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Winter 2023 Paxman Student Reading

Meet three of the best writers on campus.

A multitude of talented writers call BYU their school, their home, and their alma mater. At the Paxman Student Reading that concludes each semester’s run of the English Reading Series, attendees get to hear from three such writers. The ERS board invites graduate students finishing their MFA in creative writing to share some of their writing and expertise in poetry, creative nonfiction, and short story. For the winter 2023 semester reading on April 14, they chose poet Cosenza Hendrickson, essayist Sarah Safsten, and writer Rebecca Callahan.

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Hendrickson’s peers know her for writing a masterful poem in five minutes, as well as letting poems marinate for weeks or months. She has published poems in Inscape, a few of which she read to the audience—including one poem that was part of her thesis, and a few personal projects.

Classmates describe her poetry as thoughtful, full of emotion, and simple yet rich. She contemplates the big (like eternity), the small (like chicken biscuits), and her faith through her poetry. Through her writing journey, she has discovered that “sometimes the best poems come out of everyday life and not your trip to Europe.”

Creative Nonfiction
Safsten was a 2020 winner of the David O. McKay Essay Contest. She taught creative writing classes while doing her MFA and danced on the BYU ballroom dance team. She often incorporates dancing into her writing. Her skill shows in her attention to the rhythm and melody of her writing, her ability to write about hard topics, and how she taps into aspects of the spiritual in her essays.

Demonstrating this, Safsten read an excerpt from her essay “On Feet Keeping,” inspired by both leading and following in dance and the hymn lyric “keep thou my feet” (from “Lead Kindly Light”). Her essay explored different meanings of the word keep (such as keep calm, keep safe, keep the change, keep a promise), vulnerability, resentment, and then solace in the experience of leading, following, and placing ourselves in the hands of God.

Short Story
Callahan served as the coordinator of this semester’s English Reading Series. As a writer, her peers recognize her as passionate and precise, with a skill for beautifully arranging her words. She writes with wit and sass and a great love for her art. In her short stories, she develops realistic characters who remind us of ourselves.

Callahan read from her short story “Over the County Line.” The story started with a desert house, a boy looking for a ride to Oregon to surprise his online girlfriend for her birthday, a lost and imagined mother, and a gamer girl who picks the boy up to give him a ride to the interstate. As she read, the audience hung on every word, drawn in by delicately laid detail and curious characters, like the boy who made up stories about his unknown mother.

The Revision Process
After the readings, the writers gave advice about the revision process during a brief Q&A session. They each shared a little of their own revision processes and some tips for everyone, agreeing that often in the revision process, writers must be ruthless without being driven by their emotions. If you need to cut parts of your writing, you can save it in an orphanage or graveyard—a document where you save cut thoughts that could still be useful later for other projects. Hendricks offered, “Think, ‘Is this language good? Are these words working?’” Safsten also advised that you must learn when to trust feedback and when to trust your own artist’s instinct. Remember that as the author, revisions are up to you.

With that, the winter 2023 English Reading Series has drawn to a close. Congratulations to Hendrickson, Safsten, Callahan, other 2023 MFA graduates, and all other students graduating this year. Keep your eye on the ERS website for the fall 2023 schedule.