"We will never attain a great artistic culture until we have achieved a great critical culture"
What Mormon literature is worth reading? This page is dedicated to providing the resources to answer this question. Much Mormon Literature of quality is buried in the past or in the deluge of present publications that vary markedly in literary quality. You are invited to peruse the conversations over Mormon Literature that have been occuring at conferences and in print over the last few decades.
Essays exploring the nature of and the philosophy behind "Mormon" criticism
- Eugene England, "Great Books or True Religion? Defining the Mormon Scholar" Dialogue (Winter 1974)
- Bruce W. Jorgensen, "To Tell and Hear Stories: Let the Stranger Say."
- Richard Cracroft, "Attuning the Authentic Mormon Voice: Stemming the Sophic Tide in LDS Literature."
- Gideon Burton, "Should We Ask, 'Is this Mormon Literature?': Towards a Mormon Criticism."
- Michael Austin, "How to Be a Mormo-American; Or, the Function of Mormon Criticism at the Present Time"
- Richard P. Rust, "'Virtuous, Lovely, or of Good Report': Thoughts on a Latter-day Saint Literary Criticism"
Reviews of Mormon Literature vary considerably depending on their origin, audience, and medium. On this website we are attempting to link entries for works of Mormon Literature with the full text of known reviews of that work. In the meantime, we suggest the following sources for reviews:
- AML-List and AML-List Archives
Reviews of new titles appear regularly on the Association for Mormon Letters email list. These are not scholarly, but are generally quite informed and useful. Relevant commentary can also be found for older titles as these are discussed. Be sure to consult the archives of this active and informative email list.
- Book Reviews from the Newsletter of the Association for Mormon Letters
Brief reviews and notices that have been printed previously in this newsletter can be accessed here soon.
- Proceedings of the Association for Mormon
More in-depth and scholarly discussion of Mormon Literature is to be found in these full-text versions of speeches given at the annual meeting of the Association for Mormon Letters.
Periodicals in which reviews of Mormon Literature regularly appear include the following (see What's Where: Journals and Periodicals Publishing Mormon Literature and Criticism for subscription and other information)
- This People
- BYU Magazine
- Latter-Day Digest
- Wasatch Review International
- Exponent II
- BYU Studies
General Historical and Critical Essays
Whitney, Orson F. "Home Literature." Contributor 9 (June 1888): 297-302. Reprinted in A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints, edited by Richard H. Cracroft and Neal E. Lambert, 203-7. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1974; reprint ed. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979.
An influential early call, by a future apostle, for an excellent, faith-promoting literature by Mormons.
Morgan, Dale L. "Mormon Story Tellers." Rocky Mountain Review 7 (Fall 1942): 1, 3-4, 7. Reprinted in Rocky Mountain Reader, edited by Ray B. West, Jr., 404-13. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1946.
A perceptive and enthusiastic review of the Mormon writers, like Fisher and Whipple, who were suddenly gaining national prominence in the 1940s, and a survey of earlier "polemical" fiction, both anti-Mormon novels and those I have called "home literature."
Cheney, Thomas E. "Latter-day Saint Literature Comes of Age." Improvement Era 53 (March 1950): 196-98, 214.
A survey of reasons the maturing church, with its ideals that support artistic excellence and moral purpose, can expect "in the near future" literature that "without didacticism will present . . . the good side of our culture" (214).
Mulder, William. "Mormonism and Literature." Western Humanities Review 9 (Winter 1954-55): 85-89. Reprinted in Cracroft and Lambert, A Believing People, 208-11.
A perceptive review of the strengths of the unusual genres of the first period, such as diaries and letters, and the problems of the second and third periods, in trying to deal with the great epic of Mormon history (he calls for a "smaller canvas," a focus on "the experience of living things, of very particular situations"). Mulder expects the church membership to mature in taste and "demand of Mormon writers . . . the authority of good writing, of truths made memorable."
Taylor, Samuel W. "Little Did She Realize: Writing For the Mormon Market." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4, no. 3 (Autumn 1969): 33-39.
Keller, Karl "On Words and the Word of God: The Delusions of a Mormon Literature." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Autumn 1969): 13-20.
A moving call, early in the fourth period, for a genuinely religious Mormon literature--not "written or read in the service of religion" but "an exercise in faith, an exercise in renewing our grounds of belief" (19-20).
Jorgensen, Bruce W. "Digging the Foundation: Making and Reading Mormon Literature." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 9 (Winter 1974): 50-61.
A substantial review of Cracroft and Lambert, A Believing People, confirming and extending the editors' work in "excavating" and appreciating the pioneers' foundational work, sharpening the tools for analysis of the next two periods, and perceptively praising the developing work of the "authentic voices" in the new period.
Clark, Marden J. "Toward a More Perfect Order Within: Being the Confessions of an Unregenerate But Not Unrepentant Mistruster of Mormon Literature," AML Proceedings, 1979-82 (Salt Lake City: AML, 1982), and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16, no. 4 (Winter 1983): 91-100.
Cracroft, Richard H. "Seeking `the Good, the Pure, the Elevating': A Short History of Mormon Fiction" (Parts 1 and 2). Ensign 11 (June 1981): 57-62, and (July 1981): 56-61.
An excellent survey of home literature and the "lost generation" and some contemporary period novelists, encouraging Mormon writers to a more faithful, even didactic, fiction.
England, Eugene. "The Dawning of a Brighter Day: Mormon Literature after 150 Years." Brigham Young University Studies 22 (Spring 1982): 131-60, plus "Selected Bibliography." Reprinted in expanded form in Thomas G. Alexander and Jessie L. Embry, eds. After 150 Years: The Latter-day Saints in Sesquicentennial Perspective, 97-146. Charles Redd Monographs in Western History, no. 3. Provo, Utah: Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, 1983.
A first attempt to define literary periods for Mormon literature, including announcement of the fourth, with its special combination of strengths from the earlier ones, and a description of the resources in Mormonism for unusual and powerful content and form.
Jorgensen, Bruce W. "A `Smaller Canvas' of the Mormon Short Story since 1950." Association for Mormon Letters Annual, 1983, 10-31. Salt Lake City: Association for Mormon Letters, 1984.
A thorough history of the "expatriate" writers continuing to publish nationally and of the developing fourth period writers of what I call "faithful realism," with an excellent bibliography.
Anderson, Lavina Fielding. "Making the `Good' Good for Something: A Direction for Mormon Literature." Association for Mormon Letters Annual, 1984, 150-64. Salt Lake City: Association for Mormon Letters, 1985. AML Presidential address, 1983.
A survey of current Mormon fiction, including some novels still in manuscript, with a call for more daring, "fecund," and joyous work of the kind she calls "spiritual realism" (153).
Hunsaker, Kenneth B. "Mormon Novels." In A Literary History of the American West, edited by Thomas J. Lyon and others, 849-61. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987.
A good survey of the "lost generation" and home literature novelists, including modern ones like Jack Weyland and Blaine Yorgason but unfortunately quite unaware of recent developments in "faithful realism." Does not, for instance, mention Douglas Thayer, Don Marshall, Levi Peterson, Orson Scott Card, or Linda Sillitoe.
Wilson, William A. "The Study of Mormon Folklore: An Uncertain Mirror for Truth." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22 (Winter 1989): 95-110.
A description of Mormon and American religious folk studies, arguing that the range should be extended, with less attention to "dramatic tales of the supernatural" (108-9) and more to "quiet lives of committed service . . . at the heart of the Mormon experience" (109). Later Wilson extended his appreciative vision to include what he calls the "family novel" (13), orally transmitted personal and group stories collected over time; see "In Praise of Ourselves: Stories to Tell," Brigham Young University Studies 30 (Winter 1990): 5-24.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1992, 2:837-44.
Short historical and critical entries with select bibliographies appearing under the main heading "Literature, Mormon Writers of," including "Drama" (Robert A. Nelson), "Novels" (Richard H. Cracroft), "Personal Essays" (Donlu Dewitt Thayer), "Poetry" (Leslie Norris), and "Short Stories" (B. W. Jorgensen).
Jorgensen, Bruce W. "To Tell and Hear Stories: Let the Stranger Say." Sunstone 16 (July 1993): 41-50.
A call to Mormon writers, but especially readers, to "be patient, longsuffering" (48), to "listen to the voice of the Other" (49), and to measure Mormon literature by its unusual charity and openness.
Cracroft, Richard H. "Attuning the Authentic Mormon Voice: Stemming the Sophic Tide in LDS Literature." Sunstone 16 (July 1993): 51-57.
A response to Jorgensen, calling for a literature that directly promotes orthodox ideals and values, which Cracroft sees as "more or less rooted in essences of spirituality shared by those" who "seek about them `the presence of the divine,' eschewing faithlessness, doubt, and rebellion" (52).
Anderson, Tory C. "Just the Fiction, Ma'am." Wasatch Review International 1, no. 2 (1992): 1-9.
A perceptive argument, by a younger editor and critic, that the purpose of moral teaching and of mortal life is best achieved not through direct preaching of propositional knowledge but through realistic imitation of life in fiction, which can give new and profitable experience more efficiently than life itself.
Mulder, William A. "`Essential Gestures': Craft and Calling in Contemporary Mormon Letters." Weber Studies 10 (Fall 1993): 7-25.
A sympathetic survey and critique that brings up to date his 1954 essay and looks optimistically to the future, if Mormon writers can maintain both "a maturing craft and a strong sense of calling."
Eugene England, Review of A Believing People and Twenty-two Young Mormon Writers, BYU Studies
Bruce Jorgensen, "The Dark Way to the Tree," Encyclia, vol. 54,
part 2, 1977.
Neal Lambert, "The Representation of Reality in Mormon Auto-
biography," Dialogue (Summer 1978).
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Please send your updates, corrections, or comments to Gideon Burton: MormonLit@byu.edu