Retirement typically marks a days full of golf and the acquirement of other new hobbies, among them, a sleepier, slower-paced life. For Douglas Thayer, however, a BYU English professor who retired earlier this year after 54 years of teaching, retirement has produced a new book of published short stories and a novel on the way.
Thayer retired from teaching earlier last spring, after thousands of students and more than half of decade of instruction within the English Department. Surprisingly free from nostalgia, Thayer has embraced life a life free from teaching for other pursuits — a to-do list that spent nearly 50 years on the back burner.
“Once you walk out the door, it’s a different life,” Thayer said. “You have to move on and realize, ‘teaching’s done.’ I’m finishing another novel, and I have 54 years of correspondence to catch up on.”
This correspondence includes letters between hundreds of students over his career. In his early years of teaching, missionaries he taught during their freshman year wrote seeking encouragement, often discouraged that their missions weren’t what they expected. Thayer wrote these missionaries back, proving a one-time student in a sea of thousands isn’t forgotten. This correspondence also includes letter from students aspiring to write, hoping for guidance in their literary pursuits.
These letters will added to the BYU library archives in the near future, the kind of meaningful collection that can only come from a long career spent caring for students, beyond the realms of the classroom.
Thayer’s newly published book of short stories, “Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella,” is the most recent addition to Thayer’s literary credits. The book features eleven stories, each connected by their emphasis on Mormon culture and lifestyle, an element consistent through most of Thayer’s published works.
“It’s an honest attempt to write about Mormon life,” Thayer said. “I’ve always written about people who believe, people who are in the center of the church, not on the fringes. I like to write about their problems and successes, while always maintaining their faith. I simply find them more interesting.”
Thayer brings a level of taste and discretion to his writing, a type of omission usually included in other adult fiction. One of Thayer’s favorites stories from the collection, “Wolves,” challenged Thayer to write about the worst thing that could happen to a 17-year old, but without the gruesome, graphic details.
“You can write about anything you want to write about, but there are some experiences an author doesn’t have to take the reader through,” Thayer said. “It’s not about entertaining the reader with those details, it’s about using the experience for thematic development.”
This style, paired with a focus on Mormon life, is Thayer’s literary signature, as recognized by his colleagues and readers alike. English professor Richard Cracroft reviewed the new book, noting Thayer’s strengths as an author.
“This is LDS literary fiction at its finest, written with Thayer’s crisp style and shot through with his trademark iron, tempered by his faith,” Cracroft said in a news release.
“Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella” is, above all else, personal to Thayer. Between his faith and experiences, these stories capture a piece of himself while still delivering a message. “Yellowstone,” a story about a father who takes his family to work as a park ranger for the summer, mirrors Thayer’s own experience as a park ranger in his youth. Between his faith and experiences, these stories capture a piece of himself while still delivering a message. In “Yellowstone,” the message is a clear one.
“You don’t have to play a hero by killing grizzly bears,” Thayer said.