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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In Tents #37, Some Additional Views on Figures and Speech

I have had a few additional views in relation to this matter.
(D&C 128:2)

We have to drop everyone twice, but we try to drop them gently. If they survive they get to go home and we want as many to survive as we can.

The immediate cause of this New Year’s dream was listening to Diane Rehm’s interview with John Grisham on Dec. 31, where he read the opening of Sycamore Row, a description of a man’s careful preparations to hang himself with a proper hangman’s noose wrapped thirteen times. A more distant cause of the dream was a story called “Far to Fall” from an episode of Snap Judgment I heard August 9, 2013 while wandering through our stake’s third annual clothing exchange. (“Should I take this hat?” “Only if you want to look like Gilligan.”)

Chaplain Chris Hoke was telling about how he had been called to the prison to talk to an attempted suicide, a man who had asked for him by name because he had laid hands on the man for his back pain. The man had made a noose of his bedsheets and put it around his neck. When the cell door opened for lunch he ran out, tied it to the railing and threw himself over. Landing pulled his spine into alignment, and brought him new joy, new gusto. Later, Hoke heard, after being deported to Mexico the prisoner had killed 14 people there, as part of a drug cartel, and used the same word, gusto, when asked why.

I’ve had the dream before. Continue reading

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in verse #37 : still Smarting

There is a complex of retirement apartments rising like a mushroom in a former farm a few blocks from my home in Orem calling itself Treeo, and advertising itself with, among other slogans, this:  “Where the smartypants live.[i]”  Smart looms large in their legend:  they have bought two of those cute little Smart cars and decorated them to emphasize their smartitude.  US News reviewers said of the Smart Fortwo that “According to the EPA, the Fortwo gets 34/38 mpg city/highway, which is good for the class, but low for such a small car.[ii]”  That’s my beef with the smart car:  how can something that small and light get such lousy mileage?  My son Cody[iii] has a better beef with Treeo — he pointed out that Treeo’s choice of slogan is as bad as its taste in cars:  it should be either “Where the smartypantses live” or “Where the smartypants lives.”  That’s the kind of attitude for which I was thoroughly mocked in grade school as, yes, a smartypants.

Christopher Smart probably wasn’t so mocked.  Born in 1722, he was sent, at eleven when his father died, to Durham School and, in 1739, to Pembroke College, Cambridge, whence he graduated in 1744 with a BA.  He was much smarter with his language than the people promoting Treeo, or the smart car.  Here’s one of the latter’s[iv] poems:

The smart electric drive’s single-gear transmission means
instant torque and smooth, dare-we-say, sexy acceleration.
Pair that with smart’s classic compact size and tight turning radius,
and you’ll pour milk down the drain just for an excuse to drive to the store.

Conserving the environment? Woo hoo!
Driving a conservative-looking car? Womp womp.
That’s why the smart electric drive, like every smart, is endlessly customizable –
from vehicle wraps to tridion safety cells to mirrors and more.
Want us to cover your smart in photos of your cat? We’ll do it.
Seriously, try us.[v]

And they say that poetry has disappeared from  Continue reading

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Six Future Discoveries LDS Doctrine May Have to Handle

I’ve long thought that one of the advantages of having a church guided by modern revelation is that we Latter-day Saints don’t have to rely on finding ways to apply scriptural passages to technological developments in order to determine whether some technology or its use in particular ways is sinful or not.  For example, a church without modern revelation would have to figure out whether blood transfusions are sufficiently like eating blood that they fall under the proscription in Leviticus.  A church with modern revelation can provide a direct answer to the question of whether blood transfusions, in vitro fertilization, and many other modern technological developments are allowed under God’s laws.

Of course, there are many future technologies and discoveries that the Church has not yet had to deal with.  And I think there is the potential for some good science fiction stories there.  Since the Church has no revelation directly concerning these future technologies, what the Church’s position will be is still open.  So here are some science-fictional writing prompts: Continue reading

Posted in Community Voices, SF&F corner | 29 Comments

101 Nauvoo-Related Riddles


I’ve noticed that this blog is about as eclectic as can be imagined and so I want to share with you something that can’t really be anywhere else but that I’ve long wanted to share with someone.

I spent winter semester 2000 as a college student in Nauvoo’s shortlived Joseph Smith Academy. The experience was the inspiration for my first (and still only) nonfiction work. At one point, Peace, Love, & Gingerbread was going to be Deseret Book’s first foray into ebooks, but then the guy in charge of ebooks was canned and that was that. And so the only place PL&G exists is on my personal site (more background; table of contents). I suppose at this point I should just make a free ebook to make it more accessible, but I’m skeptical that anyone would care.

That said, I was exceedingly proud at the time of this chapter of Nauvoo-related riddles. Some haven’t aged well, some only make sense in context of the larger book, some require ready knowledge of Church history—but at least a few of them are genuinely funny. If, that is, you have the sense of humor of an eight-year-old.

I give them to you now for use in all appropriate venues including but not limited to General Conference opening remarks, Mormon History Association presentations, slumber parties, pitch meetings, bookclubs, Air France safety briefings, and sandwich class.

All the good that never was.

Continue reading

Posted in Funny Stuff, Personal Narratives | 4 Comments

But Is It Mormon Enough?

Any time you form a group and attempt to facilitate discussions of interest to that group, one of the first questions is where to draw the lines to distinguish what we are/do from what other people are/do. What’s our communal identity? How do we differentiate? Beyond what we choose to embrace, what do we choose not to discuss?

Part I of an extended meander triggered by a misreading, supported by a misremembering, and reflecting an outsider’s view on a fundamental question of Mormon criticism that took the long way around to dovetail with the more traditional academic view.
Continue reading

Posted in Community Voices, Mormon LitCrit, Storytelling and Community | 5 Comments

This Week in Mormon Literature, January 17, 2014

I am not going to get my Mormon Market Year in Review done until next week, so I am putting up a Week in Review in the meantime. Lots of awards, nominations, and best-of-2013 lists. I caught up on several 2013 novels I had missed, like Liesl Shurtliff’s Middle Grade novel Rump. Check out the story about Carla Kelly and BYU. In film Greg Whitley’s Mitt Romney documentary and a missionary comedy are being released next week. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News, Awards, Best-Of Lists, etc.

Margaret Blair Young (BYU-Provo) and Shelah Miner (BYU Salt Lake Center) are both teaching Mormon Literature classes starting in January. They both provide their syllabi: Margaret Blair Young’s “Literature of the Latter-day Saints”, Shelah Miner. “On Saying Yes (To Teaching Mormon Lit)”. Kent Larson writes about “Is the Demand for Mormon Literature Classes Increasing?” at AMV.

New LDS Fiction (was LDS Publisher)’s 2013 Book Cover Contest, the 5th annual contest, has begun. Voting closes on midnight on the 17th, so hurry!

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL and Jenifer Nii’s SUFFRAGE were nominated for the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York in 2013. An average of 24 plays are nominated annually nationwide.

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best YA Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Boston Globe named it one of the “Best Young Adult Books of 2013”. Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 1 Comment

The Business Side of Writing: Agency Contracts, an Overview

Publishing is evolving so fast that any topic that used to be summarizable (if that’s a word) in one post, is now far too complex for that. Agency agreements were never summarizable in one post, so you can imagine how complex they are now. What I’m going to do here is post an overview, and then we can dig a little deeper next month in whatever aspect of the topic people want. I’m counting on comments here, or else I’ll just be babbling without direction next month (and you, who said, “How’s that any different than usual?” I heard that!) Okay, let’s talk agents.

1) What is an agent? Forget the usual Sunday School lesson on agency (that’s an LDS joke, for those not in the subculture.) We’re going to talk about the legal definition of an agent, which is someone who can act on your behalf, nothing more, and nothing less. A literary agent works with other publishing professionals in your stead. What does that encompass? Well, that can very from agent to agent. Some might take you to lunch with editors, while other’s might negotiate your contract over the phone and then email it to you. The truth is, there’s no legally stipulated role, only some general guidelines, which means you can enter into a variety of agreements on this score. A good friend of mine’s agent has a power of attorney, basically, that lets him even sign the contracts. That one’s extreme, but it fits within the definition of “agent.”

2) What skills does an agent have? There are no rules here, no regulations, no qualifying exam, nothing. Anybody can call themselves an agent. That’s why it’s extremely important to find a *good* agent and vet them thoroughly. A good agent has 1) a good working knowledge of publishing 2) relationships with editors at the top publishing lines in your genre 3) extensive experience negotiating contracts and perhaps most importantly 4) access to a wealth of information about who’s buying what novels and for how much. That last one is absolutely key. Why?

3) What skills doesn’t an agent have? Here’s the scoop: Agents have no magical ability to sell books. None. Here’s another scoop: Agents don’t always sell all the books they represent. So you could have an agent who loves you and loves your book and that won’t necessarily get it published by a traditional publishing house. The only advantage an agent has is more knowledge of who in publishing buys what, how much they pay, and how they like to approach a deal. It can make all the difference, and yet still not be a guarantee.

4) Who needs an agent? There are traditionally published authors who don’t have agents. Really. I’ve met a few and seen them with my own eyes. There are indie authors who have agents. So who needs an agent? Well, not to be trite, but anyone who wants… well.. an agent. Someone else to go do part of the business aspect of publishing, whether it be to sell all rights to a novel, or subsidiary and derivative rights to an indie novel, etc. Some authors have multiple agents, either because they subdivide the rights each one handles, or because they work in such disparate genres that it makes sense to have more than one person handle the business end of things. This is a complicated topic.

5) How do I vet agents? Oh the stories I can tell on this score! The single best way to vet an agent is to talk to their other clients. Any reputable agent will be happy to provide you with their contact info if said agent has made you an offer. Also take any written contract an agent wants you to sign and show it to a lawyer or another writer with good experience with this sort of thing. Finally, you will have to go with your gut. There’s no getting around that at the end of the day.

6) How do I know if I have an agent? No, that’s not a joke. Many agents don’t do written agreements, but rather handshakes, and this can make things messy. What if you’re with an agent who leaves the agency to retire? Do you still owe allegiance to that agency? What if you’re with an agent who won’t answer your calls, even the ones saying they’re fired? Have you gotten rid of them? What if your agent dies and the agency is taken over by an underwear salesperson? (That isn’t a hypothetical; it happened.) Do you have to stay with the agency or does the death constitute a termination of the agreement? Silly as it may sound, this is a real question.

So now I’ll post this and wait for comments. There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to agents. What interests you?

Posted in Business Side of Writing | 9 Comments

Children’s Lit Corner—Biographies: A view from someone else’s eyes

One New Year’s Day when I was on my mission, I remember I was at a member’s house and I had a little bit of time to look through her set of old Encyclopedia Britannicas. I don’t remember why I pulled out the E volume, but I did. I do remember I flipped to the entry about Albert Einstein and read something that has stayed with me now for more than 25 years. The exact words are lost in the haze of memory, but the idea was something like this: It is important to record our thoughts and experiences so that others, when they go back and read our words, will know that we faced and struggled to overcome challenges that are the common lot of humanity. This cryptic insight, snatched one afternoon from a random volume during a time when I did not have the ready access to books I had at every other time of my life, before and since, made a big impression on me. It certainly reinforced my own journal writing, but more than that, it made me curious about the lives of the millions and billions of other people who have lived and loved and died in this world. Maybe the thoughts and feelings of a boy growing up in pre-war Germany, or a girl in Limerick, Maine, in the 1870s, or an eccentric man who walked barefoot and wore a pan on his head, or even a young black boy who longed to learn weren’t really so different from my own experiences. I know I did read some biographies and autobiographies before my mission, but since then my appetite for that view from someone else’s eyes has been almost insatiable. Continue reading

Posted in Children's Lit corner, Personal Narratives, Storytelling and Community | 2 Comments

2013 Mormon Literature Year in Review: Part 1, The National Market

My annual overview starts with fiction and memoirs written for the national market. Next month I will post reviews of the Mormon/Independent market and more.

Speculative fiction has been among the most popular and most successful genres for Mormon authors for the last 20 years. 2013 was a particularly newsworthy year for Mormon speculative fiction authors, with Hugo Award wins, a wide release film adaption, public controversy and boycotts, loads of best-sellers, and promising debuts. Elsewhere, ex-Mormons seem more interested in literary depictions of Mormons than practicing Mormons, and the cornucopia of Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction continued to flow.

Brandon Sanderson

2013 was Brandon Sanderson’s year. Sanderson wrote the best-selling novel by a Mormon in 2013, A Memory of Light, completing the Wheel of Time series created by the late Robert Jordan. He also started two new YA series, won two Hugo Awards (for his 2012 novella The Emperor’s Soul and his podcast Writing Excuses), and published several novellas and short stories. Sanderson’s output, in terms of both sheer volume as well as quality, is amazing. It is no wonder that Writing Excuses (a team effort, which also includes Mary Robinette Kowal, Jordan Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells) is regarded as one of the best tutorials for speculative fiction authors. Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 18 Comments