The recent and enormous attention given to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series has sparked interest in Mormon authors and those writing for the Young Adult Fiction market. Meyers is not the first Latter-day Saint author to make a splash in this national market--even if none have achieved her celebrity.
Two Mormon authors' works have received Newbery honors. In 1957 Virginia Sorensen's Miracles on Maple Hill (Harcourt) beat out Fred Gipson's Old Yeller as the medal winner. More recently, Shannon Hale's Princess Academy (Bloomsbury Children's Books) was among the 2006 Newbery Honor Books (a runner up to the medal winner). Hale has quite a franchise, in fact, with her popular fantasy series (The Goose Girl, 2003; Enna Burning, 2004; and River Secrets, 2006)
There are, in fact, numerous LDS Young Adult Fiction authors writing for the national market (as well as for the Mormon market). Prominent among these (and still actively publishing at this time) are
- Lael Littke (20 novels published by national presses, including Shanny on Her Own [Harcourt, Brace, 1985])
- Louise Plummer (A Dance for Three [Delacorte Press, 2000])
- Carol Lynch Williams (Kelly and Me [Delacorte Press, 1993]) and
- Dean Hughes (Nutty for President [Atheneum, 1981])
- A.E. Cannon (Charlotte's Rose [Random House, 2002] was a finalist for the PEN Center 2002 Literary awards)
- Chris Crowe's Mississippi Trial, 1955 (Phyliss Fogelman Books, 2002) won numerous literary awards in 2003.
These recent and prolific authors were preceded by Olive Woolley Burt in the 1940s (Pete's Story Goes to Press [Henry Holt, 1943] among many others); Virginia Sorensen in the 1950s (Miracle on Maple Hill [Harcourt Brace and World, 1956]; by Paul Bailey in the 1960s (whose 1964 For Time and All Eternity [Doubleday] was the first Mormon YA novel really to break into the national market); and by R. R. Knudson in the 1970s (Zanballer [Delacorte, 1972]). The famous troubled-teen "diary," Go Ask Alice (Prentice Hall, 1971) was penned by Mormon Beatrice Sparks.
I have passed over entirely the history of Mormon YA Fiction that did not appear nationally, but it is worth noting that this genre was very purposefully inaugurated by Mormon leaders who desired an alternative literature for their youth than was to be found nationally at the end of the 19th Century. Orsonn Whitney started the "Home Literature" movement, famously calling in 1888 for there to be Mormon Miltons and Shakespeares. The response was not belletristic blockbusters of that caliber, but a tremendous outpouring of amateur fiction and nonfiction that appeared in LDS periodiclas such as the Contributor (so called because Mormon youth were invited to develop their literary abilities by contributing their creative works, which they did). An LDS retail market was a going concern by the 1970s, and it was the Young Adult Fiction that sent it soaring through regional blockbusters coming from authors like Brent Yorgason, Jack Weyland, and Dean Hughes. Hughes is perhaps the most prolific and successful crossover--still producing widely read series fiction for the LDS market while sustaining a parallel career within the national YA market (see above).
We get closer to the Stephenie Meyer phenomenon when we see the great success of LDS writers within the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Tracy Hickman (co-writing with non-Mormon Margaret Weis) has written 40 novels in the fantasy genre, including the nationally recognized Dragonlance and Darksword series (starting with Dragons of Autumn Twilight [TSR 1984]). More recently flourishing in this genre has been Canadian Mormon Martine Bates Leavitt (Dollmage [Red Deer College Press, 2002]).
Dave Wolverton is an LDS, New York Times best-selling science fiction author with 26 books translated into 17 languages. He has captivated teen readers by the millions. But surpassing all of these authors has been the blockbuster career of science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, known best, perhaps for his Andrew Wiggin series that began with Ender's Game (T. Doherty, 1985). This series features a moral yet xenocidal teen protagonist who has perplexed decades of would-be filmmakers who can't translate into film what Card achieves so well in the novel form--a profoundly complex and compelling adolescent hero.
Anyone who reads Stephenie Meyer and wonders if Mormons writing for the YA market can write something more substantial in terms of character, theme, or language need only turn to Card to be well rewarded. Though they shouldn't stop with him.
There is a culture that cultivates YA fiction among the Mormons. Part of it is a focus on family-friendly literature. Part of it comes from that history of periodicals that promoted Mormon youth to develop their writing talents. Part of it comes from Brigham Young University, connected intimately with most of those nationally publishing LDS writers (including Meyer). Many of the best Mormon writers for the YA market have taught or been taught at BYU (and BYU hosts other important writers such as Douglas Thayer who have not succeeded nationally, but who are writing high quality adolescent literature). Conferences for aspiring and professionalizing writers take place annually via BYU, such as the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop, and there are student clubs that connect young writers with established writers. Courses in Mormon literature (and more specifically in YA literature) are held regularly at BYU, too.
Thanks to Jesse Crisler and Chris Crowe, whose article "Then and Now: A Survey of Mormon Young Adult Writers" was a source for some of this information. Those with further questions might ask Chris Crowe directly (who can be found through byu.edu).