Lists are fun usually because they are so subjective and arbitrary. The other day I was distracting myself from more “serious” work by thinking about the most important pre-Manifesto Mormon literary writers and posting the top five to my Tumblr page.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. Eliza R. Snow
Did anyone else come closer to embodying Mormon literature in the nineteenth-century than Zion’s Poetess? While she wasn’t the best Mormon poet of her century, she consecrated her voice like no other.
2. Orson F. Whitney
Bishop Whitney was probably the best and most ambitious Mormon poet of the nineteenth century—but his “Home Literature” sermon, which is still the starting point of most discussions on Mormon literature, is what places him so high on the list.
3. Parley P. Pratt
The P. in Parley P. Pratt should stand for “prolific.” He wrote poetry, fiction, and drama in addition to sermons and missionary tracts. Why doesn’t he rank higher on the list? While his literary output was significant, he is remembered today as an early theologian, missionary, and martyr. Aside from a few hymns, his literary work–like his long poem The Millennium—is forgotten…
4. W. W. Phelps
Phelps wrote “The Spirit of God” and other memorable hymns of the restoration (which, unlike Pratt’s hymns, we still regularly sing), but he also edited the Evening and Morning Star, the first periodical to publish Mormon literature. Even though he wasn’t as prolific as Pratt, is it fair to say that W. W. Phelps invented Mormon literature?
5. John Lyon
No one remembers John Lyon anymore, which is unfortunate. A Scottish poet of real literary talent, Lyon provided a model for Mormon artists when he consecrated the profits of his poetry collection The Harp of Zion to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. His writings, like Nephi Anderson’s a generation later, also offered an early international view of Mormonism—which remains relevant today as Mormonism continues to globalize.
Have I missed anyone important? Who would make your top five?