By Lavina Fielding Anderson
Utah literature may be said to begin with the travel journal of Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante which, in 1776, provided the first written descriptions of Utah's geography and people. For the next seventy-odd years, Utah's literature consisted of the accounts of trappers, traders, and explorers, most notably John C. Frémont's Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, conducted in 1843 and published in 1845. (John Wesley's Powell's notable Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions was published in 1878.) Formal literature, however, may best be dated from the arrival of the Mormons in 1847, and the arrival of a printing press for the Deseret News in 1850.

For almost a century thereafter, Utah's literature could be divided into "insider" writings by the often beleaguered Mormons and intended for internal consumption and "observer" writings intended to explain or sometimes denounce Utah to the larger society. Notable examples of nineteenth-century observers include American journalist Horace Greeley's letter series, published in 1860 as An Overland Journey, French botanist Jules Remy's and British naturalist Julius Brenchley's Journey to the Great Salt Lake City (1861), Richard F. Burton's The City of the Saints (1861), and Fitz Hugh Ludlow's literate and vivid observations, made in 1864 and published in 1870 as The Heart of the Continent, with illustrations by Albert Bierstadt. Perhaps most sympathetic to the Mormons was Elizabeth Kane's Twelve Mormon Homes (1874), an account of her tour of Mormon settlements from Salt Lake City to St. George in Brigham Young's company. Mark Twain (Roughing It, 1871) and Artemus Ward ("A Visit to Brigham Young," 1866), created satirical sketches of Mormon life that are still amusing.

Twentieth-century continuations of this rich vein of travelers' descriptions and naturalists' observations include Alfred Lambourne's nature poetry and essays (Bits of Descriptive Prose, 1891), native-son Claude Teancum Barnes's (1884-1921) delicately penned observations and appreciations of Wasatch flora, fauna, and seasons (The Natural History of a Wasatch Summer/Fall/Winter/Spring, compiled and published in 1957 as The Natural History of a Wasatch Year), The Wending Year (a short nature poem for each day of the year, 1940), and essays published in both local and national periodicals from 1913 to the 1930s. Edward Ruess's sensitive and impassioned descriptions of the Southwest, especially northern Arizona and southern Utah, are preserved in his letters and diary from 1930 to 1934 and many were collected by W.L. Rusho in Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty (1983). He disappeared without a trace in November 1934 from Escalante. Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (1955) celebrates the wilderness of southern Utah and laments its exploitation (see also his Slickrock, 1963), while Terry Tempest Williams's more recent nature essays and books, including The Secret Language of Snow and Coyote's Canyon and Refuge, evoke the mystery and ecological delicacy of the larger planet although often the subject is part of Utah.

Belles-lettres in Utah can be divided for the sake of convenience into three periods: territorial (1847-96), early twentieth century (1896-1945), and contemporary (1945-present). Throughout all three periods, the literary fields of journalism, letters, diaries, sermons, polemical exposés and equally polemical defenses, biography and autobiography, and history have formed rich substrata that have nourished Utah's literature. Although only poetry, fiction, and personal essays are discussed here, personal writings, biographies, and histories in many instances have been among the most distinctive and impressive forms of Utah "literature."

During the territorial period, the main publishing outlets for poetry were provided by newspapers and periodicals, primarily the Deseret News, the short-lived Peep o' Day (1864), and the Woman's Exponent (1872-1914) for Mormons, and the Valley Tan (1858-60), Union Vedette (1863-67), and still thriving Salt Lake Tribune (founded 1870) for non-Mormons, especially in the nineteenth century. Mormon writers, many of them transplanted New Englanders, often wrote didactic poetry, describing their new Zion as well as their religious beliefs. Notable among this first generation were Eliza R. Snow (ten volumes), Sarah Elizabeth Carmichael (Poems, 1866), Hannah Tapfield King (Songs of the Heart, 1879), and Orson F. Whitney, who in addition to numerous shorter works composed the ambitious Elias, An Epic of the Ages (1904).

Although fiction during the early territorial period was regarded by Mormons with some puritanical misgivings, by the late nineteenth century they had assigned to their "home literature" the role of improving the community's morals. This period saw a flood of cautionary tales by such authors as Nephi Anderson (also author of seven novels between Added Upon in 1898 and Dorian in 1921), Orson F. Whitney, Susa Young Gates, Josephine Spencer (The Senator from Utah, and Other Tales of the Wasatch, 1895), and Augusta Joyce Crocheron (Wild Flowers of Deseret, 1881). Their short stories, poetry, and serialized longer works appeared in such Mormon periodicals as The Contributor (1879-95), the Woman's Exponent, the Young Woman's Journal (1889-29), and the Improvement Era (1897-1970).

The first Utah novel seems to have been Susa Young Gates's romance, John Stephens' Courtship: A Story of the Echo Canyon War (1909). Unlike Arthur Conan Doyle's 1895 thriller, A Study in Scarlet, in which Sherlock Holmes unravels a revenge-murder prompted by the death of a woman forced into polygamy, Gates's historical novel does not mention Mormonism's peculiar institution.

During the early and middle twentieth century, "home literature" surfaced regularly in the pages of such Mormon periodicals as the Relief Society Magazine (1912-70) and the Improvement Era (which was combined with the Young Woman's Journal in 1929 and continued until 1970). The first especially provided an important publishing outlet for many Utah women, including Alice Morrey Bailey, Christie Lund Coles, Vesta P. Crawford, Alice Merrill Horne, Caroline Eyring Miner, Veneta Leatham Neilsen, Anna Prince Redd, Helen Candland Stark, Ivy Williams Stone, and Eva Willes Wangsgaard.

At the same time, more serious fiction, essays, and poetry also appeared, much of it written by college-educated and ambitious young writers who perceived the tensions inherent between a monolithic religion and personal individualism. Often they became expatriates, either literally or figuratively, unable to be both accepted members of an orthodox religious community and honest practitioners of their craft. One of the best of these is Virginia Sorensen. In addition to her evocative collection of short stories, Where Nothing Is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood (1963), her Mormon novels deal sensitively with the pressures toward conformity in small Utah towns; they include A Little Lower Than the Angels (1942), On This Star (1946), The Evening and the Morning (1949), Many Heavens (1954), and Kingdom Come (1960).

Maurine Whipple, a native and lifelong resident of St. George, captured Dixie's folklore, landscape, and culture in The Giant Joshua (1941). Dealing with the founding and subsequent history of St. George through the eyes of a young plural wife, this book, Whipple's only novel, is considered by many critics to be the finest Mormon novel yet produced.

Bernard DeVoto, born in Ogden in 1897, spent his professional life writing in the East, producing an iconoclastic monthly column for Harper's called "The Easy Chair" and winning a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for two of his western histories. References to Utah run throughout his work, though they do not dominate. Wallace Stegner, educated in Utah, taught for a time at the University of Utah and set two of his novels, The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943) and Recapitulation (1979), in the state. His Mormon Country (1942) and The Gathering of Zion (1964) are eloquent and sympathetic works dealing with Utah and Mormonism.

Also writing in the same period and overlapping into the contemporary generation have been Blanche Cannon, (Nothing Ever Happens Sunday Morning 1948), Elsie Chamberlain Carroll, Paul Dayton Bailey (Song Everlasting, 1946, and For This My Glory, 1952), Wayne Carver, Vardis Fisher (his Harper prize-winning Children of God: An American Epic of 1939 follows the Mormons to Utah), Helen Hinckley Jones (The Mountains Are Mine, 1946), Ardyth Kennelly (The Peaceable Kingdom, 1948), Lee Neville (Poplars across the Moon, 1936), Elinor Pryor (And Never Yield, 1942), Frank C. Robertson (author of dozens of western novels and a spritely autobiography, Ram in the Thicket: The Story of a Roaming Homesteader Family on the Mormon Frontier, 1959), Richard Scowcroft (Children of the Covenant, 1945, and his comic The Ordeal of Dudley Dean, 1969), George D. Snell (Root, Hog, and Die, 1936), Lorene Pearson (The Harvest Waits, 1941), Ora Pate Stewart, Samuel W. Taylor (Heaven Knows Why, 1948, and Family Kingdom, 1951), Richard Young Thurman, Ray B. West, Jr. (also editor of the anthology Rocky Mountain Reader, 1946), Jean Woodman (Glory Spent, 1940), and David L. Wright, among others.

Until the twentieth century, much of Utah's literature by non-Mormons took the more ephemeral forms of letters, journalism, and speeches with political and social emphases. These writers frequently sought publishers outside the state, which has sometimes lessened awareness within Utah of their contributions to literature. In the contemporary period, however, poetry, personal essays, and fiction have all flourished with much less emphasis on religious differences. Many Mormon writers have been able to combine their faith and their craft successfully. More outlets for literature within the state have flourished, and many Utah writers have found national markets for their products. It is also significant that many Utah writers have published fiction and poetry on a variety of non-Utah subjects and themes.

Perhaps the best-known contemporary Utah poet is May Swenson, born in Logan in 1913 and a resident of New York nearly all of her adult life until her death in 1989. She published many volumes of poetry between 1954 and 1987. Among her honors were the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987, carrying a stipend of $375,000, the Yale Bollingen Prize, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and awards from the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, and Ford foundations. Utahn Emma Lou Warner Thayne has spanned all three genres with several collections of poetry, personal essays, and a novel based on her own childhood experiences. Levi S. Peterson of Ogden, Utah, in addition to editing a collection of short stories (Greening Wheat, 1983), has published two prizewinning volumes, a collection of short stories (Canyons of Grace, 1982), and a novel, The Backslider (1986), both set in southern Utah. Linda Sillitoe, a Salt Lake journalist and poet of note, has published a novel, Sideways to the Sun (1987), and a collection of short stories, Windows on the Sea and Other Stories (1990).

Among former Utahns who have contributed to the world of literature are Scott Cairns, now teaching in Texas, Ron Carlson, who is writer-in-residence at Arizona State College and a resident of Dutch John for part of the year (Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1977; Truants, 1987; The News of the World, 1987); Phyllis Barber, now of Colorado, whose short stories and essays have appeared in both national and regional periodicals, and who recently published her first novel, The School of Love (1990); Orson Scott Card, author of several Mormon-related novels but most highly praised for his imaginative science fiction, which has been honored with both the Nebula and the Hugo awards; Robert A. Christmas, now of California, whose short stories have been widely anthologized; the late Margaret Rampton Munk (So Far, 1986); Judith Freeman, whose prizewinning The Chinchilla Farm (1989) has a Utah woman for its protagonist; and Pauline Mortensen, who uses Utah settings for many stories in her collection Back Before the World Turned Nasty (1989).

All of the institutions of higher learning in the state teach creative writing, and nearly all sponsor undergraduate and/or graduate student publications. Creative writers associated with the University of Utah's English department have included Francois Camoin, Franklin Fisher (Bones, 1990), Brewster Ghiselin (The Nets, 1955, Windrose, 1980; Country of the Minotaur, 1970), Olive Ghiselin (The Testimony of Mr. Bones, 1989), Edward Lueders (The Clam Lake Papers, 1977; and The Wake of the General Bliss, 1989), David Kranes (Hunters in the Snow, 1979; The Hunting Years, 1984; Keno Runner, 1989), Mark Strand (with more than a dozen titles to his credit and a 1987 recipient of the MacArthur Award; named 1990-91 poet laureate of the United States), Clarice Short (The Old One and the Wind, 1973, and The Owl on the Aeriel, 1990), and Henry Taylor (An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards, 1975, and The Flying Change, 1985, which won the Pulitzer Prize). The University of Utah Press has a long-running poetry series and occasionally publishes personal reminiscences.

Writers associated with Brigham Young University include Marden J. Clark, a poet and short story writer (Morgan Triumphs, 1984) whose two sons, Dennis and Harlow, are also writers; Eileen Gibbons Kump (Bread and Milk and Other Stories, 1979); Don Marshall (The Rummage Sale, 1972; Frost in the Orchard, 1977; and Zinnie Stokes, Zinnie Stokes, 1984); Douglas Thayer (Under the Cottonwoods and Other Stories, 1977; Summer Fire, 1983; and Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone and Other Stories, 1989); short-story writer and critic Bruce W. Jorgensen; poets Clinton F. Larson, Edward L. Hart, John Sterling Harris, Susan Howe, Leslie Norris, and Sally Taylor ; and playwright Thomas F. Rogers (God's Fools: Plays of Mitigated Conscience, 1983).

Writers associated with Southern Utah State College in Cedar City include poet David Lee (The Porcine Legacy, 1978; Shadow Weaver, 1984; Day's Work, 1990), nature writer Michael Cohen, dramatist Kay Cook, and poet Leon Chidester. The student publication Tailwind, funded partially by the Utah Arts Council, publishes the work of regional writers as well as student writing.

Poet Kenneth Brewer (Sum of Accidents, 1977; To Remember What Is Lost, 1989) heads the creative writing program at Utah State University. Its press regularly publishes poetry; and in addition to its graduate student publication for creative writing, The Crucible, the university publishes Petroglyphs, a journal of natural history writing produced jointly by students in English and natural history. A beloved teacher is poet Veneta L. Nielsen (Familiar as a Sparrow, 1978; Looking for the Blue Rose, 1990).

Writers associated with Snow College include poets John Hendrickson, Maryann Christison, and Michael Kowalski, fiction writer Susan Burdett, and Elaine Burnham of Ephraim. Grace Leora Johnson is a well-known Manti writer. Poets Nancy Pakacs and Jan Minich teach in the College of Eastern Utah's creative writing program. Ace G. Pilkington, whose poetry appears internationally, also teaches English at Dixie College. Among the state's notable scholarly journals that also publish creative works are Weber Studies, which regularly includes poetry, short stories, personal essays, and criticism, Ellipsis, which is the academic/creative journal published by Westminster College in Salt Lake City, and BYU Studies, which usually inlcudes poetry among its scholarly offerings.

Utah essayists include Edward A. Geary (Goodbye to Poplarhaven: Recollections of a Utah Boyhood, 1985), humorist Elouise Bell (Only When I Laugh, 1990), Eugene England (Dialogues with Myself, 1984; also co-editor with Dennis Clark of a major anthology, Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems, 1989), and William Mulder. Mary Lythgoe Bradford returns to her Utah childhood in many of her introspective personal essays (Leaving Home, 1984).

Other contemporary creative writers include Gordon Allred of Weber State University, who has written a considerable number of Utah novels; Peter Bart; Marilyn McMeen Brown; Joyce Ellen Davis; Joyce Eliason; Herbert Harker; Rodello Hunter; Lynne Larson; Susan Evans McCloud; Toshio Mori; Bela Petsco; Charles Potts; and Clarence P. Socwell.

A significant number of Utah authors write for young readers; they include Delacorte Award winners Louise Plummer and Ann Edwards Cannon, Olive Woolley Burt, John D. Fitzgerald (the Great Brain series), Alane Ferguson, Dean Hughes, Lael Jensen Littke, Margaret P. Maw, Paul Pitts, Judy Reynolds, Margaret I. Rostkowski, Ivy Ruckman, Gloria Skurzynski, Stephen Trimble (who also writes natural history books), Barbara Williams, and Jack Weyland.

The Utah publishing industry is a small but healthy. The market is dominated by Deseret Book and Bookcraft, both of Salt Lake City, which serve the Mormon market and publish fiction regularly, personal essays occasionally, and poetry but rarely. Bookcraft's numerous volumes of poetry by Carol Lynn Pearson, a Utah-born poet, novelist, and dramatist living in California, have proved perennially popular. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, of Layton, Utah, is an eclectic regional publisher of nature writing, cultural history, art, and photography of the Southwest, Utah, and California; it also publishes one or two fiction titles per year, a poetry series, and a drama series. Signature Books of Salt Lake City publishes Mormon history and also includes volumes of significant fiction and poetry. Other publishers in the state that have included works of belles lettres on their lists are Horizon Publishers of Bountiful, Covenant Communications of American Fork, Olympus Press of Salt Lake City, and Howe Brothers of Salt Lake City.

Creative work appears in the scholarly Western Humanities Review and Rocky Mountain Review; in the popular magazines Mountainwest (1975-81) and Utah Holiday; in Network, a monthly newspaper; and in Mormon-related periodicals Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, BYU Studies, Sunstone, and Exponent II.

Among the associations in the state that actively foster creative expression by providing reading and critique groups as well as sometimes sponsoring contests and/or prizes are the Association for Mormon Letters, the League of Utah Writers (with numerous chapters in local communities), the National League of American Penwomen, Pioneer Craft House Writers, Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, and the Utah State Poetry Society. The Utah Arts Council, funded by federal and state sources, sponsors an annual writing contest with cash prizes in seven categories: (1) novel; (2) biography or autobiography, rotating annually with nonfiction; (3) book-length poetry, rotating with short story; (4) juvenile, rotating with young adult; (5) ten poems; (6) a single short story; (7) a personal essay. Winners of booklength works the previous year are eligible for a publication prize upon a second reading the second year. This statewide competition, currently under the direction of G. Barnes, is more than thirty years old and is the oldest competition of its kind in the United States; it receives between 400 and 500 manuscripts per year. Creative activity throughout the state is indicated by the fact that in 1983, 90 percent of the winners were from the Salt Lake Valley; in the 1989 contest, 50 percent were from the valley while 50 percent were writers living elsewhere in the state.

The Western Literature Association is largely a scholarly organization. The Writers at Work annual conference in Park City attracts participants from throughout the nation.

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994. Any errors should be directed towards the University of Utah Press.