Literature, Mormon Writers of

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

[This entry is made up of five essays: Drama Literature, Mormon Writers of: Novels Literature, Mormon Writers of: Personal Essays Literature, Mormon Writers of: Poetry Literature, Mormon Writers of: Short Stories They discuss the development of Mormon literature after Orson F. Whitney's plea for members of the Church to write wholesome, instructive "Home Literature" (1888) to counter the intrusion of the "faithless" literature of the world that was coming into LDS homes. This charge initiated a creative and didactic impulse which continues as one vein of LDS literature to the present. The resulting stories, plays, and poems on Mormon themes, promoting LDS values and ideals helped build testimony among the youth of the Church. ]

Literature, Mormon Writers of: Drama


Theater has enjoyed a prominent position in the Church from its earliest days in Nauvoo. Thomas A. Lyne, a prominent Philadelphia actor-manager, joined the Church in Nauvoo, and was encouraged by the Prophet Joseph Smith to produce several popular plays. One such was Pizarro, in which Brigham Young played the role of the High Priest. Lyne lifted Nauvoo theater above the amateur level and entertained the Saints with such plays as Shakespeare's Richard III.

While the Church is justifiably proud of its overall support of the arts, the output of drama by LDS writers has been limited and rather late. The first major attempt at an LDS play written and produced by Latter-day Saints was Orestes Utah Bean's dramatic adaptation of B. H. Roberts' 1889 novel, Corianton, A Nephite Story, as Corianton-An Aztec Romance or The Siren and the Prophet. Between 1902 and 1912, it played from San Francisco to New York.

Other playwrights from Utah have achieved national prominence. Harold Orlob wrote musical comedies such as Listen Lester. Otto Harbach wrote many popular plays, including Madam Sherry; Katinka; No No Nanette; High Jinks; The Silent Witness; and Up in Mable's Room. Edwin Milton Royle achieved a national reputation with Friends; The Squaw Man; The Struggle Everlasting; and These Are My People. Despite the prominence of these playwrights, virtually no Latter-day Saints wrote plays with LDS characters or themes until late in the twentieth century.

The 1960s saw something of a flowering of LDS drama by Latter-day Saints about LDS subjects. Clinton F. Larson published a number of serious poetic dramas, several of which were produced, such as Moroni; Mantle of the Prophet; and Mary of Nazareth. Keith Engar's work includes Right Honorable Saint and Montrose Crossing, a thoughtful look at the exodus from Nauvoo. Doug Stewart and Lex de Azevedo's popular musical Saturday's Warrior and its sequel Starchild proved that LDS audiences would support overtly LDS theater with high production values. Predictably, a spate of musicals followed, including Carol Lynn Pearson's My Turn on Earth. Pearson also wrote The Order Is Love; The Dance; and a one-person show, Mother Wove the Morning.

James Arrington is an actor/playwright/producer who has become known among Latter-day Saints through touring his one-person production of Here's Brother Brigham. He also wrote and produced Golden, a one-person portrayal of the wit and wisdom of J. Golden Kimball (1853-1938), of the Seventy. In his Farley Family Reunion, Arrington plays all the characters, both male and female. He also collaborated with Tim Slover to produce another one-person show, Wilford Woodruff: God's Fisherman, a portrayal of the early years of an apostle and later President of the Church.

For decades Nathan and Ruth Hale wrote and produced plays in southern California, many of LDS theme and for LDS audiences. Since the mid-1980s they have done their work in Utah. Thomas F. Rogers has written a number of dramatic adaptations of nineteenth-century Russian novels, as well as works he describes as "plays of mitigated conscience," some overtly LDS, including Huebner; Fire in the Bones; Reunion; and Journey to Golgotha.

Promising younger LDS playwrights include Orson Scott Card (Stone Tables, and Father, Mother, Mother, and Mom ); Robert Elliot (Fires of the Mind ); Susan Howe (Burdens of Earth ); Martin Kelly (And They Shall Be Gathered ); Reed McColm (Together Again for the First Time, and Holding Patterns ); and Tim Slover (Dreambuilder and Scales ).


Cracroft, Richard H., and Neal E. Lambert, eds. "Drama." In A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 403-488. Provo, Utah, 1974.


Literature, Mormon Writers of: Novels


Until recently, novels written by Latter-day Saints have tended to fall into two disparate categories: "faithful fiction" of the Home Literature tradition, a didactic and cautionary fiction intended primarily to instruct and inspire the youth of the Church; and "faithless fiction" of the Lost Generation tradition, generally a more sophisticated fiction in which dissenting or expatriate Latter-day Saints examine Church members' lives from a position critical of LDS history and tradition, teachings, leadership, and culture. In recent years, an increasing number of LDS writers have crafted novels that affirm their history and tradition and assert an LDS worldview while achieving artistic sophistication and literary craftsmanship.

HOME LITERATURE TRADITION. From the beginnings of the Church (1830) until after 1888, the Latter-day Saints, like many other nineteenth-century literal-minded American religious groups, manifested a deep distrust of fiction. Church leaders considered fiction simply not true, and counseled the Saints to avoid reading it. During the late 1870s and the 1880s, however, young Latter-day Saints, aware of their provincialism and isolation in the Utah Territory, were attracted by the allure of eastern education, sophistication, and lifestyles, and some began to show impatience, indifference, and even rebellion. To counter this tendency, Orson F. Whitney (1855-1931, ordained an apostle in 1906) delivered a landmark sermon, "Home Literature" (Contributor 9 [June 1888]:297-302; reprinted in Cracroft and Lambert, pp. 203-207), calling on Latter-day Saints to produce a pure and powerful literature on LDS themes and to promote LDS values among the youth.

Latter-day Saints began writing "faith promoting stories," a didactic literary impulse which continues today. The most important responses to Whitney, himself the author of an epic poem, Elias (1904), came from the prolific writing and editing of Susa Young gates (1856-1933), young women's leader, daughter and confidante of Brigham Young, and founding mother of the Home Literature movement. She published more than thirty poems, forty-five short stories, and three novels, including John Stevens' Courtship: A Story of the Echo Canyon War (serialized in Contributor, 16-17 [1895-1896]). B. H. Roberts (1857-1933, set apart as one of the presidents of the Seventy in 1888) published the novel Corianton: A Nephite Story (serialized in Contributor 10 [1889]), based on Book of Mormon characters and events, and later redacted into a drama that played to large audiences in Utah, Chicago, and New York.

The most important author in this tradition is Nephi Anderson (1865-1923), a son of Norwegian converts to the Church, who published ten novels. The most famous and enduring is Added Upon (1898, fifty reprintings). Despite its heavy doctrine, light plot, and wooden characters, the book has inspired spinoffs in such late twentieth-century musicals as Saturday's Warrior and My Turn on Earth.

Anderson demonstrated better than any other LDS novelist to date the possibilities for fiction in Mormon experience, theology, and worldview. His primary purpose was to teach the restored gospel and promote, through telling an exciting story, "the good, pure, and the elevating" in LDS life and beliefs (IE 1 [Jan. 1898]:186-88).

LOST GENERATION. Though Home Literature fell into a tedious pattern until taking on a new life in the 1960s, the rise of "Mormondom's Lost Generation" expatriate writers of "faithless fiction" in the 1930s and 1940s set in motion the second important literary impulse in Mormon literature. Five writers of varying accomplishment best illustrate this direction: Paul Drayton Bailey (b. 1906), Samuel Woolley Taylor (b. 1907), Maurine Whipple (b. 1910), Virginia Sorensen (b. 1912), and Vardis Fisher (1895-1968).

Paul Bailey's For Time and All Eternity (1964), though flawed, is his finest novel. Samuel Taylor, a son of an apostle and grandson of a President of the Church, is a noted film scenarist. His Heaven Knows Why (1948; 1979) is one of the funniest Mormon novels to date. His histories and biographies Family Kingdom (1951), Nightfall at Nauvoo (1971), and The Kingdom or Nothing (1976) are written with such imaginative license that they must be considered quasifictional. Maurine Whipple's The Giant Joshua (1941) is considered by many to be the finest Mormon novel. Though a "flawed masterpiece," it is, according to Eugene England, "the truest fiction about the pioneer experience" (p. 148). Another Lost Generation novelist, Virginia Sorensen, grew up in Utah, left the Church, married the novelist Alec Waugh (brother of Evelyn), and established herself as a Newberry Award writer of children's books. She is one of the best novelists produced by the LDS culture, and her finest novel, The Evening and the Morning, was published in 1949. An earlier novel, A Little Lower Than the Angels (1942), was her most popular.

A major novelist among the Lost Generation writers is Vardis Fisher (1895-1968), whose saga, Children of God: An American Epic (1939), won the Harper Prize. Fisher grew up in Annis, Idaho, in a devout LDS family, but became disaffected with the Church in his youth. In Children of God he returns to his roots and sweeps across LDS history from the First Vision of Joseph Smith of 1820 through the Manifesto of 1890 (after which he feels the Church lost its vitality). While he claims this was his only Mormon novel, several other works have strong autobiographical threads.

The Lost Generation impulse continues to assert itself in such works as Levi S. Peterson's The Backslider (1986), Linda Sillitoe's Sideways To The Sun (1987), and Judith Freeman's The Chinchilla Farm (1989).

CONTEMPORARY HOME LITERATURE. Writers in the revived Home Literature vein borrow from the popular sentimental and genteel tradition to write "faithful" novels teaching Mormon values and beliefs, but often oversimplify human problems and responses to those problems. Aimed primarily at LDS teenagers and young adults, the formula romance is a major literary tool for teaching them how to cope faithfully in a secularized world. Such works include Shirley Sealy's Beyond This Moment (1977), Susan Evans McCloud's Where the Heart Leads (1979), and Lee Nelson's multi-volume The Storm Testament (1982-1990). To date, the most successful and prolific writers for modern Mormon youth have been Jack Weyland and Blaine and Brenton Yorgason. Blaine Yorgason's Charlie's Monument (1976), The Windwalker, and Massacre at Salt Creek (1979) have been regional best sellers, as has their jointly written The Bishop's Horse Race (1979). Jack Weyland's Charly (1980) and Sam (1981) tell faith-promoting stories replete with hope, optimism, and happy endings.

FAITHFUL REALISM. Many late-twentieth-century Mormon writers are both faithful Latter-day Saints and skilled writers. Foremost among these novelists is Orson Scott Card (b. 1951). A native of Orem, Utah, Card has won the Hugo and the Nebula awards, and has established himself as one of America's foremost science fiction and fantasy writers. His science fiction and fantasy have strong LDS undertones, especially his Alvin Maker series Seventh Son (1987), Red Prophet (1988), and Prentice Alvin (1989). His novel Saints (1984) is considered by many to be the best Mormon historical novel written since The Giant Joshua.

In the same spirit of faithful realism, a number of well-written novels examining the lives of Latter-day Saints have appeared in the last quarter of the twentieth century: Emma Lou Thayne's Never Past the Gate (1975), Robert H. Moss's Nephite Chronicles (seven novels to date); Douglas H. Thayer's Summer Fire (1983); Donald R. Marshall's Zinnie Stokes, Zinnie Stokes (1984); Randall Hall's Cory Davidson (1984); Larry E. Morris's The Edge of the Reservoir (1988); Chris Heimerdinger's Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites (1989); and Gerald Lund's The Alliance (1983) and The Work and the Glory: A Pillar of Light (1990). These works are encouraging examples of truthful and faithful fictional treatment of the Latter-day Saints.

INTO THE 21st CENTURY. The decades of the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s have produced an remarkable outpouring of all sorts of Mormon fiction–popular, historical, fantasy, and literary fiction.

POPULAR FICTION. From the 1990s into the early decades of the 21st Century, popular fiction by Latter-day Saints thrives among LDS readers who are attracted by romance, mystery, adventure and thriller novels based on nationally popular models but reflecting LDS standards. Anita Stansfield, Rachel Ann Nunes, Susan Evans McCloud, Robert Marcum, `JackWeyland, and Annette Luthy Lyon, among others, continue their popular but diverse series and novels on Mormon topics and characters and enjoy large LDS readerships, as do the romantic novels of James Michael Pratt, who writes books grounded in LDS values for larger national audiences.

THE HISTORICAL NOVEL. In the 1990s, Gerald N. Lund (LDS General Authority emeritus) revitalized the Mormon Historical Novel with his immensely popular series “The Work and the Glory” (9 vols., 1990-98), which has sold nearly 3 million copies. Lund retells for a modern generation the foundational LDS historical story, 1828-1847, as experienced and reported by the fictitious Steed family. Lund’s popular series, followed by stand-alone novels Fire of the Covenant (1998), about the handcart company tragedies of 1856, and Undaunted: The Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers, have generated other popular historical fiction: Dean Hughes, widely read author, is best known for his two historical novel series, Children of the Promise (5 vols.;1997-1999), about adventures of an LDS family during World War II; and Hearts of the Fathers (5 vols.;2001-2005), about that same family’s divisive responses to the Vietnam, racial, and sexism problems of the 1960s. Margaret Blair Young’s important historical novel trilogy, Standing on the Promises (2000-2003), recounts the long and difficult struggle of Jane Manning James and LDS African-Americans from the 1830s to the 1978 revelation on priesthood. Chris Stewart’s 6-volume series, “The Great and Terrible”(2003-2009), set in-the-near future, follows a contemporary LDS family (Added Upon-like) through pre-mortal and mortal lives of adventure, political intrigue, and nuclear devastation. Heather Brown Moore’s two imaginative series, Out of Jerusalem (4 vols.; 2004-2007) and Book of Mormon Prophets (4 vols.; 2008-2011) combine the Book of Mormon, current research, and imagination to recount scriptural history as believable fiction. Ron Carter’s Prelude to Glory series (9 vols; 1998-2000), renders the American Revolutionary War as divinely directed foreshadowing of the Restoration of the Gospel. Sharon Downing Jarvis, The Fairhaven Chronicles (4 Vols. 2003-2006), relates the adventures of an modern LDS bishop in the American South. Marcella H. Gallacher and Kerri H. Robinson’s series, The Banner Is Unfurled (2002-2006), is a family historical saga of the early decades of Mormonism; Harold K. Moon’s Glendrake family trilogy (Horse Stone House, The Leah Shadow, From the Cypress Grove,2007-2008), follows two generations of LDS from conversion to settlement in the Mexican Colonies.

FANTASY. Fantasy fiction continues to be among the most congenial of genres for LDS authors and readers, whether they develop LDS themes or soar into fantastic dimensions founded in LDS morality and standards. Orson Scott Card continues as “one of the greats of contemporary science fiction and fantasy.” His 6-volume series, Seventh Son (“Tales of Alvin Maker”;1987-2003) and Homecoming series (5 vols.;1992-1996), which re-imagines Book of Mormon accounts as science fiction/fantasy about human colonists returning to earth after 40 million years. Card’s several non-Mormon but LDS undergirded series, from the Ender Wiggin quartet to the Empire series show the remarkable breadth and scope of Card’s fictive imagination. The current best-selling Mormon writer also deemed the most prolific and imaginative authors of fantasy is Brandon W. Sanderson. His series, The Mistborn Trilogy (2006-2011)and Alcatraz (2007-2011), among several series, and a number of stand-alone books have garnered him a huge world-wide readership. Brandon L. Mull’s Fablehaven series (5 vols.; 2006-2010) is a national best-seller for youth; James Dashner’s trilogy, The 13th Reality (2008-2011) and his dystopian Maze Runner series (4 vols.;2009-2012) have established his work on a national level. Allyson (Ally) Condie has moved from writing for LDS teens to larger national audiences with her dystopian novels Matched (2010), and sequel, Crossed (2011). Robert Farrell Smith, successful as a writer of wacky LDS novels (Baptists at Our Barbeque,1996; Trust Williams Trilogy, 1999-2000), has succeeded in reaching out nationally to young readers with his fantasy series, Leven Thumps (by “Obert Skye”; 8 vols.; 2006-2010). Chris Heimerdinger continues his LDS popular time-travel series, Tennis Shoes among the Nephites (now grown to 12 vols.;1989-2012).

LITERARY FICTION. While the number and literary quality of LDS-centered novels and short fiction have significantly increased in recent decades, the readership has remained slight. Few presses can publish quality fiction for small audiences, and since such literary fiction is probing, edgy, and controversial in treating subjects which resist comfortable formulaic plots, LDS-centered bookstores do not generally market such fiction. A few presses, like Zarahemla Books, are making quality books available through Kindle and eBooks. The Association for Mormon Letters (AML) promotes quality Mormon literary fiction through annual conferences featuring literary criticism, scholarly presentations, readings, annual awards, and publishes Irreantum, a quarterly literary magazine. Reviews of LDS literary fiction are available in BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, and Irreantum. Courses in LDS literature are taught, though less frequently than in the 1970s-1990s, at BYU-Provo, BYU-Idaho, Utah Valley University, and Utah State University.

Controversial Literary Fiction: Some quality fiction published in recent decades is off-putting for some because of offensive graphic realism, unorthodox ideas, and iconoclastic treatment of LDS beliefs. Levi S. Peterson’s The Backslider (1982), one of the best LDS-themed literary novels of the 20th century, exemplifies some of these objections. On the other hand, Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (2010) is a skillfully crafted novel which is problematic for some because of its heterodox subject matter--a serio-comic depiction of a much-married modern fundamentalist. Some readers might be unsettled by the occasionally edgy but generally faithful works of Phyllis Barber, And the Desert Shall Blossom (1991) and her collection of short stories, Parting the Veil: Stories from a Mormon Imagination (1999). Others may be upset by unorthodox Mormon missionary novels–too much fall and not enough redemption–in John Bennion’s Falling from Heaven (2000), and Coke Newell’s gritty On the Road to Heaven (2007).

Faithful Literary Fiction: Although there has been a dramatic increase in the number of authors whose works are at once literary, realistic, and faithful, quality writers continue to have difficulty finding a large readership. Among works deserving of a larger LDS audience are Orson Scott Card’s Saints (reprinted 2001), among the best of 20th-century Mormon literature; Margaret Blair Young’s (with Darius Gray) trilogy, Standing on the Promises (2000-2003; noted above). Douglas Thayer’s The Tree House (2010), the best LDS literary novel of recent decades, in which the author follows the ordeals of Harris Thatcher through personal loss, an LDS mission, and the terrible ordeal of the Korean War. Also deserving of a larger readership are Marilyn Brown’s The Wine-Dark Sea of Grass (2000), which portrays John D. Lee and his remaining wives after Mountain Meadows; Todd Robert Peterson’s Rift (2009), a brilliant examination of small-town Mormons under spiritual pressure; Donald S. Smurthwaite’s Fine Old High Priests trilogy (1999-2004), a warm, comfortable series on gracious aging and friendship; David Clark’s The Death of a Disco Dancer (2011), which captures the pains and joys of early adolescence in the 1980s. Faithful literary novels about the LDS mission experience include Benson Y. Parkinson’s The MTC: Set Apart (1995); and Alan R. Mitchell’s Angel of the Danube (2000).

Faithful Literary Short Stories: Dispensation (2010), edited by Angela Hallstrom, is an anthology the best literary Mormon short fiction written, 1990-2010. The linked stories in Angela Hallstrom’s well-crafted Bound on Earth (2008) shows a faithful LDS family struggling with an addicted family member; Darin Cozzens’s The Light of the New Day and Other Stories (2010) tells gritty but faithful linked stories of struggling LDS sheep farmers in remote northwestern Wyoming. Other fine short story collections with LDS roots are John Bennion’s Breeding Leah and Other Stories (1991), Mary Clyde’s Survival Rate (1999), and Stephen Carter’s What of the Night? (2010), a gathering of essays/short stories about the contradictions of an LDS life.

Faithful Humorous Fiction: Some funny, well-written LDS novels include the reprinting of Samuel W. Taylor’s classic, Heaven Knows Why (1994); and Kathryn H. Kidd’s several funny novels, among them Paradise Vue (1989) and sequel, Return to Paradise (1997); also noteworthy are the wacky novels of Robert Farrell Smith, Baptists at Our Barbeque (1996), the Trust Williams trilogy (1999-2000); and the eight comic novels, especially Minding Mama (2006), by retired scholar turned novelist, Marilyn Arnold.


Bennion, John. "Popular and Literary Mormon Novels: Can Weyland and Whipple Dance Together in the House of Fiction." BYU Studies 37:1 (1997-98):159-182.

Cracroft, Richard H. "'Cows to Milk Instead of Novels to Read: Brigham Young, Novel Reading, and Kingdom Building." BYU Studies 40:2 (2001):102-131.

Cracroft, Richard H. Review of Pillar of Light: A Historical Novel, by Gerald N. Lund. BYU Studies 31 (Summer 1991):77-81.

Cracroft, Richard H., and Neal E. Lambert, eds. A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1974.

Cracroft, Richard H., “Orson Scott Card’s ‘Love Song,’” Alumni Book Nook, BYU Magazine, 61.3 (Summer 2007): 60-6l.

Cracroft, Richard H., “Samuel Woolley Taylor: Mormon Maverick Historian,” Journal of Mormon History 27.2 (Fall 2001):64-91.

Cracroft, Richard H.,“Telling the Restoration Story: Gerald N. Lund’s The Work and the Glory Saga,” Journal of Mormon History 29. 2 (Spring 2003): 233-53.

Cracroft, Richard H., “The Didactic Heresy as Orthodox Tool: B.H. Roberts as Writer of Home Literature,” Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature. Ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson and Eugene England, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996: 117-133.

Eliason, Eric A. Review of Baptists at Our Barbecue, by Robert E. Smith BYU Studies 37:3 (1997-98):246-248.

England, G. Eugene. "The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature After 150 Years." BYU Studies 22 (Spring 1982):131-60.

Garr, Arnold K. "Which Are the Most Important Mormon Books?" BYU Studies 41:3 (2002):35-47.

Geary, Edward A. "Mormondom's Lost Generation: The Novelists of the 1940s." BYU Studies 18 (Fall 1977):89-98.

Hunsaker, Kenneth B. "Mormon Novels." In A Literary History of the American West, ed. Thomas J. Lyon et al., pp. 849-61. Fort Worth, Texas, 1987.

Kramer, Neal W. Review of The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, by Wayne C. Booth. BYU Studies 30 (Winter 1990):112-116.

Langford, Jonathan D. Review of In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization, and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card, by Michael Collings. BYU Studies 32 (Fall 1992):210-215.


Literature, Mormon Writers of: Personal Essays


<p>Growing out of the LDS sermon and partaking of the honest reflection and responsible self-revelation often characteristic of "personal witness" or "testimony," the personal essay has become an important literary form for LDS writers. As essay writers explore personal experiences, draw lessons from them, and apply these lessons to the concerns of the community, they may describe, analyze, and frequently mitigate criticism, pain, and doubt. The result is often a satisfying piece of literature that can serve to entertain and enlighten, and to influence religious and moral conviction.

The personal essay was not a significant literary vehicle among the early Latter-day Saints. While they did keep diaries and write sermons and personal reminiscences, their group struggle for existence left them little time for interest in examining in writing their Church, their beliefs, or their individual differences. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, the Church was essentially at peace with its external surroundings, and a few LDS writers opened the era of the Mormon personal essay. In 1948, BYU English professor P. A. Christensen published his collection All in a Teacher's Day; his second collection, Of a Number of Things, appeared in 1962. Virginia Sorensen's landmark work, Where Nothing Is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood, appeared in 1955. This work, usually thought of as fiction, has the point of view and effect on the reader of a personal essay, and it has influenced many recent LDS writers.

Since 1966, when the first issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought appeared, LDS personal essays have been published with increasing regularity, in its columns "From the Pulpit" and (since 1971) "Personal Voices," and in such publications as ensign, Sunstone, BYU Studies, Exponent II, Utah Holiday, BYU Today, This People, and Network.

By the late 1970s, the Mormon personal essay was in full flower, with, for example, Lowell Bennion's collection The Things That Matter Most (1978); President Spencer W. Kimball's sermon-essays "The False Gods We Worship" (Ensign, June 1976) and "Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live," popularly known as "Don't Kill the Little Birds" (1978), published in Ensign; and Hugh Nibley's distinctive, scholarly-personal essays, Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless (1978). In the 1980s, three writers directly influenced by Virginia Sorensen published collections that marked the blossoming of the LDS personal essay as a distinct literary genre: Eugene England (Dialogues with Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience, 1984, and Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel, 1988), Edward Geary (Goodbye to Poplarhaven: Recollections of a Utah Boyhood, 1985), and Mary Lythgoe Bradford (Leaving Home: Personal Essays, 1987).

The essays of many others writing during this time were collected by Mary Bradford in Mormon Women Speak: A Collection of Essays (1982) and Personal Voices: A Celebration of Dialogue (1987). Most recently Don Norton has edited Approaching Zion, Volume 9 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (1989), and Elouise Bell has published Only When I Laugh (1990), a collection growing out of her Network columns.


For important evaluations of the Mormon personal essay, see Clifton Jolley, "Mormons and the Beast: In Defense of the Personal Essay," Dialogue 11 (Autumn 1978):137-39; Eugene England, "The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature After 150 Years," BYU Studies 22 (Spring 1982):131-60; and Mary Lythgoe Bradford, "I, Eye, Aye: A Personal Essay on Personal Essays," Dialogue 11 (Summer 1978):81-89, reprinted in her Personal Voices: A Celebration of Dialogue (Salt Lake City, 1987). Also, BYU Studies usually includes one or two personal essays written by Mormon authors in each published volume.


Literature, Mormon Writers of: Poetry


Poetry may well be the most essential art. Its uses are numerous. It is most needed in times of urgency and danger, if one may take the quality and amount of poetry written, for example, in times of war as an indication. At such a time the need for poetry is social and communal; it is needed to exhort, to encourage, to unite, to comfort, to state once more those qualities and beliefs which are fundamental to the community from which it springs.

Such benefits were needed from the poems written by early Latter-day Saints. Their community was endangered, its beliefs were called into question, and its leaders were martyred; all this was material for poetry that was confirmatory and, in a sense, repetitive. It repeated, mostly in the form of hymns, and as simply and directly as possible, the truths accepted by the faithful. Such poetry is so much the result of the known situation that it is almost anonymous, balladlike.

Later, when some permanence seemed probable to the community, Mormon poetry became didactic. Its use was still communal, as distinct from the personal use of poetry today-largely a matter between poet and reader-and its purpose was to instruct and to retell, in narrative form, those stories which were peculiar to the traditions of the Church.

There was little room for experiment in such work, nor was there much opportunity for individual lyric poetry in what Orson F. Whitney called Home Literature. It was produced for the promotion and continuation of faith, and necessarily designed for an LDS audience. This is a restriction which contemporary poets have felt increasingly less necessary. As Latter-day Saints have moved away from Utah in larger numbers, established viable communities in many places, and taken more and more positions of authority and importance in the world at large, they have seen more clearly the place they may assume in the general community. This has been at once a liberation and a source of individual concern to poets. That concern is often seen in contemporary poetry. The men and women who write that poetry are very much aware of what is happening in their art, are sophisticated and adventurous in technique, and completely modern in outlook, yet still need to hold to the clear values and confident virtues of the Church, a complex undertaking in a world and time as doubting as today's.

This has meant that, like the poetry of the English-speaking world in general, a great deal of contemporary LDS poetry is personal, lyric poetry, even if the subject matter is often purely Mormon, or at least clearly composed from an LDS point of view. At the same time, the range of such poetry is much wider. An LDS poet-indeed, an artist in any medium-feels little need now to teach, to speak to an entirely LDS audience, or to use the traditional LDS environments of farm and home.

All this may be clearly recognized in Harvest, an anthology of contemporary LDS poetry edited by Eugene England and Dennis Clark. Both men, themselves poets, had realized the importance of changes taking place in LDS poetry as they read the contributions of men and women to such journals as BYU Studies, Dialogue, Literature and Belief, and Sunstone.

Naturally, the poets themselves were the first to realize the direction in which their work was heading. Perhaps the first of them to devote his life to poetry, to dedicate serious and full-time effort to his craft, was Clinton F. Larson. Versatile, prolific, and skillful, and with a curious and searching mind, he shows a range of form and material that is unusually wide. Larson is a poet with a distinctive voice, and his influence is less specific than general; he may well have demonstrated to younger writers that the boundaries of their meditations extend farther than they thought, and that their images can be drawn from all aspects of life.

This is not to say that the great subjects of LDS poetry have vanished, but they have changed subtly. Harvest contains a surprising number of poems in which an idealized version of the old, simple, pastoral life of earlier years is celebrated. Generally, until the very youngest generation of poets, those who may live in New York or Los Angeles, who have traveled in Peru or China, the imagery is largely drawn from Utah, Idaho or Wyoming. And many poems continue to deal with parents and children, with homes and families. Harvest even contains a short section called "Hymns and Songs," which suggests that the very earliest strain of Mormon poetry still exists, old-fashioned as it seems, to call the community to share belief and sing together.

There are, of course, exotic exceptions to this general statement. Arthur Henry King, who came late and from England to the Church, offers quite other traditional virtues in his verse; R. A. Christmas speaks in a wry and memorably different voice. Loretta Randall Sharp has written some stanzas so beautiful and personal ("At Utah Lake" is such a gem) that they transcend such blanket generalizations as this article necessarily contains. The few poems of Bruce Jorgensen are of so steely a delicacy that one could wish from him a more fruitful dedication to his craft.

This last is a concern that might be examined seriously. Of all Utah poets, it may be that May Swenson is best known, and there is little doubt that she has spent her life as a serious poet. It may be time for other Latter-day Saints who write poetry to become poets in effect. It may even be happening. Donnell Hunter, whose verse carries the benign influence of William Stafford, publishes his work and that of others from his little Honeybrook Press in Rexburg, Idaho. Michael R. Collings, a poet represented in Sunstone and elsewhere, is about to start Zarahemla: a magazine of poetry, which should be a most helpful addition to those LDS journals which already publish poetry. But perhaps most hopeful of all, the very youngest LDS poets are beginning to see their work in national periodicals. In their twenties, most of them pursuing degrees in universities outside Utah or employed in various professions in many states and cities, these LDS poets are putting their poems alongside those of other young writers. Mormon poetry is finding a wider audience.


Bell, Kristi A. Review of Mormon Healer and Folk Poet: Mary Susannah Fowler's Life of "Unselfish Usefulness," by Margaret K. Brady. BYU Studies 40:2 (2001):226-229.

Cracroft, Richard H. Review of Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems, edited by Eugene England and Dennis Clark. BYU Studies 30 (Spring 1990):119-123.

Cracroft, Richard H., and Neal E. Lambert, eds. A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1974.

England, G. Eugene, and Dennis M. Clark, eds. Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems. Salt Lake City, 1989.

Larsen, Lance. Review of Enduring Ties: Poems of Family Relationships, edited by Grant Hardy. BYU Studies 43:4 (2004):161-164.

Lambert, Neal E., and Richard H. Cracroft, eds. Twenty-two Young Mormon Writers. Provo, Utah, 1975.

Meyer, Casualene. "Edward L. Hart: A Conversation about Poetry." BYU Studies 40:1 (2001):132-137.

Meyer, Casualene. "Generous Poetry: A Conversation with Dixie L. Partridge." BYU Studies 46:1 (2007):109-116.

Meyer, Casualene. Review of In All Their Animal Brilliance, by Lance Larsen. BYU Studies 45:4 (2006):174-177.


Literature, Mormon Writers of: Short Stories

Author: JORGENSEN, B. W.

The history of the Mormon short story begins with the quasi-official encouragement of all forms of LDS literary expression signaled in Orson F. Whitney's 1888 address "Home Literature." The first generation of "Home Literature" story writers included Susa Young Gates, Augusta Joyce Crocheron, B. H. Roberts, and, most prominently, Josephine Spencer and Nephi Anderson. In "A Plea for Fiction" and "Purpose in Fiction" (1898), Anderson urged the didactic value of "the good, pure, elevating kind" of fiction with "a message to deliver." Anderson's work displays some traits of good "regional" or "local color" fiction, yet none of it is generally read or remembered today. Spencer's stories, also moralistic, are less heavy-handed than Anderson's (characters, not the author, deliver the "message"), and show more skill and attention to craft; seven appeared in her book The Senator from Utah (1895).

Into the 1940s, Mormon writers seem to have worked in isolation from the high artistry of Continental, English, and American short-story writers from the 1890s through the 1920s. Despite a leavening of entertainment and humor after 1920, LDS stories largely remained parochial; didactic; thematically and experientially superficial, unreal, or idealized; prescriptive; and artistically weak. One exception might be the stories of Ora Pate Stewart gathered in Buttermilk and Bran (1964) but written earlier.

In the 1940s and 1950s there emerged a generation of Mormon "expatriate" writers, born between 1900 and 1930, well read in the Continental and Anglo-American traditions, sometimes trained in literary criticism, and unable to subscribe to the didacticism of "Home Literature." Their stories, though often nourished on the experience and values of growing up in Mormon country, were largely "lost" to an LDS audience. Ray B. West's "The Last of the Grizzly Bears" (1950), Richard Young Thurman's "Not Another Word" (1957), and Jarvis Thurston's "The Cross" (1959) show varying tensions between rejection and nostalgia. Wayne Carver's "With Voice of Joy and Praise" (1965) displays a rich sense of Utah folk culture, especially its humor and its speech. The youngest expatriate, David L. Wright, died before his promise could come to full fruition, but he did publish five stories in literary quarterlies in 1960 and 1961 and saw successful productions of plays based on two of the best, "Speak Ye Tenderly of Kings" (1960) and "A Summer in the Country" (1960, 1976). The oldest expatriate, the novelist Virginia Sorensen, published Where Nothing Is Long Ago (1963), likely to remain one of the best collections of Mormon short stories. Finely written, richly nostalgic, yet self-questioning, Sorensen's stories offer insights into the "complex fate" of a Mormon writer removed from, yet deeply attached to, the LDS home place and the community that settled and still inhabits it.

The mid-1960s brought a major expansion in the Mormon short story with the inception of Dialogue (1966-) and the revitalization of BYU Studies (1967-), which opened outlets to LDS writers in both the "unsponsored" sector and the sponsored. Encouraged by anthologies such as A Believing People (1974, 1979), 22 Young Mormon Writers (1975), the LDSF series (1982-), and Greening Wheat (1983); by awards and readings offered by the Association for Mormon Letters and other groups; by periodicals such as Exponent II (1974-), Mountainwest (1975-1981), and Sunstone (1975-), and by self-published books and the establishment of independent presses such as Signature Books, the expansion continued exponentially through the 1970s and 1980s. A new generation of writers, most born between 1930 and 1950, is still writing mainly, but not exclusively, for and about Latter-day Saints; yet they are no longer limited by didactic aesthetics, and are thoroughly committed to high standards of literary craft, complexity, and seriousness.

Donald R. Marshall's The Rummage Sale (1972, 1985) and Frost in the Orchard (1977, 1985) include some of the most various, experimental, multivoiced, and comical Mormon short fiction. "The Sound of Drums" (1972) and "The Wheelbarrow" (1977) examine the "good Mormon" as a sensitive, conscious, committed person who must find a way to love and live in a world that is often obtuse and vulgar.

Douglas H. Thayer's protagonists in Under the Cottonwoods (1977, 1983) are driven into perplexity by "perfection"; his craft is severe, his tone seldom humorous, his style deliberate, chiseled, almost mannered. Earlier stories draw on Romantic lyric form in their meditative strategies, and reveal a tense subsurface engagement between Romantic poetics and LDS theology. Thayer's later-published stories in Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone (1989) explore the seductive American myths of "wilderness" from a perspective implicit in LDS theology.

Gladys Clark Farmer's Elders and Sisters (1977) and Bela Petsco's Nothing Very Important and Other Stories (1979), both integrated collections, almost novels, deal with the special world of Mormon missionaries in France and in southern California and Arizona. Petsco's book was the first entirely non-Utah-Idaho Mormon fiction.

Eileen Gibbons Kump's Bread and Milk and Other Stories (1979) employs a chronological sequence to portray the life of one woman, Amy Taylor Gordon, from age eight (the time of the Edmunds-Tucker Act) to her death many years later, in what may be the finest LDS historical stories yet written. Treating isolation and grace in a peculiarly Mormon way, her stories also suggest that though women submit to masculine will in ways that divide men from women and children from fathers ("Four and Twenty Blackbirds"), they are often humorously resilient ("Sayso or Sense").

Lewis Horne, in Saskatchewan, is geographically expatriated from Utah Mormondom but remains in touch with Latter-day Saint community and family life, as is shown in "Thor Thorsen's Book of Days" (1970). His sometimes "open-ended" stories have appeared widely in American and Canadian literary quarterlies since 1968, have been often cited, and have twice been included in the annual Best American Short Stories.

Karen Rosenbaum also experiments with "openness." Her agile, comic voice sounds in "The Joys of Mormonish" (1977) and "Hit the Frolicking, Rippling Brooks" (1978), but she also examines the erosion of simple faith in more somber tones in "The Mustard Seed" (1964) and "Low Tide" (1980).

Stories like those of the older "Home Literature" continue to flourish, represented by Shirley Sealy's professedly didactic Beauty in Being (1980) and Jack Weyland's witty teenage and young-adult situation- or problem-comedy stories in the Church youth magazine, New Era, collected in First Day of Forever (1980), Punch and Cookies Forever (1981), and A Small Light in the Darkness (1987). Lynne Larson's half-dozen Wyoming stories in Mountainwest (1976-1978), straddle the categories of "popular" and "literary"; her best may be "Original Sin" (1978; reprinted in Greening Wheat ).

Harold K. Moon's collection Possible Dreams (1982) is literarily playful, a fact underscored in an introduction and a preface by the author and by the Bivilswiltz, the fantastic protagonist of several fables in the book.

Levi Peterson's Canyons of Grace (1982) was the first Book of Mormon short stories since Sorensen's to be published outside the LDS circuit; and, in the title story and "The Confessions of Augustine" and "Road to Damascus," the first to deal overtly, in dramatic action, with significant tensions in Mormon theology, especially that between the "obduracy" of "inchoate matter" and the order imposed by divine will. His second collection, Night Soil (1990), gives wider play to the rambunctiously comic, folkloric, and tenderly humane elements in Peterson's imagination.

Marden J. Clark's Morgan Triumphs (1984) and Sharon M. Hawkinson's Only Strangers Travel (1984) are both linked series of stories in the Mormon tradition of "personal history"; like Sorensen, both mix memoir, personal essay, and short story.

Darrell Spencer's A Woman Packing a Pistol (1987) shows few overt signs of being the work of a Mormon writer; yet his mostly secular characters "live with the acts of God." Spencer writes postmodern, "open" stories to explore a moral universe that is radically open to personal agency and decision, full of possibility and surprise.

Judith Freeman's well-received Family Attractions (1988) includes four Mormon stories: "The Death of a Mormon Elder," "Pretend We're French," "Going Out to Sea," and "Clearfield."

In 1989 and 1990, several excellent collections of Mormon short stories were published: Douglas Thayer's Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone (1989), Neal Chandler's Benediction (1989), Linda Sillitoe's Windows on the Sea (1989), Pauline Mortensen's Back Before the World Turned Nasty (1989), Phyllis Barber's The School of Love (1990), Orson Scott Card's The Folk of the Fringe (1990), Levi Peterson's Night Soil (1990), and Michael Fillerup's Visions (1990).

Including many other writers who have not yet published collections, the Mormon expansion of the short story parallels and is part of a larger American and international renaissance of the genre, though so far it derives more from that renaissance than it contributes to it. Younger LDS writers seem simultaneously critical and loyal in their criticism; they find in Mormonism a sufficiently spacious world, and they locate the conflicts of their stories within that world, even within the parameters of their theology. This source of strength in their fiction makes them valuable, if sometimes disquieting, to the community within which they have chosen to remain.


Cracroft, Richard H., and Neal E. Lambert. "Fiction." In A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 255-306. Provo, Utah, 1974, 1979.

Examples of Short Stories by Latter-day Saint Authors:

Alto, Patricia Mann. Review of Bright Angels and Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories, by Eugene England. BYU Studies 33:3 (1993):630-634.

Bell, Eloise. Review of Benediction: A Book of Short Stories, by Neal Chandler. BYU Studies 30 (Fall 1990):88-91.

Bradford, Mary Lythgoe. Review of Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone and Other Stories, by Douglas H. Thayer. BYU Studies 30 (Winter 1990):92-93.

England, Eugene. "Douglas Thayer's Mr. Walquist in Yellowstone: A Mormon Christian's Response to Wilderness." BYU Studies 34:1 (1994):53-72.

England, Karin Anderson. Review of Windows on the Sea and Other Stories, by Linda Sillitoe. BYU Studies 31 (Summer 1991):82-86.

Hall, Randall L. "Father, Forgive Us." BYU Studies 35:1 (1995):41-46.

Parkin, Scott R. "Die Mauer." BYU Studies 34:1 (1994):43-51.

Parkin, Scott R. "The Great Bean-Count Schism." BYU Studies 35:1 (1995):31-42.

Thorne, James M. "Please Don't Kick the Piano." BYU Studies 34:4 (1994-1995):73-77.

Watkins, A. H. "The Improvisor." BYU Studies 33:4 (1993):757-771.


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