2nd Annual Payton Prize Awards Reading

Thanks to everyone who attended the second annual Payton Prize Awards Reading! It was a fantastic event, with an absolutely extraordinary talk on weathering rejection by Stephanie Anderson in addition to her reading her stunning essay “Greyhound,” and followed by a brilliant reading of her “Urban Dictionary Definition that Saved Me,” by Drake University Superstar Anie Salgado.

Introductory Remarks, delivered by Amy Letter:

Thank you Nancy Reincke, director of the Writers and Critics series, the Drake University Center for the Humanities, the Department of English at Drake, and most importantly, the Freeman Family, Debbie and Rob, who are also my sister and my brother-in-law, who are generously supporting this national contest in the name of their son Payton, who lived five years before Spinal Muscular Atrophy (or SMA) took his life.

We tell our stories and we try to find the heart in them, we try to find the ocean, we try to find the gold and fire and the taste of sweet summer fruit. We look for those elemental things that hold us to our mythic past, those deep universals that reveal our shared blood and struggle. But how do we tell the tale of gold and fire and thirst and the hunt when our stories include such things, such things so central and terrible to their plots, with names like “spinal muscular atrophy”?

Debbie Freeman, Payton’s mom, developed an interest in nonfiction when she got active in the search for a treatment and a cure for SMA, when she began fundraising for research scientists and for groups who bought the equipment that eased the lives of these children. To do this work, she had to become an advocate, she had to tell her story, she had to tell her son’s story, she had to tell the SMA story.

The job of the storyteller has always been hard. The job of language, some argue, is impossible. And yet somehow, with alarming regularity, humble earth-bound mortals combine words in just such a way that they create magic in the minds of others. The author transcends the boundaries of a single life; the reader does too. It’s an experience that leaves us not just knowing more but being more.

For five years Debbie Freeman struggled to tell these stories, and in the end, when Payton died, so many people came to his funeral they did not fit in the church. It was a grand space, but people crammed the pews and stood lined up against the walls and crouched in the aisles and overflowed into the front hall and into the drive and the hedges and the street. Passersby probably thought a famous person had died, or some community leader. But the child who died, though bright and curious, had been deprived by a paralyzing disease of the ability to even smile, let alone speak. Nonetheless thousands knew him, and loved him, through story – through the power of his mother’s words.

With a love for the good that true stories can do, and a respect for the hard-writing storytellers who compose them, the Freeman family brings you our two storytellers tonight.

Anie Salgado is a senior majoring in Writing, Sociology, and Gender Studies here at Drake whom I have had the privilege of knowing since First Year Seminar.

Of the essay she will read tonight, the author Papatya Bucak wrote:

<<In “The Urban Dictionary Definition That Saved Me,” Ana Gabriela Salgado (“call her Anie”) reminds us that no-one should be defined by the color of their skin, the sound of their name, or even the size of their earrings.  In this essay, Salgado defines herself with humor and intelligence. She is frustrated by the behavior of those who can’t seem to absorb her mixed-race identity, but she also comprehends her own savvy use of situational identities. What appears to be a light-hearted complaint runs very deep indeed. By the end of her essay, Salgado has proven that words can define us quite well, as long as we have the skills to wield them—and wield them she does.>>

You can read “The Urban Dictionary Definition That Saved Me” in its entirety at this link.



Stephanie Anderson is the winner of this year’s national essay contest, judged by Emily Rapp. Her essay “Greyhound” has been published in The Rumpus.

She writes works of literary journalism, narrative nonfiction, and literary fiction. Her writing often focuses on agriculture, food, the environment, the farmer identity, personal relationships, and animals. Having grown up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, Stephanie is particularly interested in the prairie and rural life.

Stephanie’s work has appeared in Devil’s Lake, The Chronicle Review, Farm and Ranch Living, Coastlines, and SCOPE. Her short story “The Wickedest Thing They Ever Saw” was a finalist for the 2014 Devil’s Lake Annual Driftless Prize in Fiction. Her essay “Winter” won the 2013 Aisling Award in Nonfiction from Coastlines.

Stephanie holds a MFA in creative nonfiction from Florida Atlantic University. She teaches memoir and poetry classes for lifelong learners, and she has taught undergraduate creative writing and academic composition. Prior to attending graduate school, she worked as a writer and photographer for a humanitarian aid organization, traveling to developing countries to gather personal stories from aid recipients. Stephanie also served as special sections editor for an agricultural newspaper in South Dakota. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

Of her winning essay, Emily Rapp wrote:

<<“Greyhound,” is a beautiful, haunting essay about the different kinds of love, and what we do to keep and hold those we love, even if they hurt us. Ultimately, it’s a story about a complicated survival and a willingness to carry on, to learn, to continue to be curious and loving, even when people disappoint you, often wildly. I was impressed by the amount of material this essay was able to hold: it was so compact, and yet it moved out in so many unexpected directions, and the author’s ability to juxtapose terror and tenderness without a hint of sentimentality, or without becoming overwrought, was impressive.”>>

Stephanie’s Anderson’s essay, “Greyhound,” may be read in its entirety at The Rumpus.

The Susan Glaspell Writers and Critics Reading Series brings writers and critics to Drake University to speak to students and give readings of their work and ideas.

All of our events are free and open to the public.