2022 Free Expression Essay Competition Winners

PEN America is excited to announce the winners of our first annual Free Expression Essay Competition. 

Over one hundred high school and college students wrote in to tell us what free expression means to them, addressing a wide range of topics like artistic freedoms, civil rights, freedom of the press, and personal experiences with censorship. Student writers took to the page to explore challenging questions surrounding free expression, and put forth strong arguments for human rights and against censorship.

Congratulations to our winning students!


High School Division:

1st place: Noah Barkan – $3,000 prize

Noah Barkan invoked his personal experience with censorship to argue for the power of press freedoms in his essay, “Freedom of Expression.”

2nd place: Lindsay McBride – $2,000 prize

Lindsay McBride employed a creative prose format to frame the well-researched content of her essay, “Home of the Free, Land of the Grave: An Elegy for Expression.” 

3rd place: Jonathan Frame – $1,000 prize

Jonathan Frame wowed our judges with an essay about musical mashups that explored free expression in an artistic context.

College Division:

1st place: Tara – $4,000 prize

Tara connected her personal experience as a novelist with the censorship of LGBTQ+ identities rampant in her community in “The Heroes and Villains in Censorship of Young Adult Literature.”

2nd place: Lindsey A. Williams – $3,000 prize

Lindsey A. Williams drew a thoughtful line between the freedom to express oneself and the freedom from criticism for doing so in “Democracy in the Ivory Tower: Notes on Speech from a College Campus.”

3rd place: Kristiana Filipov – $2,000 prize

Kristiana Filipov explored how the internet both normalizes and complicates our relationships to free speech in her essay titled “The Internet was a Mistake: Censorship Beyond the State.”


Special thanks to our judges, which included PEN America’s Free Expression Programs staff, author Susan Choi, author Ashley Hope Pérez, journalist Chris Tomlinson, and professor Bryn Upton. 

We also thank all who participated in this year’s essay competition, and encourage high school and college students to stay tuned for an announcement of the next competition cycle; and, above all, to stay passionate about the human right to free expression in a world that increasingly seeks to shut expression down. 

PEN America is deeply grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for its generous support of PEN America’s National Student Free Expression Essay Competition.

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