Contests from outside donors inspire students to write

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Emma Croft had no idea the religious essay she wrote for her creative writing class would end up winning several hundred dollars. When her teacher read the piece, he encouraged Croft to submit it to the David O. McKay Essay Contest, one of the lesser-known writing competitions at BYU.

Hope Thomas
BYU student Naomi Hilton reads winning essays of the David O. McKay contest. (Hope Thomas)

Christian Values Center administrator Jane Brady said she wishes more students knew about the contest.

‘“It’s really a hidden gem on campus,” Brady said.

The eight to 10 winning essays receive prizes each year ranging from $700 to $1,200. The money comes from a fund started by Grace and Obert C. Tanner, who started the contest and named it after Obert’s good friend and skilled wordsmith David O. McKay.

“Writing the essay empowered me as a writer, and it also taught me that ‘nontraditional’ beliefs can deeply resonate with others,” Croft said. “It was extremely valuable to me as I further developed my writing and my testimony.”

Another lesser-known competition at BYU is the Vera Hinckley Mayhew Student Creative Arts Contests. It was started by Wayne E. Mayhew in honor of his wife Vera, a former BYU student.

Poster for the Vera Hinckley Mayhew contest

Originally a contest for short stories, BYU eventually added contests for poetry, playwriting, music composition, essays, visual arts and screenwriting. Each contest has multiple winners and the cumulative prize money is $13,000.

Submissions for the Vera Hinckley Mayhew contest are due Feb. 8 and submissions for the David O. McKay contest are due Feb. 15. Both contests are open to undergraduate and graduate students.

Thomas Russell, one of the judges for the Vera Hinckley Mayhew contest, said he believes writing is one of the most valuable skills students can develop.

“The ability to express themselves or ideas clearly and in creative ways is valued across industries and professions,” Russell said.

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