PEN America Prison Writing Award Winners: 2023

Established in the aftermath of the Attica Prison Riots in the mid-1970s, the PEN Prison Writing Awards recognize the exceptional voices of incarcerated writers in the United States working within the genres of poetry, fiction, essay, memoir, and drama. With the help of the PEN America Prison Writing Committee, prizes of $250, $150, $100, and $25 are awarded for first place, second place, third place and honorable mentions in each genre. Winners were also recognized in two special award categories: the Bell Chevigny Award in Women’s Nonfiction, and the Fielding A. Dawson Award in honor of promising works. Both special awards are named in commemoration of former committee members.

The winning entries will be published in a forthcoming anthology in December 2023, which can be preordered here. Previous anthologies of work honored by the PEN Prison Writing Awards can be purchased here.

Submissions for the 2024 PEN Prison Writing Awards are now open and will be accepted until December 31, 2023. Learn more about how to submit here.



First Place

Erik Tschekunow, “This Call Is from an Inmate at a Federal Prison (‘They say you eventually get desperate’)”

Second Place

B. Batchelor, “The Self as an Unlit Wick in Bed ”

Third Place

Matthew A. Stoy, “Keepers”

Honorable Mentions

Joel Davis, “Mythos”

Fausto Cabrebra, “Not Pictured”

Robert McCracken, “Where I Come From”



First Place

Ellis Acton Currer, “In The Cemetery Where My Sins Are Buried”

Second Place

Crystal Avilla, “Things that go Thump in the Night”

Third Place

Peter Dunne, “The Visit”

Honorable Mentions

Fernando Rivas, “Contraband”

Matthew Mendoza, “Hinges & Runners”



First Place

Tomas Keen, “What Really Complicates Writing About Prison”

Second Place

Paul Brown, “Do Not Resuscitate”

Third Place

Mario Castro, “Tell Me Why It Doesn’t End”

Honorable Mentions

Brian Beals with Peter Sanders, “An Insider’s Perspective of the IDOC’s Creation and Its Fundamental Failings”

Emilio Fernandez, “Anatomy of a Cell: Four Ways”

Franklin Lee, “Continuously Dumbfounded Confused…and Repeat…and Repeat…My CDCR COVID, Experience Round 2″



First Place

Kevin Schaeffer, “Songs for the Dead”

Second Place

Marina Bueno, “The Things I’ve Learned in Prison”

Third Place

Wes Lee/Bryon Petitt, “Maybe Tomorrow”

Honorable Mentions

Andrew Suh, “Prison Dad”

Geneva Phillips, “Holding”

Anthony Rhodd, “The Dream of Fields” 



First Place

Toussaint Daniels, The Story of Violence

Second Place

David E. Babb, I’m Nobody” 

Third Place

Joshua Peterson, “An Infernal Internal Dialogue”

Honorable Mentions

Kevin Potts, “Be Patient with Me”

Burl N. Corbett, “Riding the Thumb, With Angels”



Bell Chevigny Award in Women’s Nonfiction

Catherine La Fleur, Denouement

Fielding A. Dawson Award in Poetry

Kenneth Meyers, “I Vaguely Recall What Flowers Are For”

Fielding A. Dawson Award in Fiction

Aaron Hill, “Guilt”

Fielding A. Dawson Award in Nonfiction

Dontez Daniels, “Why My Black Life Don’t Matter”

Fielding A. Dawson Award in Drama

Rashuan Black, The Bogeyman”