It's only February, but 2012 has already proven a big year for Joanna Brooks.
She's getting more traffic than ever to her blog, Ask Mormon Girl; she was featured on CNN.com and in the Washington Post; and she self-published her memoir, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith.”
Thanks to an American public hungry to know more about the religion of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, Brooks has found herself an expert on Mormonism and politics for the likes of NPR and the BBC, among others.
“The two things you’re not supposed to talk about, I talk about all the time,” said Brooks, chair of the SDSU Department of English and Comparative Literature.
Religion and politics
The American literature scholar’s side job as a political commentator started with a 2009 article, “How Mormonism Built Glenn Beck,” for the online magazine Religion Dispatches. In it, Brooks, whose research focuses on how religion affects American culture, revealed the influence of Mormonism on the conservative commentator.
From there, Brooks filled the void of credible experts and found herself an unofficial spokeswoman for the faith.
“It’s been an uncanny experience,” she said. “There is tremendous hunger for coverage of Romney’s Mormonism, but most political reporters know nothing about Mormonism.”
In all, she’s called her experience talking to national and international audiences “terrific.”
While she doesn’t speak for all Mormons, she wants to provide a more “humane understanding” of the religion and acknowledge the diversity of Mormon faith.
Mormons seem conformist to non-Mormons, Brooks admitted, and there's an expectation that Latter-day Saints will overwhelmingly vote for Romney. She easily dispels the notion and freely admits her political leanings.
“I’m not going to vote for Mitt Romney,” she said. “He’s not aligned with my political perspective.”
Life of faith
"The Book of Mormon Girl" author, Joanna Brooks, as a young girl
Brooks, who grew up Mormon, started her Ask Mormon Girl blog after writing her memoir.
The book gave Brooks a vehicle to tell the story of the interfaith family she built with her Jewish husband David Kamper, chair of the SDSU Department of American Indian Studies.
“The Book of Mormon Girl” evolved into a more comprehensive take on Brooks' personal journey of faith as a Mormon, from her childhood experience as a Latter-day Saint to her decision to walk away from the church following college to her return to it after she had children.
“There are lots of misconceptions and a lack of familiarity about Mormonism,” Brooks said. “There’s a lack of literature in the home community; no one told a story like this before.”
After unsuccessfully shopping it around to publishers — Brooks speculated that New York-based literary agents couldn't see the value in a book by and about a Mormon woman — she decided to self-publish it on Amazon.
After she finished her first draft of the book, Brooks started her blog, which she considers an open space for discussion by Mormons and non-Mormons.
Whether it’s a non-Mormon asking about dating a Mormon girl, or the history of polygamy in the church, Brooks provides “unorthodox answers from an imperfect source” to her readers from around the world. While she doesn’t have all the answers, Brooks tries to impart advice that’s more inclusive than exclusive.
“There are lots of controversial aspects of Mormon history that people feel ashamed to speak about,” she said.
Thankfully, Brooks isn’t one of them.
“The Book of Mormon Girl” is now available in Kindle format and in print-on-demand from Amazon.com.