PEN America sponsors the annual PEN Prison Writing Contest as part of the Prison and Justice Writing program. Anyone incarcerated in federal, state, or county prison or jail is eligible to enter. Submissions are accepted between January 1 and December 31 (formerly September 1 but we have since extended the annual deadline) of each year. Winners are announced the following Spring.  

Prizes of $250, $150, $100, and $25 are awarded for first, second, third, and honorable mention places. Winners are also published on the PEN America website ( Authors retain all rights to their own writing.

Incarcerated writers may submit material in the genres of poetry, fiction, nonfiction (essay and/or memoir), and drama (screen/stage play). Authors may not submit more than one entry in each category, except in poetry. Authors may submit entries to more than one genre (e.g. fiction and drama). No application or form is necessary.

The submissions guidelines are as follows:

  • Include a brief cover letter that includes your name, address, identification number, the genre(s) you are submitting to, and the title(s) of your piece(s).

  • If you are submitting poetry, the maximum page limit is 20.

  • If you are submitting to drama, fiction, or nonfiction, the maximum page number per submission is 25.

  • Complete novels or memoirs are not allowed. Please send a short excerpt of no more than 25 pages. The excerpt you choose should be what you consider to be the best reflection of your work.

  • Manuscripts should be typewritten and double-spaced whenever possible, or legibly handwritten on 8.5-by-11-inch paper.

  • Please be sure to send copies of your work, not the originals. PEN is unable to return manuscripts. Always include a return address.

  • Entries must be unpublished manuscripts, with the exception of pieces that have appeared in publications for the prison population only. Previously published manuscripts will not be considered.

Any topic that moves you is fit for our contest, and no entries will be disqualified based on content. Any subject matter will be considered.

Selected winning entries will receive an honorarium, as well as be published on PEN America’s web site and in an annual print anthology. In addition, award winning authors will be offered a mentor through the PEN America’s Prison Writing Mentorship Program. In some instances, writers who do not win an award but whose efforts are recognized also offered a mentor.

Winners will be selected and notified in the spring of the following contest year. You can request a list of the contest winners by writing to us.


Rolling, entries received by December 31 will be submitted to that year’s contest.

Submit by sending work to:

PEN America Prison Writing Program
ATTN: 2022 Annual Contest Entry
588 Broadway Suite 303
New York, NY 10012