Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burg Books: Novelist R.O. Kwon to make a stop in Harrisburg

R.O. Kwon lost her religious faith at 17 years old.

There was no traumatic accident or death that contributed to the loss. Instead, it came in a series of moments and unanswered questions. Kwon quotes one of her characters who had a similar epiphany in “The Incendiaries” to explain what is was like losing her faith.

“Like bankruptcy, it happened gradually, then all at once.”

This is what makes Kwon’s freshman novel about a religious cult that more fascinating. This Saturday, Kwon will read from her debut novel, “The Incendiaries,”at Midtown Scholar Bookstore and talk about her own faith and the process leading up to her book.

“I was interested in exploring the extremes of things, when people believe so passionately about something,” she said.

The novel follows Will Kendall and Phoebe Lin. After transferring from Bible college, Will meets Phoebe at the prestigious Edwards University. Will is immediately drawn to Phoebe, the perceived glamorous girl. However, Phoebe has joined a religious group that turns out to be an extremist cult run by the “charming” John Leal.

Leal often asks the group to protest here and there in the name of faith, but, when the group bombs several buildings, killing five people, Phoebe disappears, and Will struggles to understand what happened to the girl he loved.

Growing up, Kwon was surrounded by people who ranged from moderately to passionately Christian. Before losing her faith, Kwon herself thought she was going to become a pastor or missionary.

Interestingly, it was reading that played a part in Kwon losing her faith.

“In reading, I was spending so much time in the mind of people who weren’t like me and believe differently than I do,” she said. “Increasingly, it became really hard to believe that so many people who believe differently than I do were going to go to hell because of their different beliefs.”

For Kwon, losing her faith felt like a tremendous loss because she also lost her community.

“I felt lonely all over again but from the other end, from where my loss wasn’t even thought of as a loss,” she said.

This feeling helped pushed her to write a book that is so focused on religion. In “The Incendiaries,” she was able to explore faith all over again through her characters.

Since her book’s release in July 2018, Kwon has shared her novel in bookstores across the country. The favorite reactions she’s received have come from readers, especially those who have their own complicated relationships with faith.

Along with reading from her novel, Kwon will be in conversation with Philadelphia-based writer Jessamine Chan.

“I’m excited to ask about her process,” Chan said. “I anticipate a lot of the people in the crowd will be writers so we’ll talk about how she’s able to preserve her art and her journey from writing to print. I was very struck by the style of her writing. It’s unlike any book I’ve read before.”


R.O. Kwon will be at Midtown Scholar Bookstore on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information visit For more information on Kwon visit

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