Skip to content


Jane Barnes photo

Jane Barnes

Welcome to the website of author, Jane Barnes.
   Jane Barnes, who has received fellowships from the NEA, the NEH and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, has published two novels, I, Krupskaya: My Life with Lenin and Double Lives. Her essays and stories have appeared in MLLE, Mirabella, Prairie Schooner, Dialogue, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among others. Barnes, who has written documentaries for American Experience, American Masters, and Frontline, lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Storyteller or visionary, fraud or God’s messenger. One woman’s quest to nail down America’s homegrown prophet.

   When Jane Barnes was working on the PBS special series The Mormons, she was surprised to find herself passionately drawn to Joseph Smith and the Mormon religion. The product of an Episcopalian, “WASPy” family, she had never met a Mormon before starting her work on the series. But now she was completely taken by the prophet who translated the word of God by peering into the dark of his hat. She was fascinated to discover how funny and utterly unique he was — and how divergent his wild yet profound visions of God were from the Mormon church of today. Gradually, as she followed The Mormons through film production, the award-winning documentary film writer moved from secular curiosity to religious hunger. 

   In this brilliantly written memoir, Barnes describes how Joseph’s irreverent approach to God reawakened religious feelings she had as a child. He was, however, neither old-fashioned nor leading her into the past. Joseph’s constantly evolving experience of God, his wild mixing of magic stones, Angel Moroni and gold plates had all the hallmarks of a Promethean performance artist. In response to his modernity, originality and even irony, Barnes was moved toward conversion. Her sense of inevitability deepened when to her amazement, she learned that her eighth cousin Anna Barnes converted to Mormonism in 1833. Through Anna, the author follows her  family’s close involvement with Smith and the crises caused by his controversial practice of polygamy. Barnes’ unlikely path takes her through a course with the missionaries into a deep respect for the innovative American spirit at the heart of Mormonism—and for a religion that is, in many ways, still coming into its own.
   An intimate portrait of the man behind America’s fastest-growing religion, Falling in Love with Joseph Smith offers a surprising and provocative window into the Mormon experience.

Praise for Falling In Love with Joseph Smith

“Jane Barnes’ startling, compelling book looks for treasure, much as the young Joseph Smith did, with the passion of a convert and the wild, sharp eye of someone determined to find it in the most unlikely places. This is a beautiful and utterly original book.”

Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak



“Jane Barnes’ fascination with Joseph Smith is an inward journey, an account of one person’s attempt to articulate and to answer difficult questions about the mysterious Joseph, a man who puzzles and eludes her. Falling in Love with Joseph Smith made me think of one of my favorite hybrid books, Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being.”

Ann Beattie, PEN/Malamud award-winning author, professor of Literature and Creative Writing, University of Virginia


“In this beautifully written, witty, fascinating book, Jane Barnes intertwines the explosive life of Joseph Smith, American prophet, and her own spiritual journey . . . Falling in Love with Joseph Smith shows that Mormon roots are deep-set in ingenuity, seeking, appetite for life, and yearning for an afterlife.”

Alison Booth, author of It’s a Woman’s World, professor of English, University of Virginia


“Barnes brilliantly employs the stone in the hat as the central metaphor for her ongoing love affair with one of the most enigmatic religious figures of modern times. She invites the reader to do what she did: pull the hat to the face to exclude ambient light that tends more to confuse than to enlighten, and then peer into the darkness as the first step on an unpredictable journey into the persona of a modern prophet.”

Gregory A. Prince, author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism


“Barnes style is masterful, characterized by succinct allusion, inventive metaphor, and lucid articulation of complex concepts. Her book is destined to take a place among the most distinguished interpretations of Mormonism’s founder.”

Levi S. Peterson, author of The Backslider and professor emeritus of English, Weber State University