Most Important Mormon Literary Writers, 1830-1890

Lists are fun usually because they are so subjective and arbitrary. The other day I was distracting myself from more “serious” work by thinking about the most important pre-Manifesto Mormon literary writers and posting the top five to my Tumblr page.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Eliza R. Snow

Did anyone else come closer to embodying Mormon literature in the nineteenth-century than Zion’s Poetess? While she wasn’t the best Mormon poet of her century, she consecrated her voice like no other

2. Orson F. Whitney

Bishop Whitney was probably the best and most ambitious Mormon poet of the nineteenth century—but his “Home Literature” sermon, which is still the starting point of most discussions on Mormon literature, is what places him so high on the list.

3. Parley P. Pratt

The P. in Parley P. Pratt should stand for “prolific.” He wrote poetry, fiction, and drama in addition to sermons and missionary tracts. Why doesn’t he rank higher on the list? While his literary output was significant, he is remembered today as an early theologian, missionary, and martyr. Aside from a few hymns, his literary work–like his long poem The Millenniumis forgotten… 

4. W. W. Phelps

Phelps wrote “The Spirit of God” and other memorable hymns of the restoration (which, unlike Pratt’s hymns, we still regularly sing), but he also edited the Evening and Morning Star, the first periodical to publish Mormon literature. Even though he wasn’t as prolific as Pratt, is it fair to say that W. W. Phelps invented Mormon literature?

5. John Lyon

No one remembers John Lyon anymore, which is unfortunate. A Scottish poet of real literary talent, Lyon provided a model for Mormon artists when he consecrated the profits of his poetry collection The Harp of Zion to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. His writings, like Nephi Anderson’s a generation later, also offered an early international view of Mormonism—which remains relevant today as Mormonism continues to globalize. 

Have I missed anyone important? Who would make your top five?


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6 Responses to Most Important Mormon Literary Writers, 1830-1890

  1. Wm says:

    I’d list Emmeline Blanche Woodward Harris Whitney Wells over any of them except for your first two.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    I was debating whether Joseph Smith should go on the list (for personal narrative and general stylistics) and John Taylor (for his important editorial work), but finally decided that neither of them quite counts as a “literary writer” in the sense you mean it here. Though Joseph Smith comes close.

    I’d love to get Kent Larson’s take. And Ardis Parshall’s.

  3. Scott Hales says:

    Like Whitney, Wells has a foot in both pre- and post-polygamy Mormonism. Besides, she really didn’t start writing for publication until the 1880s–and most of her literary works were collected and published after 1890. She’s important, but not as important as Phelps and Lyon were before 1890.

    I’d definitely place her with the 1890-1930 crowd.

  4. Th. says:


    I don’t feel strongly enough about anyone else to bump someone off your list. I haven’t read deeply in this era. A Josephine Spencer story here, a scattering of hymns there.

  5. Sarah Reed says:

    Where would you put Sarah Elizabeth Carmichael? I recently ran across some of her poems translated into German in contemporaneous non-Mormon German publications. I haven’t seen that for any other Mormon poet of the period.

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