CORRECTION APPENDEDIn 1888, speaking about the possibility of Mormon literature, the church leader Orson F. Whitney made an audacious promise to his fellow Mormons: ''We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.'' Yet 125 years later, there is no Mormon Milton. There is no Mormon Milosz, no Mormon Munro.
Mormons are, on average, better educated than most Americans, and they have written popular fiction. But Mormon authors tend to cluster in genre fiction, like fantasy, science fiction, and children's and young adult literature. Orson Scott Card, who wrote ''Ender's Game,'' the sci-fi novel on which the country's current top-grossing movie is based, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So is Stephenie Meyer, author of the ''Twilight'' series.
In the United States, Jews, blacks and South Asians, while they have produced no Milton or Shakespeare -- who has, lately? -- have all had literary renaissances. Mormons are more likely to produce work that gets shelved in niche sections of the bookstore. And as it turns out, Mormon authors themselves wonder if their culture militates against more highbrow writing. They have a range of possible explanations.
''It is a fair thing to point out,'' said Shannon Hale, a Mormon who writes young adult fiction, ''that there have been very prominent Jewish writers that have received a lot of accolades, and worldwide the number of Mormons are comparable to the number of Jews, so why hasn't that happened?''
Ms. Hale's theory is that literary fiction tends to exalt the tragic, or the gloomy, while Mormon culture prefers the sunny and optimistic.
''When I was an English major, then getting a master's, most of the literary fiction I read was tragedy,'' said Ms. Hale, whose ''Princess Academy'' was a Newbery Honor book. The books she was assigned treated ''decline and the ultimate destruction of the human spirit'' as necessary ingredients for an honest portrayal of life.
But what if Mormons do not think that way?
''I think Mormons tend to have hope and believe in goodness and triumph, and those portrayals can ring false in a literary world,'' Ms. Hale said.
Rachel Ann Nunes writes in the romance, paranormal, fantasy and young people's genres, and she founded LDS Storymakers, an organization for Mormon writers. She said that Mormon theology makes otherworldly and escapist genres natural fits for church members.
''We believe that God created a lot of different worlds,'' said Ms. Nunes, who also writes under the name Teyla Branton. Jesus Christ came to Earth, and to America, but ''atonement stretched for all the worlds,'' she said. ''It's natural for us to think that a lot more might be out there.''
Of course, many non-Mormon Christians work in genre fiction, too. J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic and C. S. Lewis a devout Anglican; Christian readers are among their biggest fans. Christianity and genre fiction both depend on Manichaean, good-versus-evil plots, and the savior motif, in which an anointed one saves the kingdom or the world, is important to sci-fi and fantasy and central to the Christian Gospel.
Yet Mormons gravitate even more powerfully than other Christians toward genre fiction, and for reasons that have nothing to do with theology.
For example, if you are a bookish young Mormon, your church role models work in genre fiction: major figures like Mr. Card and Ms. Meyer; young adult writers like Ms. Hale; and many others, like J. Lloyd Morgan and James Dashner, who work in genres within genres, like fantasy fiction for children.
Unsurprisingly, the heavily Mormon state of Utah has become an incubator. Brigham Young University, in Provo, hosts an annual Symposium on Books for Young Readers. Many members of LDS Storymakers live in Utah, where they can connect in person as well as online. The Utah-based children's author Rick Walton runs an email list that further connects people.
''A lot of writers who might have gone another way have gone to children's or young adult because of the strong communities,'' Ms. Hale said.
But there is a specifically Mormon logic to the trend, too. Realist literature for adults often includes aspects of adult life like sex and drinking, and the convention is to describe them without judgment, without moralizing. By writing for children and young adults -- or in genres popular with young people -- one can avoid such topics. Mormon authors can thus have their morals and their book sales, too.
''I'll tell you why they write young adult,'' said Ms. Nunes. ''Because they don't have to write the pages and pages of sex. They don't want to spend a lot of time in the bedroom.''
In an email, Mr. Morgan added that the absence of sex in a novel can lead booksellers to pick a genre for it: ''I believe that most writers who are LDS are by default labeled as 'young adult' writers because graphic sex scenes, graphic violence and swearing are omitted from their writing -- even if the material is for a more mature audience.''
Another factor is possible church disapproval. The novelist Brian Evenson said he was forced out of Brigham Young University for writing fiction that displeased church leaders, and in 2002 he was excommunicated. When he was a child, he kept a journal, and his parents told him to ''only record the happy things, and not the negative things.''
It is the kind of instruction one cannot imagine coming from Jewish parents, or even from sin-worried evangelical Protestants. In the Latter-day Saint culture of uplift and consensus, it somehow makes more sense. But it did not strike Mr. Evenson as being helpful for the budding artist.
''That kind of attitude, which is symptomatic in Mormonism as a whole, makes it very hard for some serious things to come out for Mormons,'' Mr. Evenson said. ''There's a weird pride in the limitations of the culture, and that to me is something that kills the possibility of artistic creation.''
Patrick Madden, who teaches English at Brigham, says that there are Mormons who write excellent poetry -- he mentioned his colleague Lance Larsen -- and intellectually ambitious fiction. But he agreed that Mormon writers were comfortable with genre conventions.
''I think there is a pretty thriving LDS book culture,'' Professor Madden said. ''But a lot of it is faith-affirming and uncomplicated-type writing. Maybe that's why there's a pretty strong thrust of LDS genre writers. Because when you write sci-fi and so forth, things aren't as messy as with realistic fiction.''
Correction: November 12, 2013, Tuesday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Beliefs column on Saturday, about the tendency of Mormon authors to cluster in genre fiction -- like fantasy, science fiction, and children's and young adult literature -- misstated the genre of the author Terry Tempest Williams. She is an essayist in creative nonfiction, with a focus on issues of environmental and social justice; she is not a fantasy author.
PHOTOS: The science fiction novel ''Ender's Game'' was written by Orson Scott Card, who is Mormon, as is Stephenie Meyer, right, the author of the blockbuster vampire-themed ''Twilight'' series. (PHOTOGRAPH BY MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)