Robert Elliott is the author of Fires of the Mind, considered “the best single play yet written about Mormon experience” (Eugene England),, “the best Mormon drama” (Terryl Givens), and “the best of [watershed Mormon plays]” (Orson Scott Card). One writer asserted that the play’s “ferociously intelligent, achingly honest, and strongly spiritual dimensions boded well for Mormon drama during a pivotal period in its history as a movement.”
Fires of the Mind was first produced in 1974 at Brigham Young University, where it was sold out in both its initial run and the subsequent extension. It was selected as BYU’s entry in the American College Theatre Festival. The second performance of the play in 1982, again at BYU, met with controversy, sparked by a review in the Deseret News that categorized the portrayal of the missionaries in a negative light. In a letter to the editor, Eugene England defended the play and categorized the review as “misinformed,” “flippant,” and "a disservice.” He added:
- If there is to be a significant Mormon drama it must present the conflicts of good and evil (and of opposed ideas) that are part of our real world and thus give us understanding and strength for our own real struggles. “Fires of the Mind” does this, but Mr. Walker completely missed such things as the deeply moving power of the second act, one of the most daring in its range and in its execution I have seen anywhere.”
Other reviewers agreed with England, but BYU administrators asked for the play to be edited, without Elliott’s approval. Elliott, however, did not take legal action against BYU. Long before the Deseret News review, or the BYU administration’s move to have the play rewritten, Elliott wrote in a published preface to his play:
- I believe that contemporary LDS society is prepared to accept penetrating self analysis which, without resorting to outrage or negativism, attempts to deal honestly with the human problems and weaknesses which plague it. Fires of the Mind does not intend, in any way, to disparage the divine doctrines and principles on which our religion is founded. It is a human drama reflecting the imperfect thoughts and actions of several imperfect but good young men, each struggling in his own way to become better.
Elliott earned his bachelor’s degree from BYU, his master’s degree from the University of Utah, and his PhD from Cornell University. He is a lecturer and assistant to the Chair of the English Department at The University of Kansas. He married fellow-academic, Dorice Williams Elliott. He is a native of Sidney, New York, and served a mission for the Church in Taiwan. Although his draft of a full-length family drama won Cornell University’s Forbes-McCalmon Playwriting Competition in 1978, Elliott has not yet produced a second play.