Arts & Humanities

USU Creative Writing & Art Contest Announces 2023 Winners

By Ashley Wells |

"Back down the corridor" by Ben Nathan took first place in the graduate student category of USU's 30th annual Creative Writing & Art Contest.

USU’s Creative Writing & Art 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.”

“I began writing this story while thinking about the added stress the winter months place on unsheltered populations and individuals fleeing violence,” Taylor said. “This story grew from intersections of vulnerable populations placed in terrible situations.”

On her winning fiction piece, “Dead Leaves,” undergraduate winner Amber McCuen said: “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.

“This essay sprung from my experiences working with the unsheltered population in Salt Lake County,” Taylor said, “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,” Paine said. “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 said: “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,” Gibby said. “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 in a special contest issue in April, giving this work an international audience.

The winners will also share their work locally, 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 begin at 7 p.m. April 27 in Room 101 of the Merril-Cazier Library on the USU Logan campus. As always, Helicon West is free, uncensored, open to the public, and will include an open-mic session.

2023 USU Creative Writing and Art Contest Winners



  • Miriam Black, “Split”
  • Sarah Wessman, “Neighborhood Snapshot”
  • Sarah Monsen, “One Word Worth a Thousand Pictures”
Honorable Mentions:
  • Charlotte Anderson, “Making My Way Downtown”
  • Miriam Black, “Midnight; Ocean's Greetings”
  • Deren Bott, “Bloom; Painted Sunset”
  • Madalynn Burnham, “In Death We Trust”
  • Sarah Monsen, “Abandoned”
  • Cody Jones, “Moon; Raven”
  • Brianna Pickering, “Seeing Eye to Eye; The Unseen Wild; The Visitor”
  • Anna Watkins, “Beauty in Death 1; Beauty in Death 2”
  • Sarah Wessman, “Bismarck Bridge Over the Missouri River; Desperate; Sky-Stained Gown”


  • Ben Nathan, “Back Down the Corridor”
  • Ben Nathan, “Prairie Chairs”
  • Ben Nathan, “Fake Lemon Smell”



  • Amber McCuen, “Dead Leaves”
  • Ashleigh Sabin, “The Lament of the Albatross”
  • Camille Bassett, “Boginka and the Changeling”


  • Jacob Taylor, “(in)Voluntarily Bound”
  • Marie Skinner, “Love Pencil #9”
  • Jack Bylund, “The Profound Deaths”



  • Jay Paine, “We Will Walk Along the River”
  • Kyler Tolman, “We're Both Free Now”
  • Zachary Brady, “In My Blood”


  • Jacob Taylor, “Abatre”
  • Jack Bylund, “The Fairweather God”
  • Ben Nathan, “Laundry Rooms, Ironing Boards”



  • Sariah Gibby, “Huitlacoche; Rollerblading down the Vert Ramp at the Skate Park by Mountain View Elementary; Grandma Time”
  • Paige Marion Fetzer, " Smoky Mountain Fireflies; Love is a Strangeness, Last Chapter; Hers and Mine”
  • Noelani Hadfield, “Stomach; Neurotic; Mirrorball”


  • Lauren McKinnon, “Become; Recipe for Generational Trauma; Moab Mourns Her Ocean Body: a Conversation”
  • Jacob Taylor, “I used to pray to God; (over)sharing; Politicized Bodies”
  • Taylor Franson Thiel, “Execute; Etymology of Hysteria; I Praise Vacancy”


Ashley Wells
English Department


Charles Waugh
Department of English


Arts 237stories

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