[i]   Editor's Note: This is the single most comprehensive essay on the history of Mormon Literature, originally appearing with the same title in David J. Whittaker, ed., Mormon Americana: A Guide to Sources and Collections in the United States. (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1995): 455-505. It has been adapted slightly from its print version (with some updated bibliographic material and the addition of weblinks). [ii]  An abbreviated version of this same essay may be found in Lavina Fielding Anderson and Eugene England, eds., Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1996). An earlier, seminal version is England's "The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature After 150 Years" Brigham Young University Studies 22 (Spring 1982): 131–60, reprinted in After 150 Years: The Latter-day Saints in Sesquicentennial Perspective. Ed. Thomas G. Alexander and Jessie L. Embry (Provo, Utah: Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, 1983): 97-146.
[ii]  An abbreviated version of this same essay may be found in Lavina Fielding Anderson and Eugene England, eds., Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1996). An earlier, seminal version is England's "The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature After 150 Years" Brigham Young University Studies 22 (Spring 1982): 131–60, reprinted in After 150 Years: The Latter-day Saints in Sesquicentennial Perspective. Ed. Thomas G. Alexander and Jessie L. Embry (Provo, Utah: Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, 1983): 97-146.
   Mormonism is also growing rapidly, with the highest convert rate in the United States among religious groups larger than 1 million and now has over 4 million members in the United States.2 Harold Bloom, the distinguished literary and cultural critic, has recently noted Mormon group cohesion and growth in numbers and accompanying economic and political power (90) and praised what he sees as its unusual theological power because of Joseph Smith's restoration of ancient insights into the eternal and divine nature of the self (105). He identifies Mormonism with "the American Religion" (111) and predicts that it will soon become the equivalent of a state religion in some parts of America (263) and will assume major worldwide influence and power in the twenty-first century (263-65).3
   Such a religion might well be expected to produce a characteristic, good, possibly even great, literature--at least among its predominant cohesive group of literate members, who at this point, for historical reasons, are English-speaking. These now total nearly 5 million, a larger audience, and one more coherent in powerful theological beliefs, mythic vision, and unique cultural and religious experiences than the audiences for which Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Milton wrote--indeed, larger and more coherent than that available to any English or American writer until the middle of the nineteenth century.
   A distinguished literature has, in fact, long been expected by Mormons themselves--even prophesied by their leaders. As early as 1857, with the church less than thirty years old and most Mormons living at a subsistence level just ten years after the forced trek into the Great Basin wilderness, apostle and future church president John Taylor promised that "Zion will be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind. . . . God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth, so that kings hearing of her fame will come and gaze upon her glory."4 Only thirty years after that, as part of his effort in the late 1880s to encourage creation of a "home literature" that would be by, about, and for the edification of Mormons, future apostle Orson F. Whitney prophesied, "We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. . . . In God's name and by His help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven, though its foundations may now be low in earth."5
   However, nearly ninety years later, another apostle, Boyd K. Packer, quoted Whitney and expressed regret that "those foundations have been raised up very slowly. The greatest poems are not yet written. . . . The greatest hymns and anthems of the Restoration are yet to be composed. . . . We move forward much slower than need be."6 The next year LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball, in a special issue of the Ensign (the official Mormon magazine) devoted to the arts, expressed similar disappointment but also continuing expectation:
For years I have been waiting for someone to do justice in recording in song and story and painting and sculpture the story of the Restoration, the reestablishment of the kingdom of God on earth, the struggles and frustrations; the apostasies and inner revolutions and counter-revolutions of those first decades; of the exodus; of the counter-reactions; of the transitions; of the persecution days; of the miracle man, Joseph Smith, of whom we sing "Oh, what rapture filled his bosom, For he saw the living God."7
   It is remarkable that what many see as the first major blossoming of a mature Mormon literature commenced about the time of these two addresses by Elder Packer and President Kimball. It is also remarkable that the issues they raised or implied about why the prophesied success had come so slowly have continued to be central to critical debates among Mormons about the nature and quality of their writers' literary heritage and contemporary achievement. Just three years later, at the church's sesquicentennial in 1980, I was able to celebrate what I called "The Dawning of a Brighter Day,"8 citing a relative outpouring in the late 1970s of personal essays, dramas, and collections of poetry and fiction of increasing quality. Since then the growth in quantity of Mormon literature published (especially fiction), in readership, in publishing outlets, in critical essays and anthologies, and in participation in Mormon literature classes has been steady–and there has been, in my view, a steady increase in quality of writing as well.
   But not everyone agrees. Richard H. Cracroft--who could be called the father of modern Mormon literary studies for his pioneering work in the early 1970s in producing the first anthologies9 and starting the first Mormon literature classes--has strongly objected to the recent directions in most Mormon literature as being too imitative of flawed contemporary critical and moral trends and thus untrue to Mormon traditions and values.10 In this concern, he echoes the warning and counsel of Elder Packer to Mormon artists in 1976 that too many "want to please the world" or to "be in style," and so our artistic heritage grows "ever so gradually." Elder Packer continues: "Our worship and devotion will remain as unique from the world as the Church is different from the world. Let the use of your gift be an expression of your devotion to Him who has given it to you."11
   At the same time, critics like Bruce W. Jorgensen have called for a Mormon literature that is distinguished not so much by specific doctrinal content and didactic purposes as by its powerfully conveyed love of the world God has given us and by its unusual hospitality to diversity of both content and style.12 This stand seems to me consonant with President Kimball's call in 1977, cited above, for literature that includes the full range of Mormon experience: "struggles and frustrations; apostasies and inner revolutions and counter-revolutions . . . counter-reactions . . . persecution days . . . miracle man . . . rapture." Certainly one explanation for the general failure of Mormon literature to fulfill its expectations was that it had remained too timid, too narrowly conventional. It had been satisfied with the safe middle ground of experience and with the non-risk-taking authorial voice, so it was not courageously dealing with the extremes of "apostasy" and "rapture" that President Kimball seems to be calling for.
   These two emphases--Elder Packer and Richard H. Cracroft calling for a quality of devotion, spirituality, and focus on the purposes of the restored church and the fundamentals of the restored gospel, and President Kimball and Bruce W. Jorgensen inviting generous and realistic response to the full range of worldly and other-worldly experience--seem to me compatible, though not easily so. They provide the major poles of current critical discussion in Mormon letters and the major rubrics for describing what seems central to Mormon literature at present and throughout its history.
   Keller's trenchant metaphor, "jack-fiction," captures the paradox at the heart of this debate: everyone wants literature that is uniquely Mormon, even "orthodox"--but also good, that is, skillful and artful; the problem is that focusing on either quality seems to destroy the other. "Jack-fiction" derives from "jack-Mormon," in modern times the term for someone attached, even very strongly, to Mormon culture and sometimes quite "orthodox" in moral behavior, but not really conversant with or deeply committed to the theology or an "active" participant at church. Most Mormon literature to 1974 had both failed to be good literature and had been only superficially Mormon--especially, Keller says, that which had tried to be most orthodox. The solution, he urged, lay in learning our own theology and dramatizing it effectively on the model of Flannery O'Connor, whom Keller quoted at length:
I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means that for me the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption by Christ and what I see in the world I see in its relation to that.15 The good novelist not only finds a symbol for feeling, he finds a symbol and a way of lodging it which tells the intelligent reader whether this feeling is adequate or inadequate, whether it is moral or immoral, whether it is good or evil. And his theology, even in its most remote reaches, will have a direct bearing on this. It makes a great difference to the look of a novel whether its author believes that the world came late into being and continues to come by a creative act of God, or whether he believes that the world and ourselves are the product of a cosmic accident. . . . It makes a great difference whether he believes that our wills are free, or bound like those of the other animals.16
   Keller ended his call for a genuinely faithful Mormon literature by predicting, "When someone becomes capable of creating imaginative worlds where Mormon theological principles are concretely true, then we will have a writer of the stature of Flannery O'Connor. Because she was a Catholic, she said, she could not afford to be less than a good artist."17
   Twenty years later, Keller's conditional prophecy, as well as those of Elder Whitney and President Kimball, are, I believe, beginning to be fulfilled--in the work of Orson Scott Card, Levi S. Peterson, Terry Tempest Williams, Margaret Young, and many others. Before discussing them I will describe some of the theological foundations for these fine Mormon writers' work and review their literary heritage.
   In such places are revealed and explored central Mormon ideas that are able to nourish a great literature. All human beings are fundamentally uncreated, noncontingent intelligences with infinite potential, literally gods in embryo. Like God, we are indestructible but bound forever in a real environment of spirit, element, and other beings that both limit and make demands on us and also make genuine joy and eternal progression possible, as we learn to understand that environment and relate in love to those beings. Freedom is not an illusion but is of tragic proportions: God did not make us or the world out of nothing and cannot force salvation upon us, and thus our choices have real consequences for good and evil. Therefore, Christ's Atonement is a paradox, involving a fortunate fall: each of us must lose innocence, experience opposition and sin, struggle with justice and our guilt, before we will let Christ's mercy break the bonds of justice within us and satisfy the demands of God's justice in our consciences so we can have the strength to develop in the image of Christ. Eternally separate and impenetrable as each of us is, we cannot realize our fullest nature and joy except in the fully sexual unity of an eternal marriage--an idea, together with the divine equality of the sexes, given the very highest status in the unique Mormon understanding of God being God only in the male and female oneness of Heavenly Parents.
   Such ideas can be, and sometimes have been, reduced to a formal creed that tempts Mormon writers toward didacticism, but they are also an extraordinarily rich and sufficient resource–taken together with the dramatic and mythically powerful Mormon history and the ethically challenging opportunities and demands of activity, covenant-making, and charismatic experience in the Mormon lay church–for empowering the imaginative worlds of Mormon literature.
   Mormon writers, then, certainly have at hand sufficient matter with which to produce a great literature. But does Mormonism also provide insight into the values--and limitations--of the means of literature: language, form, style, genres, critical perspectives? From the beginning, Mormons have produced many of their writings, including some of their best, in forms that until fairly recently have been called subliterary and generally dismissed by formalist critics: diaries, letters, hymns, sermons, histories, and personal essays. In the last twenty years, poststructuralism and various forms of ethical criticism have helped us see beyond such distinctions and provided tools for identifying and appreciating the different but equal values of all kinds of literature. In 1974, Cracroft and Lambert unapologetically filled half of their anthology with early Mormon work in unusual genres, much of which they had recovered through their own research, and they provided useful original attempts at evaluation of these genres in their introductions and notes. Partly in response to that anthology came my own belated conversion from my training in formalism to an appreciation of the literary power in unusual forms, and I began to try to develop new tools of appreciation.22
   Mormon academic critics have been trained in and made use of all the modern theoretical approaches, from the New Criticism of the 1940s and 1950s to the postmodernism that has developed since the late 1960s,23 and no systematic criticism has emerged that successfully identifies Mormonism with any one theory of language or poetics.
   Mormon theology, in fact, encourages a remarkable and fruitful openness in relation to current controversies about the nature and power of language--and thus of human thought and literature. On the one hand, poststructuralists find much that is congenial in the Mormon sense of an ongoing, continually developing universe in which God is a genuine and nonabsolute participant, himself in important ways a creature of language and its limitations. Doctrine and Covenants 1:24 informs us that God definitely speaks to us through his prophets but does so "in their weakness, after the manner of their language," which seems to be consistent with contemporary ideas about the way language always functions relative to the world view and rhetorical resources of the speaker and the discourse community, and there is no way to get "outside" of nature and language for an absolute and therefore universally compelling "meaning." Doctrine and Covenants 93:24 further suggests that "truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come" (emphasis added), which can be understood as meaning that truth as we know it is always relative to the knowers involved, a position central to the thought of postmodern philosophers and literary critics.
   On the other hand, in the "King Follett Discourse," Joseph Smith refers to "chaotic matter–which is element and in which dwells all the glory."24 I understand this to mean that God and humans can bring order from a pluralistic chaos that is potent, genuinely responsive to our creative powers embodied in mind and language. Because God created the world that we know from such a potent chaos and because his mind and ours can make connections to each other and to the world through the powers of language, we can create metaphors that closely imitate experience but also increase our ability to understand experience. Language is ultimately tragic, because it cannot perfectly embody or communicate reality, but it is all we have and we had better respect it for what it can do.
   A Mormon theory of language, then, can accede fully neither to a naive platonic realism nor to an absolute postmodern nominalism. It is based in faith--faith that God is like us, personal, embodied, creative, and language-using, closely related in mind and feelings and sufficiently expressed in our organic, changing universe to be understood, at least in part, and to be trusted; faith that while language is limited and relative, it is not merely an ephemeral human creation or an ultimately meaningless game to occupy us until final doom, but rooted ontologically and shared by God.25
- Foundations, 1830-80.
An initial outpouring in the first fifty years of largely unsophisticated writing, expressive of the new converts' dramatic symbolic as well as literal journeys to Zion and their fierce rejection of Babylon, and often intended to meet the immediate and practical needs of the church for hymns, sermons, and tracts.
- Home Literature, 1880-1930.
The creation, in the next fifty years, of a "home literature" in Utah, highly didactic fiction and poetry designed to defend and improve the Saints but of little lasting worth–and also the refining of Mormon theological and historical writing, especially in James E. Talmage and B. H. Roberts, into excellent and lasting forms.
- The Lost Generation, 1930-70.
A period of reaction, by third- and fourth-generation Mormons, usually well educated for their time, to what they saw as the loss of the heroic pioneer vision and a decline into provincial materialism, which impelled an outpouring of excellent but generally critical works, published and praised nationally but largely rejected by or unknown to Mormons. Most of them wrote from "exile"--out of Utah, hence the comparison with American literature's "lost" generation of Hemingway, Stein, and other expatriates.
- Faithful Realism, 1960-present (overlapping somewhat with the previous period).
A slow growth and then flowering from the 1960s to the present of good work in all genres, combining the best qualities and avoiding the limitations of most past work, so that it is both faithful and critical, appreciated by a growing Mormon audience and also increasingly published and honored nationally.
   It was a non-Mormon professor of literature, Douglas Wilson, who twenty-five years ago pointed out the scandalous neglect of the Book of Mormon by the American literary establishment,26 and that neglect still continues, even in our postmodern age of canon expansion and theoretical attempts to value all writing. But Mormon scholars have made important strides both in explicating the historical and cultural substance of this rich work27 and in applying various forms of literary analysis to the text itself. Especially important so far have been the work of John W. Welch on the ancient Hebraic poetic form of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, Bruce Jorgensen on the powerful archetypal structure of the book, and R. Dilworth Rust, who has completed a book entitled 's book, Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon 28
   Joseph Smith was involved, as author or translator, in much besides the Book of Mormon, and much of that other work is also of high literary merit. Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants such as 19, 76, 88, and 121, and his accounts of his first vision have been appreciated as fine literature as well as scripture.29 His literate and very forthcoming letters and diaries have been definitively edited,30 as have reports of his sermons. The sermons, recorded from memory or in longhand, are quite fragmentary and unrevealing of his literary power, except for the remarkable "King Follett Discourse," which is by far the most fully recorded and also the most doctrinally innovative.31 Because of the advent of shorthand, we have a much fuller record of the unusually practical and personal tradition of pioneer orators influenced by Joseph Smith, especially Brigham Young.32
   Early Mormons, like their mainly Puritan forebears, were both anxious about their salvation and moved to record evidence of their joy and success in finding it. In addition, Mormon theology inclined them to think of themselves as eternal, uncreated, and godlike beings, coming here to mortality from a premortal existence to continue working out their salvation in fear and trembling. They were encouraged by church practice and frontier American culture to bear witness both publicly and privately about their hardships, feelings, and spiritual experiences and to take interest in their individual selves and sense of creation of those selves--so they produced, at great effort and in amazing detail, diaries and personal reminiscences.33
   Good examples of the journals, showing a wide range of sophistication and experiences, are Wilford Woodruff's nearly daily record of over sixty years,34 which provides both a rich source of ecclesiastical and cultural history and also intimate insight into the development of an apostle and church president; Eliza R. Snow's "Trail Diary," our best source for the horrendous crossing from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and of the unique spiritual outpourings to the women there during the winter and spring of 1847;35 George Laub's down-to-earth record of the momentous events of Nauvoo and the costs of discipleship for ordinary members;36 Mary Goble Pay's reminiscence of the 1856 handcart tragedy, uniquely moving in its understated purity, which demonstrates how the character of an untrained narrator and powerful events honestly recorded can combine to produce great writing;37 and the witty, detailed, and poignant diary of Joseph Millett, covering both his 1853 mission as a teenager to Nova Scotia and his later life as a settler in Southern Utah and Nevada.38
   Similar qualities often come through in the letters as well. Like diaries, letters provide the revealing ethical context of spontaneous, unrevised thought and day-by-day decision making and living with consequences, as well as unequaled directness. Such directness often makes diaries and letters "truer" than the usual histories, which can be falsified by generalization--and are valuable, even understandable, only when we see in them what Stephen Vincent Benét called people's "daily living and dying beneath the sun."39
   There were also some significant achievements in traditional literary forms in the first period. Eliza R. Snow was an accomplished versifier before she converted to Mormonism but she turned her talent to long, didactic poems about Mormon history, leaders, and beliefs. She also produced some fine short lyrics and a number of hymns.40 The poems were published in two volumes, 1856 and 1877,41 and the hymns are still a highly valued part of the Mormon hymnal, especially "Oh My Father," which states the unique Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Mother.42 One other volume of poetry was published during this period, John Lyon's The Harp of Zion: A Collection of Poems, Etc. (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), and other fine hymns were written by W. W. Phelps and Parley P. Pratt.43
   The first Mormon fiction, as well as some of the most important and literate early tracts,44 was also written by Pratt. His "Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the Devil," first published in the New York Herald in 1844, is, though mainly a didactic effort to improve the Mormon image and teach some doctrine to its gentile audience, very witty and imaginative in its setting, argument, and lively dialogue. His Autobiography, edited and published in the 1870s, long after his death, and still popular in reprints today, has sections that are carefully shaped, self-conscious personal narratives much like good short stories; and some passages, such as his description of Joseph Smith rebuking the guards in Liberty Jail, rise to great eloquence.45
   However, though there is evidence that Mormon pioneers read fiction, even during their treks, church leaders in this first period regularly denounced the reading of novels as a waste of time and worse, the encouragement of "lies," recommending instead sermons and histories, which dealt in truth.46 George Q. Cannon blamed novel reading for many of the evils which prevail in the world,47 and the best Brigham Young could say is that he "would rather persons read novels than read nothing."48 Such reservations were understandable in the day of cheap novels flooding Utah after the coming of the railroad, and few great classics yet available. But in the 1880s some Mormon leaders began, with both exhortation and example, an important movement to solve the problem by encouraging and creating fiction--and drama, poetry, and essays--that explicitly set out to teach Mormon faith and doctrine.
   In 1888, Orson F. Whitney, popular poet, essayist, and bishop of a Salt Lake City ward, expressed hope for a fine and virtuous "home literature" and then continued to try to fulfill his own hope.49 He spoke to the Mormon youth, who, as the first generation raised in the church, lacked their own direct conversion experience. He saw these youth as declining from the faith of their parents and vulnerable to the Protestant missionaries who were beginning to proselyte in Utah. He was joined by other leaders, such as B. H. Roberts, Emmeline B. Wells, and Susa Young Gates, and the result was a virtual flood of moralistic and faith-promoting stories that became the staple of church periodicals like the Juvenile Instructor, the Contributor, the Woman's Exponent, the Utah Magazine, and the Young Woman's Journal. Such stories have continued to appear in nearly every issue of twentieth-century official magazines like the Improvement Era, the Relief Society Magazine, the Children's Friend, and their successors down to the present.
   Poets like Josephine Spencer50 and Augusta Joyce Crocheron published didactic and narrative poems, Charles Walker recited his Southern Utah folk poetry, and Elder Whitney published hymns, lyric poetry, and a book-length poem, Elias, an Epic of the Ages (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1904). Susa Young Gates published a fairly successful novel (John Stevens' Courtship [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909]), and B. H. Roberts wrote a novel that was turned into a play performed on Broadway in New York.51 But the most able, prolific, and lasting in influence of the early "home literature" writers was Nephi Anderson.
   Anderson's novel Added Upon (1898),52 though the author himself recognized its limitations and revised it twice, well fulfills his own stated criterion in an essay on "Purpose in Fiction": "A good story is artistic preaching."53 The novel follows a woman and a man and their friends from the premortal existence through mortal life and into the postmortal spirit world, showing how their love is promised before birth and subjected to earthly vicissitudes but resolved by marriage within the restored church, then depicting their reunion and rsurrection after death. Versions of this formula were immensely popular and have endured to the present in musicals like Doug Stewart and Lex De Azevedo's Saturday's Warrior (1974) and Carol Lynn Pearson's My Turn on Earth (1977). Anderson's novel, though not his best, was the only fiction of the original home literature movement that continued to be read by a sizable Mormon audience, with some readers down to the present.
   A number of works of nonfiction written during the period, because of their intellectual and literary excellence as well as their orthodox and faith-promoting power, have continued to be valued and carefully read, such as the didactic biographies of Joseph Smith by George Q. Cannon and John Henry Evans. B. H. Roberts published stimulating, powerfully imaginative and persuasive theology (for example, Joseph Smith the Prophet-Teacher [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing, 1908; reprint, Princeton, N.J.: Deseret Club of Princeton University, 1967]) and history (for example, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930]) that dramatically but with amazing scholarly objectivity organized the thought of Joseph Smith and retold the history of the Saints in the church's first century. James E. Talmage, an apostle, wrote two books, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1899) and Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1915), that combine intellectual power with stately, moving personal testimony, and have justly achieved almost scriptural status among Latter-day Saints.
   The forms and formulas of home literature that were developed in this second period continue into the present as the kind published and encouraged by the official Mormon outlets (the Friend, New Era, and Ensign, and Deseret Book) and also those, like the Latter-day Digest and Bookcraft, which aspire to wide and near-official acceptance by church leaders and general Mormon readership. Richard H. Cracroft has led the way in arguing that the future of Mormon literature depends on writers learning from Nephi Anderson's "steady progress from artless dogma to gently dogmatic art"54 to produce a steadily more sophisticated and artful work that is still, in its direct focus on Mormon moral and spiritual values, essentially didactic.55 But others feel that primary emphasis on the didactic, on teaching through literature, is paradoxically what keeps Mormon literature from being either excellent artistically or powerful morally and spiritually.
A great work of Mormon literature will be like all great works of literature; it will be one that makes me wrestle with my beliefs and which stimulates me by the example of the author's own effort to re-create my own life on surer grounds of belief...
Perhaps when we realize that literature cannot be written or read in the service of religion but that like religion it is an exercise in otherness, an exercise in faith, an exercise in renewing our grounds of belief, then we will have an important body of Mormon literature.57
   Similarly, in 1980, Bruce Jorgensen, drawing on the criticism of Wayne Booth and Sheldon Sacks, made a persuasive case that morality is most authentic and thus convincing, not in the direct preaching of an "apologue" but in the inevitable hundreds of small decisions a moral author makes in the process of writing a realistic "action."58 Orson Scott Card, one of the most able as well as successful contemporary Mormon writers, provided personal confirmation of Jorgensen's thesis when he announced in 1985 that he had long before resolved never to
attempt to use my writing to overtly preach the gospel in my "literary" works. . . .
The most powerful effects of a work emerge from those decisions that the writer did not know he or she was making, for the decision simply felt inevitable, because it was right and true. . . . [E]very human being's true faith is contained in what it does not occur to us to question."59
   Even though since then Card has increasingly made Mormonism his subject, he has continued to reaffirm that position against didacticism. Tory C. Anderson, in an editorial in the second issue of the first journal devoted entirely to Mormon literature, Wasatch Review International, argues that, because good literature more fully and accurately imitates life in the work and thus can give us moral experience as well as knowledge, it can be much more effective than the more abstract forms of sermon and moralistic story at the very purposes those forms espouse--showing us how and how not to live.60
   Geary's pioneering work on this period identified about twenty nationally published works by a dozen authors who were alike in their essentially "regional" qualities of responding to a time of what they saw as cultural breakdown. Cracroft has praised Samuel W. Taylor's Heaven Knows Why (New York: A. A. Wyn, 1948) as the best Mormon humorous novel and has also identified other more recent novelists who for him fit the "lost generation" rubric.63 Jorgensen has traced the "lost generation" characteristics in a number of expatriate Mormon short story writers of the period.64
   It seems to me useful to identify two writers of nonfiction as part of this literary "period"; they were quite different from each other but shared the "lost" generation's impulse toward more realistic and less apologetic dealing with the Mormon past and were also, to some degree, rejected by Mormons. Fawn Brodie's thoroughly researched No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (New York: Knopf, 1945) introduced the psychological approach she became famous for. Having more the strengths of a novel than biography, it was written from the point of view that Smith was a powerful charismatic genius but also a charlatan and made him into an interesting "character" as no other book had done--but it also led to her excommunication.65
   Juanita Brooks's Mountain Meadows Massacre (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1950), the first work to deal thoroughly and openly with the most tragic event of Utah Mormon history, became the model (and Brooks the hero) for the "New Mormon History," a whole movement of less didactic biography and historiography by faithful Mormons.66 Brooks was ostracized by many Mormons but, unlike Brodie, remained a faithful Mormon and, as her biographer Levi S. Peterson has argued, was able to provide an important moral and spiritual service for the Mormon community through her work and example.67
   The spiritual father of the latest period of Mormon literature is Clinton F. Larson. Larson came under the influence of the craftsmanship and the religious passion of T. S. Eliot and other modern poets in the 1930s and 1940s, mainly through his teacher at the University of Utah, Brewster Ghiselin, himself a fine young American poet. In the midst of this apprenticeship, Larson served as a missionary under the eloquent, urbane, and spiritually direct Hugh B. Brown, later an apostle. These influences helped him depart both from the didactic and inward-looking provinciality of the first two periods and the elitist, patronizing provinciality of his contemporaries in the "lost generation." He began in the 1950s to write a unique Mormon poetry of modernist sensibility and skill but also informed and passionate faith. Grounded in knowledge of Mormon theology and history and contemporary life and thought and also devoutly part of, rather than standing apart from, the Mormon people, Larson was able, with intelligent discrimination, to both attack and affirm the world and also Mormon culture. Karl Keller, reviewing Larson's first collection, The Lord of Experience (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1967), in 1968, wrote that it provided the first Mormon poetry that was real poetry: "It does not show art filling a religious purpose but shows . . . religion succeeding in an esthetic way."71
   Larson also helped the new tradition of "faithful" but "realistic" Mormon literature along by founding the first Mormon scholarly and literary periodical, BYU Studies, in 1959 and contributing his poetry regularly there and to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, which was founded in 1966. Other poets, such as his colleagues at Brigham Young University (Edward L. Hart, Marden J. Clark, and John S. Harris) and Mormon poets outside the university (Carol Lynn Pearson, Lewis Horne, and Emma Lou Thayne) developed their own styles of Mormon poetry in the 1960s and 1970s; but all were influenced by Larson, if not in style or subject matter, then in being encouraged toward the new possibility he created of poetry deeply grounded in Mormon theology and experience yet also responsive to personal vision and feelings rather than merely to didactic or institutional purposes.72
   Younger poets in the 1980s and 1990s have come even more thoroughly under the influence of contemporary American and other poets; they have produced poetry that, in its challenges to traditional forms and methods as well as its interest in current issues like feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernist anxiety about language itself, seems to some not Mormon at all. But skilled and faithful Mormon poets who appear regularly in national periodicals, such as Linda Sillitoe, Susan Howe, Lance Larsen, and Kathy Evans, seem to others of us to be taking the faithful realism Larson first created in interesting and valuable contemporary directions.73
   Douglas Thayer and Donald R. Marshall, who were students and later teachers at Brigham Young University, became the first to explore Clinton F. Larson's new possibility in fiction. Departing from the mode of expatriate Mormon writers still publishing nationally in the 1960s and even the 1970s,74 they began to write skillful stories that explored Mormon thought and culture in a critical but fundamentally affirmative way. Marshall was the first to publish collections, The Rummage Sale: Collections and Recollections (Provo, Utah: Heirloom Publications, 1972; most recent republication Salt Lake City: Tabernacle Books, 1999) and Frost in the Orchard (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), and his range is wider, from experimental stories based entirely on such things as lists or letters to sophisticated work in point of view ("The Weekend") and symbolism ("The Wheelbarrow"). Thayer began publishing stories in Brigham Young University Studies and Dialogue in the mid-1960s, and his influence has perhaps been wider and more lasting. As one younger Mormon writer, John Bennion, who has himself already published a fine collection that includes experimental contemporary styles and subjects, 75 "Thayer taught us how to explore the interior life, with its conflicts of doubt and faith, goodness and evil, of a believing Mormon."76
   Conflict is, of course, the very essence of fiction, and contemporary Mormon writers have found how to reveal and explore the conflicts inherent in Mormonism's complex theology and its rich history and cultural experience. Thayer has written a fine novel, Summer Fire (Midvale, Utah: Orion Books, 1983), which examines the challenge and possibility of redemption in the conflict posed by an innocent and self-righteous Mormon youth's exposure to evil on a Nevada hay ranch. His second collection, Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone and Other Stories (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1989), both exploits and exposes the romantic fallacies in male response to the seductions of wilderness which have produced a conflict, even in Mormons, between heroic manhood and the values of family and community.77
   Levi S. Peterson, who acknowledges his debt to Thayer for teaching him to write in a simple and direct style about Mormon experience, has produced two fine collections, The Canyons of Grace: Stories (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982) and Night Soil: New Stories (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), as well as a novel which some consider the best yet by a Mormon, The Backslider (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986).78 All of Peterson's work explores in some form the conflicts in Mormon experience and popular thought between the Old Testament Jehovah of rewards and punishments and the New Testament Christ of unconditional acceptance and redemptive love.
   Mormon fiction of the past twenty years has most fully realized the hopes of many for an excellent but genuinely and uniquely Mormon literature, with a steady increase in both quantity and quality. There are now dozens of skilled writers of a great variety of methods and perspectives: Some are continuing or improving on the "home literature" tradition, such as Shirley Sealy, Susan Evans McCloud, Jack Weyland, Brenton G. Yorgason and Blaine M. Yorgason, Carol Hoefling Morris, and Gerald Lund; some who are publishing excellent work nationally are to some degree expatriates and show that in their work, such as Laura Kalpakian, Judith Freeman, and Walter Kirn.79
   But there is a large group of faithful Mormon writers of what I call the "new Mormon fiction"80 who are both publishing nationally and gaining a growing audience of appreciative Mormon readers. Good examples are Linda Sillitoe and Michael Fillerup, both of whom explore feminism and multicultural issues from a Mormon perspective;81 Lewis Horne and Neal Chandler, who live and write about Mormon life outside the Wasatch front; 82 and Phyllis Barber and Margaret Young, who have growing reputations for both their story collections and their novels.83
   Perhaps the most prolific and innovative among these (certainly the most widely read and honored) is Orson Scott Card, who began as a Mormon playwright in the 1970s but then wrote traditional science fiction without Mormon reference and reached the very top of his field with Hugo and Nebula Awards two years running in 1986 and 1987. However he turned back to openly Mormon works, beginning with A Woman of Destiny (New York: Berkley Books, 1984; rpt. as Saints [New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1988]) and continuing with a fantasy series, The Tales of Alvin Maker based on the life of Joseph Smith; straightforward Mormon science fiction stories in The Folk of the Fringe (West Bloomfield, Mich.: Phantasia Press, 1989); a science fiction series, Homecoming, based on the Book of Mormon; and a novel of contemporary Mormon domestic (and spiritual) realism, Lost Boys (New York: HarperCollins, 1992).
   Card is the first of the latest generation of Mormon writers to have a book written about his work: Michael R. Collings's In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization, and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990).84 Collings compares Card to C. S. Lewis in his skillful invention of alternate worlds in which to explore more effectively important religious questions and affirmations--what might be called, on the model of Latin American novelists, "magic realism." Card has also entered the controversy over what makes good Mormon literature, both as critic and publisher: He has started his own publishing company, Hatrack River Publications, and in the "Foreword" to its first offering, Kathryn H. Kidd's Paradise Vue, he offers as rationale that most Mormon novels have either "tended to be very simple-minded and presented a sugar-coated view of Mormon life" or "tended to be slow-moving, dull, and pretentious." He proposes to provide stories that "are at once fascinating and illuminating," that "give their readers . . . both entertainment and understanding."85
   If fiction is the area where Mormons are just now beginning to fulfill the prophetic hopes for Mormon literature and to have some impact on national and world literature, it is the personal essay that seems to me to have the greatest potential for making a uniquely valuable Mormon contribution both to Mormon cultural and religious life and to that of others. Our theological emphasis on life as a stage where the individual self is both tested and created and our history of close self-examination in journals and testimony-bearing provide resources that have mainly been realized in great sermons86 and various forms of autobiography but increasingly find expression in powerful informal essays and personal and family storytelling.87
   The revered Brigham Young University English professor P. A. Christensen produced two volumes of informal essays (All in a Teacher's Day [Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1948] and Of a Number of Things [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1962] and various other Mormons have written effective literary, religious, and historical essays with personal dimensions.88 However, it was Edward Geary, with "Goodbye to Poplarhaven," published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 (Summer 1973): 56–62, who first revealed to his own community the great potential of the Mormon personal essay as an art form.
   Stimulated in part by Dialogue's establishment in 1971 of a regular section, "Personal Voices," and the example of Geary and others, writers developed this form rapidly. Personal essays also began to appear occasionally in BYU Studies, and often in new periodicals like the Ensign (1970), Exponent II (1973), and Sunstone (1975), and by the late 1970s and early 1980s had begun to be published in edited or individual collections90 and to receive some critical attention.91
   By the mid-1980s some Mormon writers were extending the range of the personal essay form to include diverse voices in the same essay and other elements usually confined to fiction and to consider issues like feminism and ecology--and some were occasionally published nationally.92 One measure of the growing range and influence of the Mormon personal essay in the 1990s is the warm reception both nationally and by her own community of Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (New York: Pantheon Books, 1991), which received excellent reviews and was awarded the Association for Mormon Letters Prize in 1992 for the personal essay. Another good omen is Phyllis Barber, who won both the 1991 Associated Writing Programs Award in "Creative Non-Fiction" and a 1993 Association for Mormon Letters award for How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992), which is essentially a collection of avant garde personal essays.93
   Drama might also be expected to be a prominent Mormon literary form, for some of the same reasons of theology and cultural history that that explain the importance of the personal essay. However, despite strong support for popular dramatic productions beginning in Nauvoo and the Salt Lake Theatre and the "roadshow" tradition in twentieth-century Mormon wards,94 as well as Crawford Gates's very popular pioneer centennial musical, Promised Valley (1947), it was not until the 1960s that there was much realistic drama written by Mormons about Mormon experience. The first were mainly "closet dramas," such as Clinton F. Larson's The Mantle of the Prophet, and musicals, like Doug Stewart's Saturday's Warrior and Carol Lynn Pearson's The Order Is Love. By the late 1970s, however, fine Mormon dramas were being quite regularly written and produced at Brigham Young University. Of these probably the best single achievement is Robert Elliott's Fires of the Mind, and the finest single playwright is Thomas Rogers, who has produced plays regularly for twenty years at a consistent high quality and reached the highest level of excellence with Huebener.95
   A fine tradition of one-person plays was inaugurated by James Arrington in the late 1970s with his Here's Brother Brigham and Farley Family Reunion (still regularly performed, available on video, and considered by some as perhaps the best of authentic Mormon drama).96 The most promising younger playwrights seem to be Susan E. Howe (The Burdens of Earth and A Dream for Katy 97), Tim Slover (Dreambuilder and Scales 98), Neil Labute (In the Company of Men and Sanguinarians99), and Eric Samuelsen (Accommodations100). (See also Michael Hicks, The Performing Arts and Mormonism: An Introduction," in David J. Whittaker, ed., Mormon Americana: A Guide to Sources and Collections in the United States. [Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1995]: 538-58).
   Some Mormon writers of the fourth period are achieving success, both locally and nationally, in high quality children's and young adult literature. Fine examples of the former are Steve Wunderli's Marty's World, illustrated by Brent Watts (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), Phyllis Barber's Legs: The Story of a Giraffe (New York: M. K. McElderry Books, 1991), Catherine Hepworth's Antics! An Alphabetical Anthology (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1992) and Michael O. Tunnell's three books, Chinook!, The Joke's on George, and Beauty and the Beastly Children (all New York: William Morrow, 1993), which won the AML prize. Examples of the best books by Mormons for young adults are Donald R. Marshall, Enchantress of Crumbledown (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990); Ann Edwards Cannon, Amazing Gracie (New York: Delacorte Press, 1991); Louise Plummer, My Name Is Sus5an Smith. The 5 Is Silent (New York: Delacorte Press, 1991); and Dean Hughes, Jenny Haller (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983) and Go to the Hoop! (New York: Knopf, 1993).
   On the other hand, the potentially creative tension between the two poles of Mormons' expectations about their literature--the conflict between orthodox didacticism and faithful realism explored in the recent essays by Cracroft and Jorgensen--seems at times to be breaking down into invidious judgments, name-calling, and divisions. These divisions and exclusions have increased since the late 1970s, when Elder Packer and President Kimball encouraged Mormon writers to fulfill the prophecies of literary excellence. Even the eclectic harmony of the forums in which those leaders then spoke now seems a distant dream: Elder Packer was published in a book of essays that included Mormon critics and writers as diverse as Reid Nibley, Edward L. Hart, and Wayne C. Booth; President Kimball appeared in an issue of the Ensign which included (with implied approval) artists across the full range of Mormon approaches, from didactic home literature by Orson F. Whitney, Charles Penrose, and Lael J. Littke to recent realistic and experimental work by Clinton Larson, Emma Lou Thayne, Donald Marshall, and Orson Scott Card. Now Mormon letters seems increasingly bifurcated into mutually exclusive forums, periodicals, and presses, which I fear will impede our progress toward the rich, diverse, mutually tolerant literary community and achievements we are capable of. 105
   Mormon literature will always have a difficult burden--to describe a unique set of revealed truths and historical and continually vital religious experiences and to do so both truly and artistically. We seem to understand this better about other art forms than about literature, where the temptation is greatest to assume that a good "message" is enough. (Most Mormons can see right away that a painting of Joseph Smith's first vision done badly would demean the experience or that a clumsy or sentimental musical score on the suffering of Christ in Gethsemane would be a kind of blasphemy, but a "faith-building" story or one based on "real experience," however badly written or sentimental in its appeal, is often received uncritically.)
   An increasing number of faithful Latter-day Saints are developing the skill and courage to write well in all the genres. The challenge they face--which must be faced as well by their readers, both Mormons and others--is to find ways to reach out to and unite the extremes of experience President Kimball recommended and to accept the role of art in assisting in the central human purpose Brigham Young described: "We cannot obtain eternal life unless we actually know and comprehend by our experience the principle of good and the principle of evil, the light and the darkness, truth, virtue, and holiness, also vice, wickedness, and corruption."106
   To gain such comprehension, we must be willing, both as writers and readers, to do as Joseph Smith did--and called us to do: "Thy mind, . . . if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity."107 A literature to match the high religious achievement of the Restoration Joseph Smith began requires both the breadth and the depth he achieved--literary skill, moral courage, and generosity--and also the spiritual passion that brought about his visions and continues to give a unique quality to the life of faithful Mormons. Mormon writers, if they are true to their sacred and powerful art of language as well as their sacred and powerful religious heritage, can aspire, Elder Packer promised in 1976, 108 to enjoy the promise by Christ to Joseph Smith: "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you . . . ask, and ye shall receive" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).