Joanna Brooks, English professor at San Diego State University, creator of the blog “Ask Mormon Girl” and author of “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith,” did a reading from her book on Wednesday as part of the Mormonism and the Internet Conference hosted by UVU.
In addition to her reading, Brooks will give a keynote address on Thursday and will also be part of a panel discussion during the conference, which runs from Wednesday to Friday and is free and open to the public.
“My speech is titled ‘The Challenge of Mormon Studies for the Digital Age,’ ” Brooks said. “It will be about the work that Mormon studies can do in a moment when Mormons are confronting more and more misunderstandings about us and complicated aspects of our own history.”
The Internet and growing interest in the Church has brought about many challenges and opportunities for members of the LDS Church, Brooks said.
“It used to be that we were fairly isolated, even in the information that we had access to about ourselves,” she said. “We’re coming into contact with what non-Mormons think about us and controversy about Mormon history.”
Her memoir “The Book of Mormon Girl,” tells stories from her childhood and youth as she grew up as a proud member of the LDS Church.
“I wanted to write about having questions and struggles with this tradition you love as a child that tend to come as you begin to create your adult world,” she said.
For her reading, Brooks read from a chapter called “Mormon’s Versus Born-Agains: Dance Off — Rose Bowl 1985,” where she tells the story of being a 13-year-old girl participating in the 1985 Rose Bowl Dance Festival.
“But with 65,000 Mormons on Rose Bowl grounds, 15,000 of the young people trained as precision dancers, the rabid little deployment of born-agains didn’t stand a chance,” she read. “A group of Mormon kids circled them singing our beloved hymn ‘I Am a Child of God,’ the very sound of which so confounded our tormentors that they withered and vaporized into thin air. At least that’s what my best friend Natasha told me she heard from a girl in the cha-cha number.”
The reading was met with laughter and applause from the audience.
Her blog, “Ask Mormon Girl,” which is subtitled “Unorthodox Answers from an Imperfect Source,” is a Q-and-A blog where anyone can ask questions about the LDS faith and receive straightforward answers.
“I have a lot of experience discussing Mormonism with non-members,” said Brooks, whose husband is Jewish. “With this blog and the growing curiosity about my faith with Mitt Romney in the election, I’ve been given the opportunity to write for non-Mormon audiences about Mormonism and speak candidly about the tradition I love.”
Brooks grew up in San Diego in a devout LDS family, but several years after graduating from BYU in 1993 she stopped attending church.
“I’ve never stopped thinking of myself as Mormon, and I don’t consider myself as ever having left the church,” she said. “But there was a time for about eight years where I did not attend church. I was going through what I would call a faith transition and a re-evaluating of my relationship with the Church because of excommunicated feminist intellectuals and the church’s stance on same-sex marriage.”
Brooks gives credit for her reactivation in the Church to her two daughters, who were ages 2 and 4 at the time. As she sang primary hymns and had family prayers with them, she came to a realization as a parent.
“I realized that I could, by myself, teach them the doctrine,” she said. “But I couldn’t give them that sense of how to belong to a community and to this crazy, beautiful thing called Mormonism. They helped me be brave enough to go back and be with other Mormons.”
In addition to participating in the conference at UVU, Brooks will do a storytelling at Muse Music on Friday.
For more information on the Mormonism and the Internet Conference, visit uvu.edu/religiousstudies/mormonismandtheinternet/. Follow Brooks on Twitter @askmormongirl.