Mormon Biography and Autobiography

A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints

Section Introduction: Biography and Autobiography

Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert, editors

I now ask God's blessings upon all who shall read this history of my life; may you be faithful to do the will and work of our Heavenly Father; that you may have peace, joy and happiness, an increase of wisdom and knowledge and the power of God; outside of this there are no promised blessings. --Christopher Layton's Journal

Biography and its sister, autobiography, are genres congenial to Mormonism. Both genres appeal to each man's desire and instinct to commemorate and eternize the fact that he, too, lived and here is tangible proof of it. Both appeal to man's natural instinct to moralize about the nature of life and his role in it. Both appeal to man's great inherent curiosity about himself and his desire to understand how others are similar to, and different from, him. Both genres allow man to examine, especially in Mormondom, God's providential hand in man's life. In this sense biography and autobiography are akin to Mormon history, for in much Mormon writing the three genres trace the hand of Providence in leading a chosen son or daughter to eternal life; all three become, in a sense, forms of spiritual autobiography.

Thus Mormon biography and autobiography have flourished. From the beginning, Mormon magazines have devoted space to accounts of trials and successes of missionaries, converts, pioneers, and the Brethren, or General Authorities. Orson F. Whitney's biographies of Heber C. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff are still read, and Parley P. Pratt's autobiography has recently been reissued in a popular edition. Biographies of Joseph Smith, written by George Q. Cannon, John Henry Evans, and Hyrum Andrus, continue to vie successfully with the blacklisted but important biography by Fawn McKay Brodie, No Man Knows My History. And Mormons continue to read Preston Nibley's incomplete but readable biography of Brigham Young, while neglecting the richer yet flawed "gentile" versions of the past several decades.

Treatments of the lives of leaders, especially of presidents of the Church, continue to be popular among the Saints, who prefer brief and faith-promoting accounts of spiritual events rather than comprehensive and scholarly examinations of influences, intellectual development, and intimate details of the lives of famous Mormons. A recent book of autobiography demonstrates very well the vitality of the form' One of the General Authorities, Hartman Rector, Jr., and his wife Connie, themselves converts to the Church, have edited a book, No More Strangers, in which they present the story of their own conversion along with accounts by other outstanding Mormon converts such as Alan Cherry, a black; Milo Baughman, a prominent designer; John S. Staley, a former Catholic; and a number of other Latter-day Saints who have gathered to Mormonism from many nations and walks of life.

In the selections in this section we include a variety of accounts from such diverse people as Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor, General Authorities, mule-skinner Daniel W. Jones, newspaper-man S. A. Kenner, college president Karl G. Maeser, and sheriff Will Brooks. We also include a piece of biography about a Mormon grandmother as penned by Florence Bailey, a non-Mormon. In this diversity, however, there is a kind of unity, for each selection demonstrates that viewing the world through Mormon spectacles does, in fact, make a difference.

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