Author Profile

Douglas Thayer


Selected Works

  • The Conversion of Jeff Williams (2003)
  • Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood (2007)
  • Mr Wahlquist in Yellowstone (1989)
  • The Tree House (2009)

Douglas Thayer was born in 1929 in Salt Lake City, Utah, but grew up in Provo. He spent his childhood hunting and hiking in the nearby mountains and fishing and swimming in the Provo River, experiences that later showed up in his writing. In 1946 he joined the U.S. Army, serving in Germany following World War II. He later returned to Germany to fill a 30-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thayer worked at a variety of interesting jobs as a young man, including as a helper on a uranium drill rig, a construction laborer, a railroad section hand, and a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone National Park. He also entered Brigham Young University, where he earned a BA in English. Thayer next applied to law school, but chose instead to enter a Ph.D program in American Literature at Stanford University. Unfortunately, he found that he didn't like research, so he left Stanford after obtaining an MA. He taught for a time in the English Department at BYU, where he considered his options, including an interest in clinical psychology. However, he decided to enter a doctoral program in American Studies at the University of Maryland. But again he hit the wall of his dislike for research.

What Thayer found was that he really wanted to write fiction. In the end he transferred into an MFA. program in fiction writing at the University of Iowa. Upon its completion, Thayer returned to BYU to teach fiction writing and to write, which he has been doing now for over fifty years. He has written on several subjects, most often on themes from Mormon culture and faith, frequently with the backdrop of the great outdoors. He has been called "the father of contemporary Mormon fiction" and "the finest chronicler of Mormon youth in culture."

To date, Thayer is the author of three novels, a memoir, and two short story collections, including Under the Cottonwoods, considered a Mormon classic. His awards include Dialogue prizes for Short Story and Essay; the P.A. Christiansen Award from BYU's College of Humanities; the Association for Mormon Letters Prize in the Novel (twice); the Association for Mormon Letters Short Fiction Award; the Karl G. Maeser Creative Arts Award; the Utah Institute of Fine Arts Award in the Short Story and for a Collection of Short Stories; and the 2008 Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters.

Thayer is married to writer-editor-attorney Donlu DeWitt. They have six children and an increasing number of grandchildren. Thayer's hobbies include reading, fly-fishing, and learning to play the piano.

When starting a story or novel, Thayer writes a first draft from notes, jotting down more notes as he writes, later entering these on 3x5 cards. He then has the finished single-spaced draft reduced (two pages to a sheet), spreads it out on library tables, and enters the 3x5 notes in the margins where needed as a basis for the next draft. He continues this process "until there aren't any more notes." A story takes perhaps twelve to fifteen drafts and a novel six to eight.


Working notes, ca. 1993.

Sheet of notes for Thayer's novel, The Conversion of Jeff Williams. The top half of the first page of notes includes feedback Thayer sought from a doctor about a medical condition suffered by one of his novel's characters. The other five pages show other notes.

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Notes in a 3x5 card system. With The Conversion of Jeff Williams. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2003. With working draft and notes.

Thayer uses a 3x5 card system to organize his notes for The Conversion of Jeff Williams. Seen here in a montage with draft, notes, and the final published volume.

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Twelve typed manuscript pages for "Under the Cottonwoods," (undated).

Each of these twelve sheets are the first page of a draft for this short story.

They are displayed in the probable order which Thayer worked on them. The first includes edits and marginal notes which were incorporated into the second draft, which in turn Thayer edited and then typed into the third draft.

Thayer continued this rewrite pattern through at least the twelve drafts shown here. The changes from draft to draft demonstrate Thayer's decisions about his story and how they built on each other. For example, the number of children in the family change from draft to draft, as do characters' names and where they are from. Plot elements shift and deepen, and so on.

The finished story was first published in 1972 in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Later it was collected with other short stories by Thayer into Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories in 1977 (Midvale, Utah: Orion Books).

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Doug Thayer's fishing hat.

Evidence of Thayer's love of the outdoors which he often incorporates into his writing.

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Literary Worlds