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New Harmony: A woman to match our mountains

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 2:00 p.m. MDT

Author Emma Lou Thayne at her home in Salt Lake City in 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News archives) Author Emma Lou Thayne at her home in Salt Lake City in 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News archives)

Traditionally among the Saints, women have written for women and men have written for everybody.

But in recent years that has changed.

Today, women writers reach a wide range of readers.

And one of the pioneers of that effort has been Emma Lou Thayne.

Emma Lou is on my mind tonight. That’s because she just phoned me.

She called to tell me she liked what I was doing and that I should keep doing it.

She has been telling me that for almost 40 years now.

No one has been more supportive of LDS writers — from Pulitzer winners to novices — than Emma Lou Thayne.

I think she’s knows everybody.

And she has a kind word for each one of us.

Years ago I asked Welsh poet Leslie Norris — then the Poet in Residence at Brigham Young University — where poets fit into the British class structure. He said poets were blessed. British society let them slide up and down the ranks and cavort with the princes as well as the paupers.

Emma Lou Thayne has worked that same territory in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She associates with apostles and she runs with the renegades.

And that range shows up in her writing.

As a devotional writer, no one can touch her.

She has written hymn texts such as “Where Can I Turn for Peace,” a hymn that has risen like cream to the top of the LDS canon.

She also penned the spiritual autobiography “The Place of Knowing,” a book that combines poetry, mysticism and memoir in a such a way that bookstores have no idea where to shelve it.

(As a side note, as time sifts and settles LDS books into levels of importance, I’m convinced “The Place of Knowing” will be among the three or four indispensable books of our time.)

Emma Lou's gift to the LDS culture is like one of those financial endowments that create enough interest to live on for years to come.

On a personal level, I think the gift from Emma Lou that I cherish most is the way she’s shown those of us in the autumn of our years the way to approach our winter years: You dress warmly and dive into them head first.

When I get feeling a bit rickety and worn, I think of Emma Lou teaching her classes, writing lyrics for songs, penning poetry, reading and lecturing and the sheer chagrin I feel gets me out of bed, puts a clamp on my complaining and sends me to the word processor to begin another day.

Emma Lou Thayne knows how one should live a life.

I'm just grateful her example showed up in mine.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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