On Friday (during my trip to Seattle for Sunstone) I’m scheduled to spend 2 or 3 hours with Levi Peterson in a video interview (as part of the Sunstone video history project and Mormon Stories podcast).

For those of you who know of (or about) Levi — I’d love your ideas/thoughts on the best questions I should ask. You can submit them here.
Please help, and please do spread the word (via email and blogs). As you know, Levi is a treasure to Mormonism, and this video interview is a great chance to help capture some of his best stories and thoughts for current and future generations.


  1. Dallas Robbins October 10, 2007 at 7:12 am

    -You’ve called yourself a ‘Christian by yearning.’ In what ways does that, or doesn’t that, still hold true?

    -What do you think the Mormon novel needs that hasn’t been accomplished yet?

    -You once wrote an article on Mormon eros for Dialogue. How should sexuality be approached in LDS literature? How far is going too far? Is there such a thing in literature?

    (I hope this may get your ideas flowing. These are questions that I have always wanted to ask Levi, but I’ve never had the opprotunity.)

  2. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 7:27 am

    From Glenn,

    “You might ask Levi to elaborate on his remark that the Dialogue endeavor was much like a dog barking at a passing train (some thing on the order of the dog does not get hurt if it does not get in the way, and that the dog’s activities otherwise do not mean much to the conductor).”

  3. Matt W. October 10, 2007 at 8:39 am

    Whay do you talk about drinking coffee as some sort of particular badge of honor? Is this your way of intentionally alienating orthodox members from reading your material?

  4. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 8:53 am

    From ChrisR:

    What do you think about the current state of Mormon literature? What
    are some positive things you see? Some negative? and what do you
    think can be done to bring about change?

    Many people thought that Richard Dutcher would help usher in a new era
    of arts and letters. But the general consensus among those who saw
    his latest film Falling is that he has imploded and his career as a
    filmaker might be over. Are there any writers or filmakers that you
    see who might pick up where Richard Dutcher left off and improve the
    state of Mormon arts and letters?

    Are their any authors writing to an LDS audience that you think are
    doing good work? Who are they, and why should we read their work?

    What makes you hopeful for the future of Mormon studies? What makes
    you doubtful or discouraged?

  5. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 8:54 am

    From Kristine:

    Ask him about the woman who shot the whole flock of exotic chickens she was breeding. Seriously. It’s a great story and he’s the consummate story teller!

  6. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 8:55 am

    From ME:

    “Levi spoke at Sunstone memorably about the reactions people had to the Cowboy Jesus in The Backslider. I also found it interesting that his wife is not LDS yet accompanies him to multitudinous Sunstone events. “

  7. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 8:59 am

    From CB:

    “I’d love to know your thoughts on some specific Mormon doctrines,
    especially premortality and eternal marriage.

    How has editing Dialogue affected you? Your sense of the Mormon
    community? Your belief/disbelief related to Mormon theology, history,
    lifestyle, etc.?

    How have sales been on your autobiography? Give us some samples of the
    kinds of feedback you’ve been getting.

    Is The Backslider filmable? Would you like to see it made into a movie ever?”

  8. Russell October 10, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I have a million questions I would ask him.
    here are 3 I think apply to this blog.

    1) What 3 books (not books he wrote) would he hope all his children/grandchildren read. I guess I’m asking for 3 books that have changed his life?

    2) I would ask him if he thinks you (john) should raise your kids in the church. Or is it all the same to him. Does he have a preference if his grandkids are raised in the Church?

    3) I would ask him if he could ask pres Hinckley 1 question, what would it be?

  9. Dave October 10, 2007 at 10:35 am

    How about contrasting the use of fiction as a device for getting at the meaning of “the Mormon experience,” versus personal essays or historical narrative. And then I suppose there’s the contrast between serious Mormon fiction (which tries to get at the Mormon experience) and popular Mormon fiction (I’m not sure what it does — entertain, maybe?).

  10. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 11:09 am

    More from ChrisR:

    “Mormon authors have enjoyed success in the mainstream. Orson Card,
    Stephanie Meyer, Jana Reiss, and others, have shown that people will
    read books with subtle Mormon themes as oposed to books that are
    overtly Mormon. What needs to happen for more Mormon authors to reach
    out to the mainstream audience?

    The LDS market seems to be dominated by kitschy romance and vaguely
    historical fiction novels. Should aspiring LDS authors follow the
    examples of Card and Meyer and focus on the mainstream instead of the
    Mormon market?

    Why is there little variety in the mainstream LDS market for books?

    Does Deseret Book’s consolidation of the market by purchasing
    Bookcraft, Covenant, and Seagull Book and Tape, threaten the voices of
    new authors that want to write to the LDS audience with being silenced
    or seriously compromising their work in order to meet the tastes of
    conservative LDS editors?

    What lessons can we learn about the Mormon audience from what has
    happened Richard Dutcher?”

  11. Susan October 10, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    In one of D. Michael Quinn’s books, he talked about early LDS leaders switching between theological language and traditions as they existed at that point in the development of the LDS church and patriotic language and traditions as citizens of the U.S. If I am remembering this correctly, Quinn was talking specifically about Oliver Cowdery. It was quite interesting, because there is a tendency to think of people in a specific and limited context, rather than looking at other aspects of an individual’s life. I hadn’t ever thought about Oliver thinking about the founding fathers and democracy, but it was really an obvious point once it had been drawn to my attention.

    In the same spirit, I would be interested to hear what Levi has to say about literature in general, rather than just the LDS version. I do not know a great deal about Levi, although he’s at least on my reading list at this point. If this is something he discusses in his biography, then please excuse me.

    Another thing I would be interested to hear about is his reaction to the influence of national bigotry toward LDS people and (by extension) literature that deals with LDS characters. The fact is, the same people who would not vote for Mitt solely because of his religion would also look in a negative way toward LDS fiction that does not bash LDS beliefs; it is one thing to reject a politician (such as Mitt, who I have absolutely no intention of voting for if given the opportunity) because of his views or a novel because of its poor quality, and another thing entirely to reject either one without any inspection of their actual merits (or lack thereof).

  12. Bruce Jones October 10, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    I will modestly be the 946th person to inquire of Levi how he responds to Church members who criticize him for his honest portrayals of characters who are humans first and Mormons second.

  13. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    From Matt Thurston:

    “I’d also be interested in hearing him talk about being a non-believer in a family and community of believers. I’m interested in his theories regarding “Why” people believe, as opposed to “What” people believe. Why, considering his genetics, upbringing, culture, etc. is Levi so thoroughly hard-wired as a non-believer?

    I’d also be interested in his advice for non-believers living with/among believers. He has pulled it off with grace. How does he do it? So many families are splitting up these days (or are deeply estranged) because of lost faith/belief… what would Levi’s advice be to the non-believers?

    Levi has also made no secret about his desire to “civilize” and “liberalize” Mormonism. In some ways he’s an activist. One of his greatest Sunstone speeches was from the early 80s about Civilizing Mormonism (can’t remember the title, but easy to find). Does he think Mormonism has been civilized or liberalized in the past 30 years? If so how? Where does he think Mormonism is going in the next 50 years? 100 years? Will it grow, remain stagnant? Will it continue to liberalize, or will it revert to a more close-minded conservatism?

    Does he have another novel in him before he dies??? Has he considered revisiting Frank Wyndam from The Backslider in a sequel? What up-and-coming Mormon artists (especially authors) does Levi have his eye on? What about a novel based on his missionary experiences in France as a non-believer?

    What about the direction of Dialogue? Is he happy with the way it is going (i.e. seems to be less controversial than it used to be)? What does he see for the future of Dialogue? What does it need to survive?”

  14. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    From IoneM:

    “I’d actually like to know his thoughts on gender and Sunstone. How has he seen changes in how men and women of Sunstone have worked together and shared (or not shared) power; how attitudes about gender among Sunstoners have changed….I guess I’m asking about institutional attitudes and experience, and I assume he has some knowledge or observation of that. But in general, too, I’d like to pick his brain on that subject.”

  15. John Dehlin October 10, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    From JohnN:

    1. With the urbanization and internationalization of Mormonism, will the homespun cultural Mormons of Peterson’s fiction exercise a romantic pull on tomorrow’s more rootless Mormons?

    2. Has Peterson ever had ecclesiastical repercussions from his published fiction? I don’t remember his autobiography addressing this one way or the other.

    3. Whom does he see as up and coming authors on the Mormon scene?

    4. Could he imagine an indie film version of his novel the Backslider?”

  16. Richard Dutcher October 10, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Chris R:

    Imploded? I beg to differ.

  17. Peepstone Joe October 11, 2007 at 8:53 am

    1. If his wife ever decides to join the church, would Levi be pleased or indifferent?

    2. Does Levi have any interesting stories of encounters with conservative LDS students at Weber State running up against his more liberal LDS standards?

    3. What sort of “activity level” does Levi have in the church? I’ve read in one of his essays that he goes home teaching, but does he receive and accept callings? Speak in church? Is he somewhat ostracized from full participation? Does his bishop/ward know and read the things he writes, or do they even care?

  18. Wiliam Morris October 11, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Susan wrote:

    “In the same spirit, I would be interested to hear what Levi has to say about literature in general, rather than just the LDS version.”

    And JohnN wrote:

    “With the urbanization and internationalization of Mormonism, will the homespun cultural Mormons of Peterson’s fiction exercise a romantic pull on tomorrow’s more rootless Mormons?”

    I endorse both questions, and add that, in general, I’m less interested in what he has to say about Mormon culture in general and more about what he has to say about literature in the context of changes in Mormonism and American society — what are the potentially fruitful (and also problematic) themes, settings and forms to explore?

  19. John Dehlin October 12, 2007 at 12:07 am

    From AA,

    “Dr. Peterson and I have exchanged letters, just one letter each so far. There was something in his letter I’ve wanted to ask him about, and it may be interesting for anyone who hears the interview.

    He wrote: “I am an ethnic Mormon, by which I mean I stay near the Church for emotional and social reasons, not for reasons of belief. I can’t explain why I, intellectually a disbeliever, feel so compelled to live among and to identify myself as a Mormon. I have of course got over any need to explain.”

    It’s the last sentence that intrigues me. Why “of course”? And how was this accomplished? I myself have not gotten over the need to explain, and am constantly devising ways to explain it to myself/others.”

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