knowingly, and aspirationally regarding the plight of the serious Mormon writer, and by extension, their audience. His advice to writers to be honest and to embrace their weirdness, among other things, seeks to reframe the discussion of Mormonism’s cultural debits and credits into a workable and motivational mode of authentic creativity.”

Praise for Writing Ourselves:

“‘Embrace your weirdness!’ says Jack Harrell in his new book. That line should be a bumper sticker, it's so good. What a gift this book is to LDS writers and artists who are forever self-censoring and experimenting! ‘As Mormon writers.’ says Harrell, ‘we should be suspicious of our own stereotypes, our own snap judgments. All good writers seek to move their fiction beyond stereotypes, political and social agendas, and institutional constraints. Mormon theology is remarkably amenable to this complex view of art.’ Harrells book is for everyone interested in creativity, and particularly for Mormons wondering what a Latter-day Saint literary criticism should look like. It is a thought-provoking, inspiring, and beautifully written book. I support ‘embracing our weirdness,’ and I enjoy Harrell's examples of his own particular weirdness thoroughly.” — Margaret Blair Young, creative writing faculty at Brigham Young University, and co-author of the Standing on the Promises series

“Jack Harrell's essays on writing and Mormonism and life reflect a life spent in the service of a thoughtful and compassionate humanism. Harrell values well crafted characters, stories with epiphanic power and impact, narratives of consequence, not just incident. I found his collection all the more provocative when I disagreed with him. And that's a compliment; Harrell invites us to a conversation, not a sermon. His prose will hook you; his argument always engages. If you care about Mormonism and good writing and the moral implications of fiction, you need to add this book to your library.” — Eric Samuelsen, playwright and former president of the Association for Mormon Letters

“As one who does not consider himself a creative writer (at least not a fiction writer), I was a bit hesitant to attempt a review of a book almost entirely dedicated to the art of writing. Yet, as I made my way from essay to essay, it became clear to me that Harrell was not merely talking about writing, but was describing the essence of Creation itself.” — Walker Wright, Worlds Without End

[Harrell] speaks to the function of language and narrative as communal acts. In his exploration of literature as an ethical act intended to foster moral goodness, he encourages writers to create narrative worlds and persons that feel as real as the space we inhabit and the people we encounter in real life.”— Tyler Chadwick, Association for Mormon Letters

This book definitely gives me the motivation to write and explore my thoughts and organize the stresses of life through my writing. I recommend this book not just to writers, but to everyone. It’s not just about writing, but how to live a better life.—Dani Addante, Exponent II

Harrell’s text is original and insightful, at times daring. . .  In this collection of essays, Harrell has invested the most precious and personal parts of his humanity: faith, family, and art.”—Jennifer Quist, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 50:1 (Spring 2017)

About the Author:

A native of southeastern Illinois, Jack Harrell moved to Utah and joined the Mormon Church at age twenty-one. He has published a novel, Vernal Promises, and the fiction collection A Sense of Order and Other Stories. He teaches writing at Brigham Young UniversityIdaho.

More Information:

156 pages
ISBN 978-1-58958-754-0 (paperback)

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