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MFA Students Cap Off the Fall English Reading Series

Mauri Pollard Johnson, Ruth Arce, and Shayla Frandsen share their writing on motherhood, grotesque museum exhibits, and religion.

Paxman Student Reading icon

Although the English Reading Series typically features established authors, on December 2, three MFA students took the spotlight in the fall 2022 Paxman Student Reading. The reading, a long-running tradition, takes place during the last presentation of the semester. This time, the series featured Mauri Pollard Johnson, Ruth Arce, and Shayla Frandsen as they shared their writings from a variety of genres including creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction.

Johnson read first, sharing two creative nonfiction essays with the crowd. The first was titled “How to Know If You Are Nesting as a 26-Year-Old Non-Mother.” The piece began with a wry exploration of the cultural expectations of motherhood. “For some reason, people think they have the right to know when you will start popping out babies—because you are a woman and because this is what women do: they have babies,” Johnson read. But the piece ended on a tender note as Johnson wrote about the ups and downs of raising a hypothetical daughter.

Next up was Arce, whose poetry struck a rather different tone. Arce was introduced by a fellow MFA student who likened her poems to “walking through David Lynch films, Silent Hill, and Slayer’s Reign in Blood album art.” True to this description, Arce’s poetry examined the grotesque with an artist’s eye. Her first poem, “My Benign Teratoma,” dealt with a tumor; her second, titled “Plastified Body,” dealt with a museum exhibit displaying real human bodies—in Arce’s words, “a polymerized afterlife where there is a sign-up sheet by the exit.”

Shayla Frandsen read last, sharing an excerpt from a short story of hers called “Armored Saints.” The passage depicted an encounter between the protagonist of the story, Agatha, and a strange group of girls carrying a suit of metal armor in a forest. In the Q and A following the reading, an attendee asked how Frandsen achieved the “creepy whimsiness” of the story, which featured intersecting themes of feminism and religion. Frandsen responded that religion “lends itself very well to these things, these concepts and images that can happen in real life but still have this element of the otherworldly.”

In bite-sized selections of their work, these three student authors shared a taste of the creative writing being produced at BYU—from incisive (yet introspective) essays to poetry on bizarre curios.

Join us at the first installment of the winter 2023 English Reading Series on January 20 in B092 JFSB, where Adam O. Davis will be sharing his award-winning poetry.