Douglas H. Thayer (born April 19, 1929) is considered one of the foremost fiction writers exploring contemporary Mormon life. He has been called the "Mormon Hemingway" for his straightforward style and powerful prose. Growing up in Provo, Utah, Thayer spent his boyhood largely running free and hunting, fishing, and hiking in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. He dropped out of high school in 1946 to join the U.S. Army, serving in Germany. He later returned to Germany for 30 months as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Thayer’s early work experience included helper on a uranium drill rig, construction laborer, railroad section hand, janitor, restaurant dishwasher, insurance salesman, and seasonal ranger in Yellowstone National Park. After graduating from Brigham Young University (BYU) with a bachelor’s degree in English, Thayer applied to law school, but then decided not to attend and started a doctorate in American literature at Stanford. Finding that he had little interest in research, he left the program after finishing a master’s degree.
Returning to Provo from Stanford, Thayer taught briefly in the BYU English Department, considered studying to be a clinical psychologist, and then started a doctorate in American studies at the University of Maryland. However, still not liking research, he decided that what he really wanted to do was write short stories and novels. He transferred to the University of Iowa, and finished an MFA in fiction writing.
After completing the MFA, Thayer returned to BYU, where he taught fiction writing and other classes for fifty-four years, before retiring in 2011. At BYU he was Coordinator of Composition, Director of Creative Writing, Associate Chair in the English Department, and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities.
Thayer is perhaps best known for his coming-of-age stories. He has been called the "finest chronicler of the Mormon youth in the culture." His first collection of stories, Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories (1977), is considered a Mormon classic. His other work includes two collections of short stories, Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone (1989) and Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella (2011); three novels, Summer Fire (1983), The Conversion of Jeff Williams (2003), The Tree House (2009) (called by one critic "the best Mormon novel to date"); and a memoir, Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood (2007).
In his work Thayer treats such topics as pride, grace, redemption, war, hunting and fishing, perfection, materialism, and religious conversion. His prizes and awards for his work include Dialogue prizes for the short story and essay, the P. A. Christensen award, the Association for Mormon Letters Prize in the Novel, the Karl G. Maeser Creative Arts Award, the Utah Institute of Fine Arts Award in the Short Story, and the 2008 Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters.
In 1974 Thayer married Donlu DeWitt. Donlu holds bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees from Brigham Young University and has taught writing in the BYU English Department and Honors Program. A member of the Utah State Bar, she is a freelance writer/editor and a certified mediator with specialized training in family mediation and high-risk victim/offender dialogue. Donlu is Managing Editor for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. Doug and Donlu have six children, six children-in-law, and (as of May 2012) eighteen grandchildren.
- MBR: Small Press Bookwatch, January 2008.
- article on Thayer
- Mormon Literature Year(s) in Review: Part 1 - Publishing & Published Works - AML Discussion Board
- Professor Richard Cracroft in address to Elder Quest, Provo, Utah, October 2009.
- BYU Magazine, Fall 2011