Barber was given a lifetime achievement award by the Smith-Pettit Foundation and the Association for Mormon Letters for OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO MORMON LETTERS in 2016.

 She won the O. Marvin Lewis Award from WEBER--THE CONTEMPORARY WEST for "Great Basin DNA": Best Essay from the year 2014. 

 Barber's TO THE MOUNTAIN: ONE MORMON WOMAN'S SEARCH FOR SPIRIT was a finalist in the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Annual Award Competition in the Creative Nonfiction Category.

 PARTING THE MORMON VEIL: PHYLLIS BARBER'S WRITING by Angel Chaparro Sainz (Spain: University of Valencia Press, Biblioteca Javier Coy d’estudis nord-americans) was published in 2013 in English and is available on U.S., British and Spanish Angel Chaparro Sainz is a professor at the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.

 "The Knife Handler," an essay from To The Mountain: One Mormon Woman's Search for Spirit, published in Agni Magazine, was cited as notable in Best American Essays 2011 and also in Best American Travel Writing 2011.

"Sweetgrass," an essay from To The Mountain: One Mormon Woman's Serach for Spirit, published in upstreet, was cited as notable in Best American Essays 2010.




Watch the youtube video: a short discussion about TO THE MOUNTAIN:


Jake Clayson, 15Bytes, April 2015

"Barber’s eagerness to find and embrace truth wherever she finds it, coupled with her persistent habit of self-reflective cross-examination, assures us that she is far more concerned with seeking divinity than proving doctrine or disseminating wisdom. “It is not my wish to establish an imperious throne on which I can sit and toss beads, strands and crystals of wisdom to the masses,” she affirms early on. This largely explains why To the Mountain is so disarming and inclusive; whether or not we fully agree with her religious views or embrace her explanation of spiritual phenomena becomes a moot point in light of her theological egalitarianism."

For complete review:



Cutting-edge creativity is just what this award-winning author and teacher of creative writing delivers in this lyrical and insightful account of her search for a more spiritual life. Growing up within the Mormon community, she kept her questions about spirituality and God contained within the traditions of that religion. Once her four sons were raised, and her marriage was no longer a workable idea, she began exploring other spiritual venues with a long-pent-up intensity. Part reverie, part adventure tale, her account of her two-decade search through the ancient wisdom of non-mainstream religious traditions is captivating. She was searching fearlessly and without design for a meaningful connection to her soul and each encounter on her journey brought another piece of the puzzle. From shamans, to goddess worshippers, to the Dalai Lama, each experience moved her closer to the common core that is at the heart of all spiritual paths. When she returned to her Mormon roots, it was with self-confidence and individuality, and with the understanding that she would continue seeking divine answers in other traditions. Let customers know that this is an exceptional and inspiring personal story.


Publisher's Weekly, May 12, 2014 

Barber (How I Got Cultured), a lyrical writer who taught for many years in the Vermont College of Fine Arts M.F.A. program, followed the rules of her Latter-day Saint childhood: attended Sunday School, matriculated at Brigham Young, married a nice boy there, and raised four sons with him. But the marriage ends when the kids are grown, largely because of differing opinions about religion. Thus Barber, in middle age, is launched on a quest to discover what it means “to be spiritual, to be connected.” She visits a mosque, hangs out with a Peruvian shaman, and investigates Buddhism, but after a decade away from the LDS church, she discovers that she is held to Mormonism by memory, by faith, by childhood formation, and concludes that she can live with Mormonism’s “flaws” and “prejudices.” Along the way she has a disastrous love affair, remarries, divorces again, and then reconciles with her second husband, a Jewish man who tells her she is happier when attending Mormon services. Throughout, the prose is lovely; Barber speaks of falling off the “precipice of knowing” and of her faith changing shape like a moon. Spiritual pilgrims of many stripes will find this book good company. (July)

Reviewed on 05/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

The Association for Mormon Letters, 2014

However many of your threescore years and ten you have to enjoy books in blossom, consider spending some of that time with these three books [The memoir trilogy: How I Got Cultured, Raw Edges, To The Mountain]. Each will deepen your understanding of the other. "Raw Edges" is the most intense, and hence the most difficult, but it is worth wading through the deep waters of Phyllis Barber's Exodus, mourning with her as she mourns, comforting and receiving comfort, to take the parallel journey "To the Mountain."

Thinking about what I've gleaned from these books, I find my ephah as full as Ruth's. My gratitude as well. Thanks for the presents, Phyllis. They're lovely. All of them.
To read the complete review:



I read To the Mountain with fascination and delight. It’s a book of passionate thinking and feeling about the nature of reality and the place of human beings in this complex reality. Phyllis Barber looks through the lens of her own experience to discern higher truths. “Who knows the boundaries between lives?” she wonders, in many different ways, exploring the shimmering intuitions that have come to her through travel, relationships, and her own long spiritual questing. This is a book that will lift, console, and challenge readers from many different spiritual traditions, and it’s never less than stimulating.

                                    —Jay Parini, author of The Last Station


Phyllis Barber is both a gifted essayist and an open-hearted guide to the places of the spirit in the wide world and within ourselves. To read her essays is to experience vividly, through her voice, the adventures and discoveries that are revealed most deeply through reflective travel.

                                    —Lawrence Sutin, author of Postcard Memoir


If you keep the Sabbath going to church, smuggle this book into the pew with you. If you keep it staying home, let Phyllis Barber be your guide. These plaintive essays stride and soar, spanning continents and realms of consciousness with honesty, humility, and humor. Barber reminds us that an aching spiritual curiosity drew seekers to Mormonism in the first place, and that the same aching curiosity may drive each of us onward still. I am grateful for this wise fellow traveler and the gift of her luminous prose.

                                    —Joanna Brooks, author, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith


Phyllis Barber’s sensitive, lyrical recounting of her spiritual journey within and beyond Mormonism will resonate with anyone who has ever suspected the Divine of being greater than we can imagine.

                                    —Jana Riess, author of The Twible and Flunking Sainthood


Phyllis Barber sought and found sacred mountains in both spectacular and everyday settings, all the while carrying a bundle of gifts and heartbreaks uniquely her own. In her particularity of Mormon-ness, adventurousness, open-heartedness, and a soul creative to its core, her brave confessions unite and inspire us all. Whatever our bundle, we too can find harmony with and solace in The Other.

   —Dan Wotherspoon, Ph.D., host of Mormon Matters podcast and editor emeritus of Sunstone magazine.


To the Mountain is an amazing story of commitment to the spiritual path. Unattached to the outcome, Phyllis Barber treads ever forward on the spiral to spiritual consciousness, attracting people and experiences that catapult her light years ahead of the masses. A great read, an illuminating story, a surprise ending!

—Jan Phillips, author, No Ordinary Time, The Art of Original Thinking, and Marry Your Muse


To travel the spirited world with Phyllis Barber in To the Mountain is to dance and sing and play Chopin with the abandon born of a radiance as real as a lithe body and inquisitive mine. Her arrivals and exchanges make the personal universal, a skill reserved for the most competent storyteller. To travel with her is to fall in love with life in its most wrenching, soaring, basic offerings.

                                    —Emma Lou Thayne, author, The Place of Knowing


 In her lovely, deeply personal account of her very uncommon spiritual journey, Phyllis Barber gives hope to all who would claim the promise: Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find. She is a genuine pilgrim on the way. May her journey be blessed, as she has blessed.

                                    —Scott Cairns, author, Slow Pilgrim






            Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 2010


 There's no grand ‘aha’ inscribed triumphantly on the last page of our personal narratives, no scene of ultimate redemption. There is only endurance through struggle, which hopefully yields mercy for others and self. By so candidly sharing her weakness, Barber offers readers an opportunity to face their own; by accepting her raw edges, she shows how our ragged selves fit seamlessly into humanity, and how this unity can salve our individual wounds . . . . [W]hile her unsettling journey doesn’t lead to a place of solid truth to rest upon, through her words we hover near enlightenment.

- Kathryn Lynard Soper, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought


We are all like a mouse facing the leopard cosmos of experience out there. I’m impressed with Barber’s ability to capture the life of the mind. I’m so grateful for learning about her book, maybe the best ever for capturing a Mormon conscience at work. Thanks to Barber for having the good sense to publish it.

                                                —Henry Landon Miles


Life isn’t like it is in the fairy tales, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Raw Edges is a memoir from Phyllis Barber as she shares her struggles of falling out of her marriage, a rarity in the Mormon culture where divorce is far from accepted as a common solution. She tells the story of a woman refining herself as a person and how her Mormon faith provided a unique experience on her journey to a new life. Moving and poignant, Raw Edges is a memoir well worth reading for insight on the life of a not-so-common Mormon woman.

                                                 —James Cox, The Midwest Book Review


On the one hand, Mormon women are socialized to put on a happy face and be loyal to our families above all else. In telling our stories we often have to push those expectations to the side and be willing to go to the dark places of our lives. Mormonism does encourage us, however, to keep a record of our lives and we’re also told to be hones. And more than anything, we believe . . . that you can break into a thousand pieces and yet, through the grace of God, become whole again. Phyllis Barber believes . . . that these are the stories that have to be told, these are the stories that Mormon women crave. But first, we have to be brave enough to remove the mask and destroy the illusion of perfection.

                                                —Meghan Raynes,   


Phyllis Barber is no more ordinary than she is complacent. She is a Nevada tried and true whose identity falls in line neither with Utah nor California, but meets somewhere in between. Seemingly a contradictory personality, she, like so many Nevadans, is devotedly directed yet rebellious when necessary. By the time you finish her latest memoir, Raw Edges, you’ll have shared in an unabashed woman’s adventures, serious approaches towards fulfillment, and her accommodations within a constantly changing life. Her story is not only sincere and contemplative, but is creative. It speaks to those of us who tire from simply living at face value and who take pleasure in the growth that follows from a challenge. Raw Edges will keep you thinking, relating your own story to that of hers, and is one you will not easily forget . . . . The reader is sure to identify with the loveable woman, the mother, the pioneer, the divorcee, the person struggling in faith, and of utmost independence. Raw Edges presents the shakable but unbreakable spirit of the Nevadan.

     —Brooke Gauthier, The Nevada Review


 Many marriages dissolve, but seldom has a participant in the dissolution been willing to explore the process with such candor or purpose as has Phyllis Barber in this raw and moving memoir . . . . Divorce and its aftermath form a road many of us travel, but few have the will (or the self-knowledge) to map it with such telling accuracy—or such beautiful writing. 

                                                —Betsy Burton, The Inkslinger, March, 2010


 Few people are willing to go marrow-deep in search of truth. Barber’s remarkable memoir about her lifelong search for the meaning of love and spirituality is the story of every woman on this planet who ever uttered the words ‘I love you’ to a man and then was stunned at the aftermath. Her style is spare and elegiac, her story is honest, heartfelt, and unforgettable. I highly recommend Raw Edges—a beautifully written story of what it means to be a wife, mother, lover, and independent woman.

                                                —Jo-Ann Mapson, author of The Owl & Moon Café: A Novel


 Barber’s empathy and ability to articulate the emotions of divorce, loss, and struggle render her more than simply a regional or Mormon author, but an author of national scope.

                                                —Foreword Reviews, March 2010


 Taking divorce far from the orbit of statistics and self-help manuals, Barber gives readers a minor epic of poignant healing and self-discovery. At a time when we’re accustomed to seeing failed relationships through the kaleidoscope of advice columns and talk-show gabbing, Barber takes divorce into the territory of literary art.

                                                —Ben Fulton, The Salt Lake Tribune, February 28, 2010





            Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992, hardcover

            Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1994, paperback


          Winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction - 1992


            Awarded “Best Autobiography”  by the Association for Mormon Letters - 1993

            Anthologized in    FOURTH GENRE, Allyn and Bacon: Boston

                                      LITERARY LAS VEGAS: The Best Writing About America’s

                                                 Most Fabulous City, Henry Holt, New York

                                       FRAME WORK, Bedford Books, Boston

                                       THE RIVER UNDERGROUND: An Anthology of Nevada

                                                 Fiction, University of Nevada Press, Reno

Listed in the Las Vegas MERCURY’s “The Best Books About Sin City,” September, 2001

Featured on the NBC - TODAY Show, April, 1997                            

Named on of the five best books written about Las Vegas on, January,                                        2012


 This is an absorbing, often comic, always vivid account of a childhood torn between the demands of a strict Mormon household and the enticements of a thoroughly secular world. . . .For all the anguish of her search for a culture larger and freer than that provided by her religion or her community, there is a compassion, an illuminating tenderness in her remembering. . . .In its shape, its tone, its humor, and its verbal authority, this memoir bears comparison to Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

                                                Scott Russell Sanders


 Phyllis Barber’s How I Got Cultured is simply the best memoir of Mormon girlhood written in this century. It is a subtle, supple dance on the creative frontiers of autobiography where the interplay of passion and irony begins with the title. . . .In her loving revisitations and evocative recreations, the conventional and traditional become part of the dance–transformed by compassion and love into gestures of grace.  

--Citation for AWP Award in Autobiography, 1993


 Barber’s delightful memoir of her childhood. . .boasts humor and a dignified look at the bittersweetness of growing up. In a Nevada she perceives as a cultural wasteland, young Phyllis casts around for a little excitement, glamour, or accomplishment that could survive the desert and wouldn’t bring her into conflict with her Mormon family’s beliefs and ideals. . . .Each section of the book stands alone as a sweet and mysterious tale and showcases the author’s talent for storytelling.                                                                     



[Barber] comes up with a sizzling portrait of the life of a girl who grew up in a Mormon family in Boulder City, Nevada, then moved ‘twenty-five miles away to another planet called Las Vegas.’ . . . .Her writing is often delightful and occasionally spectacular.

                                                The Boston Globe  


In my mind, her work stands as one of the most powerful pieces of literature produced by a Nevadan. . . .Barber is a gifted storyteller whose humor and observant nature make this compelling narrative the equal to any other book about growing up in America.

                                                Daily Sparks Tribune


 Phyllis Barber had the kind of childhood first novelists dream of, which is what makes her memoir such a wacky, poignant hoot. . . .

                                                Los Angeles Times Book Review  


“Jesus didn’t need to be a Rhythmette to be loved,’ said Mother starchily.” How I Got Cultured is the memoir of a remarkable daughter who does splits and cartwheels along her own fine line between fame and damnation.

                                                Voice Literary Supplement  


 How I Got Cultured is a breakthrough book. It begins to present the full Mormon picture–neither caricatured nor idealized–that we Mormon writers MUST present if we are to firmly establish ourselves in the borderless literary canon. And Phyllis Barber is an ideal writer to do this for us. She is herself a literary explosion, something like the nuclear bomb test cloud she describes in her book, a cloud that ‘flowered, mushroomed, turned itself inside out, and poured into the sky.’ And could be seen, I might add, from miles away.”






            Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1991, hardcover

            Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Press, 1993, paperback


            First Prize in Utah Fine Arts Literary Competition, Novel Category, 1988

Chosen by Utah Endowment for the Humanities Library Series and featured at Library Discussion Groups in Utah and Wyoming, 1993-1998

            Excerpted in “Ellipsis,” Fall 1988


 . . . .touching and absorbing, epic and particular, always intelligent, and everywhere artful. . . .Ms. Barber’s novel is astonishing in its historical acuity and in its storyteller’s compassion. This is a remarkable accomplishment. A book with the heart of Grapes of Wrath, the conscience of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and the grace of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

                                                C. Michael Curtis, Senior Editor, The Atlantic Monthly


 When you reach the last page of Phyllis Barber’s And the Desert Shall Blossom, you will experience a frisson of the soul, revealing the presence of a miracle. This miracle is the completion of the Hoover Dam, the culmination of one family’s destiny, and the epiphany of the novel itself, an extraordinary work of art, history and love.

                                                —Annie Dawid, Western American Literature


 Barber makes the prose into a psychological signature of the characters and of the dam-building community; she transcribes theology as personality, landscape as inscape. Although this stylistic technique at times seems self-conscious, the book is the clearest account of people struggling with the double bind of western economic and Mormon spiritual idealism I’ve read since The Giant Joshua.

                                                Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought


 In Mormon letters, it can be read as the most powerful epic of struggle and redemption since Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua. Yet like the Colorado River, which the book’s characters are trying to stop in its channel behind a giant wall of concrete called the hoover Dam, Ms. Barber’s story can’t be contained by labels and boundaries. . . .What is compelling about Ms. Barber’s characters is that they are not unblemished. They are a complex circuitry of human and divine, sacred and profane, harsh and tender. . . .Saints and sinners are the same people in Ms. Barber’s novel. . . .

                                                Salt Lake Tribune





            Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Press, 1999


. . . .When an author is convinced he knows the truth and that his job is merely to translate that truth into words, the writing is bound to be propagandistic. But Barber, like all good writers, has a sense of discovery embedded in each of these stories. They draw from Mormon mythology, not in the sense that they are untrue, but rather in the literary sense that they are based on other stories, true or untrue, that are known throughout Mormon culture. . . .Barber draws on familiar Mormon stories and reworks them, often instilling them with a humanity they lack on their own.”                                                              Salt Lake Tribune


. . . Phyllis Barber’s literary sensitivity to Mormon and Western history has already been demonstrated in How I Got Cultured. . .and And the Desert Shall Blossom. In Parting the Veil, Barber develops a literary interest in Mormon folklore to produce what may be her most important fiction yet. . . .Perhaps the biggest contribution of the collection is hinted at by the title. . .The foundations of the Restoration (of the LDS Church) were laid by people who concretely witnessed heavenly beings acting among men. There is no workable way to “spiritualize” or “metaphorize” these events that makes any sense in literary or historical writing. Barber thus breaks new ground away from such distinguished literary Mormon forebears as Maurine Whipple, Vardis Fisher, and Virginia Sorenson. . .who won critical acclaim nationally but also sold out their essential Mormonness. . . .the Mormon studies community has become more sophisticated in our understanding of historiography, [but] we have not yet fully incorporated an understanding of folkloristics into our enterprise. Phyllis Barber’s book, in a small way, may help us see wider vistas.

                                                ----Journel of Mormon History


 Most of the stories that are not fantastic at face value at least leave the reader wondering at the reality of strange visions and touched by their haunting presence. Barber often takes her reader from the mundane world to the world of visions and spirits so quickly and seamlessly that a reader can be caught off guard. That these two worlds are one in the classic Mormon mind is, of course, her very point. . . a step in the right direction for Signature Books.”






            Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1990


In her first collection of stories, Phyllis Barber peoples a stark Western landscape with women suspended between earth and their own desires by the dense web of others’ expectations. . . .rich and moving portraits of women deformed by the imbalance of internal and external pressures. . . .The world Ms. Barber portrays in this collection is not a pleasant one, but the force of her writing compels us to explore it.

                                                New York Times Book Review


Each of the stories in this collection deserves separate and close analysis: each deserves time and engagement. Meanings are not readily or conventionally accessible but require tapping of our deeper, sometimes suppressed sensibilities. . . .Go into The School of Love and find her; go in and find yourselves.

                                                Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought


Each finely crafted story offers the reader a passing glimpse, a shared moment, a painful discovery of love. . . .The author has filled her ‘glimpses’ of love with the life and power that comes from the heart: ordinary women, ordinary situations that speak so clearly of the ways in which we all struggle to find and define and express love.

                                                The Westcoast Review of Books


 Phyllis Barber, who is both a writer and a musician, has a prose style that is rare for both its control and its richness. She is not afraid to exert control, nor to abandon it when it is necessary to let go. . . .Tragedy and comedy are not far apart in these pages.”

                                                Weber Studies






            New York: McElderry/Macmillan, 1991


This book was not reviewed, though it won notice from the Seventh Day Adventists who voted it one of the top ten children’s books from MacMillan in 1991. Margaret McElderry, the well-known editor of children’s books, decided to publish the book with great enthusiasm. However, so the story goes, when she presented the book to the marketing department, they were of the opinion that the book was too sad and therefore decided not to promote it. Thus, there are no reviews available.






This book was commissioned by Bob Reese for Aro Publishing, Provo, Utah, in 1980 for $300. While it is not a work of literary genius, it was the author’s first published book and therefore, a grand event for her, her children, and grandchildren.