March 14, 2023
2023 art winner

USU’s Creative Writing Contest has named the winners in its 30th annual competition, recognizing the best creative work by USU students. Open to all USU undergraduate and graduate students from all departments and disciplines, the contest awards top writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as visual artists in drawing, painting, and photography. Each category received the blind review of expert judges drawn from the USU and Cache Valley arts community. 

Jacob Taylor was named graduate fiction winner for their story “(in)Voluntarily Bound.” Jacob reflects, “I began writing this story while thinking about the added stress the winter months place on unsheltered populations and individuals fleeing violence. This story grew from intersections of vulnerable populations placed in terrible situations.”

On her winning fiction piece, “Dead Leaves,” undergraduate winner Amber McCuen says, “When trying to respond to a prompt, I looked around my room for inspiration and saw the cowboy hat that I bought as a joke hanging up on my wall. I came up with two brothers fighting over it and then expanded from there. Over the course of the revising process the story changed dramatically—I changed the point of view, removed a character, and wrote an entirely new ending. This story has grown very dear to me and holds pieces of myself and my own experience throughout it, and I’m very excited to get to share it.”

“Abatre” by Jacob Taylor was selected for the graduate nonfiction winner. Jacob notes, “This essay sprung from my experiences working with the unsheltered population in Salt Lake County, specifically navigating the difficult and complex processes of abatement (removal of homeless encampments, often resulting in significant loss of physical resources for unsheltered individuals) implemented by the local government.”

Jay Paine’s essay “We Will Walk Along the River” was chosen as the undergraduate nonfiction winner. “After learning about a friend’s death and studying Ancient Greek, I wondered if an ancient language could have helped me to avoid regret and grapple with grief,” says Jay. “My essay was born from this curiosity. However, the more I wrote, the more I realized that language itself is inadequate for coping with such experiences.”

Lauren McKinnon was named graduate poetry winner for her selected poems. On her winning poem “Moab Mourns Her Ocean Body: a Conversation” Lauren says, “In Moab, I spent a lot of long days hiking by myself in Arches National Park. The red rock bodies made me weep because they made me feel seen. They were beautiful, ancient, and weathered. They withstood thousands of years of beating from wind and flood. People loved these rocks because of the way the natural elements had beaten them into a shape--Arches, hoodoos, sandstone fins. None of this was its original form, thousands of years ago Moab was an ocean, but it couldn't be denied that the desert was beautiful because of the way the weather had contorted its body. This made me feel seen, healed, and sad all at the same time.”

Sariah Gibby was named undergraduate poetry winner for selected poems “Huitlacoche,” “Rollerblading down the Vert Ramp at the Skate Park by Mountain View Elementary,” and “Grandma Time.” I write poetry to preserve the people around me,” Sariah reflects. “It's the little moments that matter the most.”

This is the seventh year the contest has partnered with USU’s international undergraduate literary journal, Sink Hollow. The winning entries will be published next month in a special contest issue, giving this work an international audience.

The winners will also get the chance to share their work locally on April 27th, when they will give a reading at Helicon West. “The Helicon reading of the contest winners’ work is always one of the best nights of the year on campus,” said contest director, Charles Waugh. “We get to celebrate not only the winning work, but also our whole, vibrant writing community here at USU and in Cache Valley.”

The Helicon West reading of the contest winning work will be held April 27th on the USU campus in Library 101 at 7:00 p.m. As always, Helicon is free, uncensored, open to the public, and will include an open mic session.

2023 USU Creative Writing and Art Contest Winners

First:                            Miriam Black, “Split”           

Second:                      Sarah Wessman, “Neighborhood Snapshot”

Third:                          Sarah Monsen, “One Word Worth a Thousand Pictures”                 

Honorable Mention:   Charlotte Anderson, “Making My Way Downtown”                        

Honorable Mention:   Miriam Black, “Midnight; Ocean's Greetings”

Honorable Mention:   Deren Bott, “Bloom; Painted Sunset”

Honorable Mention:   Madalynn Burnham, “In Death We Trust”

Honorable Mention:   Sarah Monsen, “Abandoned”

Honorable Mention:   Cody Jones, “Moon; Raven”

Honorable Mention:   Brianna Pickering, “Seeing Eye to Eye; The Unseen Wild; The Visitor”

Honorable Mention:   Anna Watkins, “Beauty in Death 1; Beauty in Death 2”

Honorable Mention:   Sarah Wessman, “Bismarck Bridge Over the Missouri River; Desperate; Sky-Stained Gown”



First:                Ben Nathan, “Back Down the Corridor”

Second:          Ben Nathan, “Prairie Chairs”

Third:              Ben Nathan, “Fake Lemon Smell”




First:                Amber McCuen, “Dead Leaves”

Second:          Ashleigh Sabin, “The Lament of the Albatross”                               

Third:              Camille Bassett, “Boginka and the Changeling”                              



First:                Jacob Taylor, “(in)Voluntarily Bound”

Second:           Marie Skinner, “Love Pencil #9”

Third:              Jack Bylund, “The Profound Deaths”




First:                Jay Paine, “We Will Walk Along the River”

Second:           Kyler Tolman, “We're Both Free Now”        

Third:               Zachary Brady, “In My Blood”                     



First:                Jacob Taylor, “Abatre”

Second:          Jack Bylund, “The Fairweather God”                        

Third:              Ben Nathan, “Laundry Rooms, Ironing Boards”                              




First:                Sariah Gibby, “Huitlacoche; Rollerblading down the Vert Ramp at the Skate Park by Mountain View Elementary; Grandma Time”

Second:           Paige Marion Fetzer, " Smoky Mountain Fireflies; Love is a Strangeness, Last Chapter; Hers and Mine”

Third:               Noelani Hadfield, “Stomach; Neurotic; Mirrorball”                         



First:                Lauren McKinnon, “Become; Recipe for Generational Trauma; Moab Mourns Her Ocean Body: a Conversation”

Second:          Jacob Taylor, “I used to pray to God; (Over)sharing; Politicized Bodies”               

Third:              Taylor Franson Thiel, “Execute; Etymology of Hysteria; I Praise Vacancy”