*Please download a printer-friendly version of this application, geared towards incarcerated applicants, by clicking here.
PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship will commission six or more writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate.
The PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship aims to harness the power of writers and writing in bearing witness to the societal consequences of mass incarceration by capturing and sharing the stories of incarcerated individuals, their families, communities, and the wider impact of the criminal justice system. Our goal is to ignite a broad, sustained conversation about the dangers of over-incarceration and the imperative to mobilize behind rational and humane policies. As an organization of writers dedicated to promoting free expression and informed discourse, PEN America is honored to have been entrusted by the Art for Justice Fund to engage the literary community in addressing this pressing societal issue.
Applications Open: January 15, 2021
Deadline to apply: 11:59pm EST on February 15, 2021
Listen in as the 2019-2020 fellows share about their experience in the program, read from their impactful projects, and celebrate their impressive accomplishments and offer tips on crafting a strong Writing For Justice application.
Please read the following closely, as our application requirements have changed and our program has shifted due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Writing for Justice Fellowship is open-genre, and proposed writing projects, which must be authored by the applicant, may include—but are not limited to—fictional stories; works of literary or long-form journalism; theatrical scripts; memoirs; poetry collections; or multimedia projects. The most competitive applications will demonstrate how the proposed project will engage issues of reform, fuel public debate, crystallize concepts of reform, and facilitate the possibility of societal change. As part of our mission to stimulate discussion, emphasis will be placed on proposed projects that show strong promise for publication. Fellows must commit to contribute actively to bringing attention to their work and that of other Fellows. The Fellowship is open to writers at any stage of their career. Currently and formerly incarcerated writers are highly encouraged to apply, and special provisions will be made for incarcerated writers to participate through alternative methods.
Fellows will receive an honorarium of between $5,000-$8,000, based on scope of project. Fellows will be paired with a mentor to serve as a source of guidance for the project, and the cohort will convene at least twice for intensive shared experiences either digitally or in person, depending on the pandemic’s continued impact. PEN America will draw on the Writing for Justice Advisory Committee, as well as its network of agents, editors, publishers, partner organizations and outlets in order to assist efforts for publication and dissemination of the work of the Fellows. Opportunities for sharing the created work through public forums will be organized in New York City, in the Fellow’s home community, and possibly additional locations.
The first eight months of the Fellowship are designed for Fellows to research, create, and connect with mentors and the cohort, working toward submission of a polished final product that is ready for publication. The final four months of the Fellowship will focus on placing the works for public dissemination and opportunities for Fellows to present their work publicly.
January 15, 2021: Application opens
February 15, 2021 11:59pm EST: Deadline to apply
May 2021: Applicants notified of final application status
May 2021-December 2021: Fellows work on their projects, meet with mentors
June 2021: Cohort meeting #1 (NYC or digital)
September 2021: Cohort meeting #2 (Location TBD or digital)
Late December 2021: Work completed and submitted for publication
January 2022–May 2022: Placing work and local public presentations
To be eligible for this Fellowship, the applicant must be
- 21 years of age or older.
- An individual writer. Collaborative projects are acceptable, but only one project lead may apply and participate in the Fellowship’s activities.
- Residing in the United States during the Fellowship duration.
- Available to participate actively in all dimensions of Fellowship programming, including mandatory gatherings and public programs. (The Fellowship will cover costs associated with these events, separately from the Fellowship honorarium.) Currently incarcerated writers and formerly incarcerated writers restricted by parole will participate through alternative means.
- Able to demonstrate a track record of successful projects brought to completion on time.
Previous Writing For Justice Fellows are not eligible to reapply.
Membership in PEN America is not required. Please see FAQs below for more information.
Selection Criteria and Process
Given the highly competitive nature of this Fellowship, we advise using discretion in your project application. As a literary Fellowship, awarded projects must center writing as a critical mode of expression in the work, rather than a secondary or supporting aspect of the project. Applicants should be the main writer/creator (rather than editor or compiler) of the work. Fellows will be selected on artistic merit, the project’s approach and potential for impact, and the feasibility of project to be fully completed and in polished, publishable form within the given time frame. Applications will be reviewed by PEN America and expert advisers through an anonymous process.
Applications close at 11:59pm EST on February 15 2021. Fellows will be announced in May 2021.
How To Apply
Closely review all required materials listed below. Please be mindful of the specific application requests. Failure to follow instructions carefully may result in disqualification. Late applications will not be accepted. We suggest you submit early to avoid technical issues. Applicants may only submit one project proposal to the Fellowship.
There is no fee to apply to the Writing for Justice Fellowship.
All non-incarcerated applicants are required to submit online through Submittable.
Currently incarcerated writers who cannot submit via a proxy online are welcome to submit by sending application materials (preferably typed, but clean, legible handwritten applications will also be accepted) to the address below:
Writing For Justice Fellowship
588 Broadway, Suite 303
New York, NY 10012
Required Application Materials
Please login to the application system in advance of submitting, to become familiar with the format materials are requested in.
Typed materials should be:
- 11 or 12 pt standard font (Times New Roman, Arial)
- Spaced at 1 or 1.15
- One-inch margins
Currently incarcerated writers should follow formatting to the best of their ability and estimate word count as closely as possible. We will not disqualify applications for being reasonably over count.
1. Cover Page:
Include name, address, telephone number, email address, and title of the proposed project. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form.
2. Project Title and Brief Description (maximum of 100 words):
Please do not include your name or any other identifying information on any part of the Project Title and Brief Description. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form.
3. Project Proposal (maximum of 750 words):
Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form. Do not include your name or any other identifying information on any part of the Project Proposal. Please respond to the following questions:
- Describe the project, including genre, relevance to the topic of mass incarceration, and the geographic regions your project addresses.
- Share what is new and significant about your project’s approach and why it matters. What inspired your choices and interest?
- Where are you in the timeline of your project? What work do you hope to accomplish during the eight-month creation portion of the Fellowship? What resources would be most helpful in this process? What form of mentorship would your project most benefit from? (E.g., a writer in your genre, an editor, an expert in an aspect of criminal justice/mass incarceration, etc.)
- What impact do you hope your project will have? What audiences/communities are you writing toward? How do you imagine your project might be used to catalyze conversations on mass incarceration? What change might it spur? Please provide specific examples.
- Where do you imagine this project living or being featured? Share any ideas/connections to publications or other relevant venues that might be a good fit for your work.
4. Work sample: 7–10 pages of your written work, or 5 files of multimedia (video, audio, visual). You may submit a combination of both, adding up to the maximum (2 files and 8 pages of writing, for example.) Media files that require watching or listening should be under fifteen minutes in length in total. If you are applying with a project that is already in motion, the work sample content should reflect this. Please do not include your name on any part of the Work Sample, including the file name. Typed work samples should be submitted in the same single file (.doc, .docx or PDF) and formatted with one inch margins and 1.15 or 1.5 spacing. Online applicants will submit as an attachment.
5. Biographical Context (maximum of 500 words): Briefly introduce yourself as a creator. This might be an artist/career biography to express past accomplishments, a statement of philosophy and approach, or an overview of your current practice and/or creative mission. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form.
6. Optional CV (maximum of 2 pages): Encouraged, but not required. Applicants who do not include a CV will not be penalized. Online applicants will fill submit as an attachment.
7. References: Submit three reference names and contact information that can speak to applicant’s track record of success and completion of past projects. These are not letters of reference. This is required for non-incarcerated writers. Incarcerated writers are not required to supply references, but encouraged to do so if possible. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form. References will only be contacted for Fellowship finalists.
Our main stipulation is that the work addresses issues of mass incarceration in a way that will provoke meaningful discussion and the potential of change. The projects should be of creative merit and must be able to be produced in publishable form within the eight-month creation portion of the Fellowship. We will consider projects of different shapes and sizes and at various stages in the creative process. We are not necessarily looking for projects as ambitious as book-length manuscripts or stage-ready plays, though we will consider such projects if absolutely feasible for completion within the 8 month time frame. Given the highly competitive nature of this Fellowship, we advise using discretion in your project application. Applicants should be the main writer/creator (rather than editor or compiler) of the work. As a literary Fellowship, awarded projects must center writing as a critical mode of expression in the work, rather than a secondary or supporting aspect of the project.
- Projects centered on applicant’s personal social media or blog page.
- Projects that are purely promotional or educational in nature.
- Anthology projects that bring the work of multiple authors together.
- Work that is solely in relationship to academic degrees.
- Work produced by organizations.
- Book printing, graphic design, or other costs associated with publishing.
We will consider projects at all stages, but keep in mind that a significant amount of work should occur over the eight-month creative portion of the Fellowship and should benefit from conversation with other members of the cohort, mentorship, and/or research.
Fellows can request mentorship in their field/genre, an expert in a particular aspect of the conversation on mass incarceration, an editor, or other form of support. PEN America will seek a mentor that best fits the needs of the Fellow and will support the pair to meet in person, digitally, or via written communication monthly over the course of the Fellowship.
*Please note: in the event that the pandemic compromises the ability to travel and gather safety, these experiences will take form as thoughtfully produced online events.
Cohort Convening #1: New York City
Fellows who are not currently incarcerated will be invited to take part in a daylong series of roundtable discussions at the start of the Fellowship with partner organizations that can offer deep expertise on issues of mass incarceration. These sessions will focus on spotlighting critical, current debates in the field in order to inform the work of the Fellows and help maximize its relevance to shifting both public opinion and policy. Incarcerated Fellows will receive information from these sessions and will be invited to ask questions of the expert advisers as well as to rely on them for guidance in pursuing their projects.
Cohort Convening #2: Location TBD
The second convening will take place in a state with a high rate of incarceration where PEN America Members are active. This weekend will offer Fellows an opportunity to deep dive into their projects, sharing progress, challenges and resources. Fellows will meet with local affected communities, and be facilitated to mobilize as a cohort of writer-activists to spur greater awareness of mass incarceration across the wider literary and artistic communities. In follow up, they will be able to tap PEN America’s seasoned advocacy and policy staff for assistance in considering opportunities for outreach and campaigning.
Currently incarcerated writers will participate in the Fellowship program via alternative methods of engagement. Mentorship will occur via phone calls, online prison email platforms if available, and/or letters with an identified mentor. Fellows will be invited to pose questions and ideas in advance of the cohort meetings and will be sent materials and notes from the gatherings. If the Fellow has access to telephone, they may also schedule routine calls with the program director for additional support and call into the cohort meetings, to the best of their ability, at a scheduled time. Incarcerated Fellows will receive honoraria as permissible or be able to direct their disposition.
Understanding some formerly incarcerated Fellows might be restricted in various ways, PEN America will work with the Fellows to participate as fully as possible, including supportive interfacing with parole officers or other authorities and making necessary accommodations to support alternative means of engagement.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. We have a membership of more than 7,000 writers and their allies across the United States and offices in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles.
PEN America strives to encourage the role of the writer and the written word in promoting discourse and discussion of vital societal issues. We strive to elevate the voices of communities too often pressed to the margins and to celebrate the craft and creativity of writers, whether established or emerging. PEN America has for decades supported the work of incarcerated writers through its Prison Writing Program, which provides mentorship and an awards program. The Writing for Justice Fellowship is an outgrowth of this long-standing engagement with the experience of incarceration. The program is generously funded by the Art for Justice Fund.
Contact PEN America if you have quick questions regarding the application requirements, submission policies, deadlines, or other Fellowship-related issues at [email protected]. Please do not call.
Please contact Submittable if you are encountering technical issues:
855-467-8264, ext. 3