Megan Phelps-Roper is a writer and activist. Formerly a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, she left the church in November 2012, a process she examines in her book, Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, which has been selected as the 2020 One Book South Dakota. Readers around the state, including those participating in SDHC-funded book club programs, will read and discuss Phelps-Roper's book leading up to the Oct. 2-4, 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books.
The granddaughter of infamous religious zealot and Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, Phelps-Roper grew up protesting funerals with messages like "God Hates Fags" before leaving the Westboro Baptist Church — and by extension, most of her family — behind in 2012 and eventually moving to Clark, S.D., where she lives with her husband Chad and daughter Sølvi. "Unfollow" chronicles her life in Kansas from childhood through adulthood, her departure from the church during her mid-20s, and the unlikely series of events that led her to South Dakota.
Phelps-Roper said after an unveiling celebration that she's eager to share her story with fellow residents of the state she now calls home.
"It was actually six years ago yesterday that I made South Dakota my home and I'm so, so excited to share with the beautiful people of this state how the power of civil dialogue changed my life for the better," she said to the audience members who attended the celebration. "So, thank you again so much for this opportunity and I cannot wait to get started."
Having been featured on "Good Morning America" and excerpted in People Magazine, "Unfollow" is on the national radar. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said, "Phelps-Roper's intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose ... She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self."
Now an educator on topics related to overcoming ideological extremism and improving communication across religious and political divides, Phelps-Roper has spent much of her life in the national spotlight, from appearing on national news programs like "The Tyra Banks Show" during her protest days to performing a Ted Talk with more than eight million views after leaving the church.
"We're pleased to feature such an inspiring story of national significance, and we're especially excited that it's told by one of our state's own residents," said Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Festival of Books, which hosted Phelps-Roper as a presenter in October as the book debuted. "This book will lead to valuable conversations about civil discourse and the miraculous ability of humans to change their minds and habits. Exploring what it means to be human is the cornerstone of our mission."