Emma Lou Thayne: Mormon Writer

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Emma Lou Thayne Mormon Writer
Courtesy Deseret News

'Emma Lou Warner Thayne was an award-winning writer of poetry, essays, and fiction. Her work has been widely anthologized and published internationally. She was born on October 22, 1924, and died December 6, 2014. She was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thayne was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Utah. She was on the faculty of the university for over thirty years, where she coached tennis and taught English.

During her lifetime she wrote and published fourteen books. She called her last book, The Place of Knowing, her spiritual autobiography. She wrote it after she was in a car accident when a metal bar rocketed through her windshield and broke bones in her face and shattered her jaw. She was primarily known for her poetry, but also wrote fiction. Her novel titles include: Never Past the Gate (1975) and A Woman’s Place (1977). She also penned the words to the LDS Hymn “Where Can I Turn For Peace?” With Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, she wrote All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir, a personal essay collection. Her poetry collections include Spaces in the Sage; With Love, Mother; Until Another Day for Butterflies; Once in Israel; How Much for the Earth? A Suite of Poems: About Time for Considering; and Things Happen: Poems of Survival. Her poems also appeared in magazines, including Exponent II. She never turned down a request for a poem.

She received numerous honors and awards including the 2013 Gandhi Peace Award,[1] the YMCA Outstanding Achievement award, the Utah Governor’s Mansion Artist Award for literary accomplishments, the David O. McKay Humanities Award, the Association for Mormon Letters award for poetry, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Utah. The Thayne Center for Service and Learning at Salt Lake Community College was named in her honor.

She was active in peace organizations such as Women Concerned About Nuclear War and Utahns United Against the Nuclear Arms Race. In 1986, she helped plan a worldwide celebration for peace on the last day of the year, Greenwich time. In 1990, she was the only woman to speak at the Test Ban Treaty Congress in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, sponsored by the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility.

She served on several boards, including the General Board of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association, the Utah Arts Council, Odyssey House, and the Utah Citizens Council. For a time, she was the sole woman serving on the board of the Deseret News. She became close friends with Church president Thomas S. Monson while serving on that board. At the time of her death, he released this statement:

I am saddened at the passing of my friend, Emma Lou Warner Thayne, a multi-talented and caring individual whose outstanding contributions in literature, in education and in other endeavors have done much to enlighten and to inspire. She will be greatly missed. I join with countless others in extending my deepest condolences to her dear husband Mel and to her entire family.[2]

Thayne and her husband, Melvin, had five daughters.