Eight years ago, Jerri Harwell, an Assistant Professor of Developmental Writing, completed her first ever full-length book, “Leaning on Prayer.” Harwell explained that as she gave talks to various groups of people over the years the idea began to develop. “They told me I should write this down,” said Harwell, “That’s how it came about. They told me I should write a book.” Although it took a few months to complete, Harwell got down to basics quickly. “I actually wrote the book in about a week,” she explained. During the week of the Winter Olympics in 2002 was when she wrote the book, which was published in November 2004.
Harwell explains that her book discusses the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints religion in rather unique fashion. “I believe it’s unique because it really speaks to the heart,” she says. “I’ve had numerous people tell me that they have (gone back) and re-read the book numerous times, and that’s unique.”
In November of 2009 Max Mueller, a teaching fellow at Harvard University and Ph.D. student, suggested Harwell’s book to the university and told her they were going to use it in their syllabus. “I found out at the end of January, they were going to use it this same semester.”
Mueller also presented her book to two Harvard professors as, “An example of rich life experience, or those who live their religion,” explained Harwell. “It’s just one of the religious movements in that school.”
Upon learning her book was to be used at Harvard University, Harwell says her reaction was, “I was excited, humbled, but extremely excited, pleased. It’s truly humbling to know that, during the weeks [the students] discuss Mormonism, it [will] be among one of the books that divinity students at Harvard University will read and study.”
Harwell says that she developed a love for writing when she was about nine or ten years old. During that time, she was a girl scout, and was working on her Writer’s Badge. “As I was working on this task, I was sitting at a desk in my bedroom,” she says. “I thought to myself: this is what I want to do. I wanna be a writer.” Harwell held on to that dream and wrote a great deal. As a result, she ended up majoring in English in undergraduate school. In graduate school, she wrote a number of pieces, including teleplays, short stories, scripts, and had some publications. One worth mentioning is one of her poems, which was put into an anthology. “I’ve always been good at it,” Harwell explains. “I knew I wouldn’t make a great deal of money, but it’s where my heart is.”
Prior to students using her book in Harvard’s school system, Harwell notes that, “The audience will be predominantly non-LDS,” she explains. “But regardless, the message, the testimony in that book is that God hears and answers prayer.” She gave Oprah Winfrey’s definition, calling it that inner voice. “To me, it’s all one in the same,” she says, “We all get to learn to listen to it.”
“Leaning on Prayer” may be the only book Harwell has published, but Harwell says that her next book is a work-in-progress.
The divinity program at Harvard is not the only school that’s going to use Harwell’s book. “One of the professors, Mildred Sparks, who teaches an SLCC diversity class mentioned she was going to use it in her class.”
Harwell’s book quickly went into second printing, and almost sold out. “Who’d ever thunk [that] when I wrote that book, it would make it all the way to Harvard University? I was just hoping someone would want to publish it,” she said.
In spite of the fact that Harwell considers it, “A great honor,” for such a school to use her book, she explains and, “Hope it brings a great deal of good publicity to the college.”
She also tells of the tremendous support she has received since her book came out. “Salt Lake Community College and the buyers and all the staff were a huge support,” says Harwell, “They’ve always stood behind me, and I appreciate that.”
Harwell tells of the inspiration her family gave while beginning the book: Her sister explained to her that her writing, “Reminded her of that old gospel song, “Leaning on Prayer.” (Her youngest daughter Rene inspired the hands on the front cover). But she explains that the largest influence came from her husband. “He gave me the biggest boost of confidence,” she said. “I knew then, it had an emotional appeal to it. He’s always been a supporter.”
Harwell dedicates her piece of writing in memory of her father by saying that her father, as well as her mother, is the “Story behind the story.” “They instilled their values in me,” she says.
Upon release of this article, Jerri Harwell will give permission to SLCC bookstores to put her book on the shelf. She has distributed copies in advance.