PEN America sponsors an annual writing contest for prisoners. Anyone incarcerated in a federal, state, or county prison in the year before the September 1 deadline is eligible to enter. Prizes of $250, $150, and $100 are awarded for first, second, and third place, respectively, in each of the following categories: poetry, fiction, drama, nonfiction and memoir. Read winners from past contests by visiting our archive.

Contest Guidelines:

PEN’s Prison Writing Contest accepts contest submission between January 1 and September 1 of each year. Winners will be announced the following Spring. Manuscripts should be typewritten and double-spaced whenever possible, or legibly handwritten on 8.5-by-11-inch paper. All submissions should be accompanied by a brief cover letter with the author’s name, identification number, and complete mailing address.

Authors may not submit more than one entry in each category, except in poetry, which has a 20-page limit.

Only unpublished manuscripts will be considered, with the exception of pieces that have appeared in publications for the prison population only. Any subject matter will be considered.

Please be sure to send copies of your work, not the originals. PEN is unable to return manuscripts. Always include a return address. Selected winning entries will be published on PEN’s web site.

Download a printable PDF guide to our available programs.
Download a printable PDF of the contest guidelines.

Please send entries to:

PEN Writing Awards for Prisoners
PEN American Center
588 Broadway, Suite 303
New York, NY 10012


The Prison Writing Contest Prizes are sponsored by the generous support of the Greenburger Center for Social & Criminal Justice.