Mormon Literature: Come on. You know you want to.

Look. I know you. I know you are sick of reading thick tomes of Mormon history and detailed 19th century mission journals and the latest on Book of Mormon apologetics. I know that you want something a little more literary, a little more narrative-y, a little more … fun. But still, you know, high-minded and serious and all that.

And, yes, I know that you were scarred for life by that Weyland novel you read as a teenager, or the Work and the Glory novel your father-in-law insisted you had to read, or that wacky novel by Nephi Anderson that you found on your grandmother’s shelf the summer after your sophomore year at BYU.

Luckily, I’m here to hold your hand and help you wade in a bit or even just dip a toe in. And really — it’s not as scary as you might think.

The following suggestions of title and authors are limited to works that deal explicitly with the Mormon experience and fit solidly into the ‘literary’ tradition. I haven’t included works from any of the genres — specualtive fiction (nope, not even any Orson Scott Card), romance, historical fiction, thriller/action, and young adult — that are a very important part of the field of Mormon letters. The bias is also towards short stories and novels (although some poetry and plays are represented).

And it is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure I’ve left out works or authors (in some cases on purpose) that will be part of the Mormon literary canon someday. And, no, I haven’t ready *everything* below (although I’ve read much of it). This is a combination of the results of my reading and what I’ve absorbed over the years as I’ve interacted with the world of Mormon letters.

Association for Mormon Letters
Mormon Literature Website
Mormon Literature Database [hey, even my paltry contributions are represented.]

Individual Works:
Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell
Falling Toward Heaven and Breeding Leah by John Bennion
Nothing very important and other stories by Bela Petsco
Benediction by Neal Chandler
The Giant Joshua by Maureen Whipple

Authors (read everything by these authors):
Doug Thayer
Margaret Young
Levi Peterson
Eugene England
Marilyn M. Brown
Eric Samuelsen
Clinton F. Larson
Emma Lou Thayne

Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poetry [anthology]
Irreantum [the literary magazine of the Association for Mormon Letters]
Sunstone [still the most consistent publisher of quality Mormon fiction — although Irreantum is catching up and provides more diverse voices]
Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature [the only anthology of Mormon criticism — although as a whole it disappoints]
Greening Wheat: Fifteen Mormon Short Stories
Bright Angels & Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories

And with that shameless bit of hucksterism finally out of the way (you all got off easy — I decided to not do my whole defense-of-Mormon-fiction bit), I bid you farewell. Thanks. It’s been fun. See you around the Mormon arts and letters ghetto. And, yes, down there below the light tan rule as well.

8 comments for “Mormon Literature: Come on. You know you want to.

  1. Rosalynde Welch
    January 19, 2005 at 10:53 am

    This is really great, William. And I’m sorry to see you go!

    May I add a few more?

    The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Brady Udall

    Anything by Virginia Sorensen, particularly the novels “A Little Lower than the Angels,” and “Where Nothing Is Long Ago.”

    Visions, by Michael Fillerup (short fiction)

    A number of short-story collections by Darrell Spencer

    Erasable Walls (poems) by Lance Larson

  2. January 19, 2005 at 12:52 pm


    Of course. I hoped someone would. More recommendations are welcome from you and anyone else.

    A few quick notes:

    I omitted Udall on purpose — Indeed I forgot to mention that I left out any recent authors who hit the national literary scene [Udall, Evenson, Kirn].

    I don’t know Fillerup.

    I’ve read a couple of stories by Spencer, but not enough to recommend him.

    I started to read Sorensen’s _The Evening and the Morning_ and it just didn’t work for me. She’s definitely part of the Mormon canon, but I wouldn’t recommend her to people starting out — of course, that’s just my own tastes and biases.

    The only Larson I’ve read is his two (or three) poems in Harvest — which are wonderful. My sister took a creative writing class from him and really enjoyed it.

  3. Floyd the Wonder Dog
    January 19, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    I really appreciate the book recommendations. In the previous post about favorite books and authors, somone mentioned that they liked The Chosen by Chiam Potok. Although I disagreed with what I thought was the central theme (that one cannot be a serious artist and religously orthodox) , I enjoyed the writing and character development.

    One of the stranger LDS novels that I read had a depiction of Christ as a roll-your-own cirgarette-smoking cowboy. Nearly as strange as the seminary teacher who told my kids that the lost 10 tribes would return in UFOs.

  4. January 19, 2005 at 1:45 pm


    That would be _The Backslider_ by Levi Peterson. It is considered one of the best Mormon novels — and in spite of it’s challenging themes and depictions, I know even ‘Orthodox’ Mormons who enjoyed it (with the caveat that they are Mormons who like literary novels i.e. if you haven’t read any Tolstoy or Faullkner or Austen or whatever, it may not be the best place to start).

    I usually recommend _Angel of the Danube_ as a good novel to start with.

    Confession: Although I’ve read some of his short stories, I have not read _The Backslider_. It’s another one of those “Dead Poet’s Society” things — I avoid it because so many people have mentioned it to me.

  5. January 19, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    One more thing:

    One of the best works of Mormon fiction I have read, remains, alas, unpublished. “The Whipping Boy” — a novella by J.. Scott Bronson (better known as an actor and playwright). I’m not to keen on the title, but the work itself is very good. What I like about it is that it is Mormon fiction ala Anne Tyler. Domestic. Modern. Well written but not overly-literary. The characters are good but complex and complicated.

    Hopefully it’ll make it to the market sometime soon.

  6. Rosalynde Welch
    January 19, 2005 at 2:04 pm

    William, you must read “The Backslider.” Just swallow your pride and read it–you’ll love it, I’d bet.

  7. January 19, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    That’s not helping, Rosalynde. People like you are exactly the reason I’m avoiding it.

    But seriously: I’ll get to it soon. Right now (coincidentally) I’m reading some of LaBute’s stuff. Great interview by the way. You got more out of him in relation to Mormon literature and BYU than other interviews I’ve read. Good stuff.

  8. Rosalynde Welch
    January 19, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    (Bad, Rosalynde, bad.) Whatever you do, William, *don’t* read “Backslider.” It’s boring and trite and obscene and vulgar, and you’ll definitely hate it.

    Glad you liked the interview.

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