The best free literary contests with deadlines through August 31 |

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Winning Writers Newsletter - July 2021

View Free Contests

We found over two dozen excellent free poetry and prose contests with deadlines between July 15-August 31. In this issue, please enjoy "The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy, illustrated by Julian Peters.

Open Now
19th year. We will award $3,000 for a poem in any style or genre and $3,000 for a poem that rhymes or has a traditional style. Ten Honorable Mentions will receive $200 each (any style). The top 12 entries will be published online. The top two winners will also receive two-year gift certificates from our co-sponsor, Duotrope (a $100 value). Length limit: 250 lines per poem. Entry fee: $15 for two poems. Multiple entries welcome. Final judge: S. Mei Sheng Frazier, assisted by Vernon Keeve III. Deadline: September 30. Submit online here.

Coming Next Month
We'll announce the winners of our 20th Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest.

View past newsletters in our archives. Need assistance? Let us help. Join our 135,000 followers on Twitter and find us on Facebook. Advertise with us, starting at $40.

Recent Honors and Publication Credits for Our Subscribers

Congratulations to Tara Campbell, Michaela Brady, Tammy Delatorre, James Breeden, Gerald Everett Jones, Stuart Jay Silverman (featured poem: "Greek Fire"), Robert Paul Blumenstein, Thelma T. Reyna, Shobana Gomes (featured poem: "A Place to Dream"), Simon Peter Eggertsen (featured poem: "of dementia nonsense before departing"), Peggy Kopman-Owens, J. Paul Cooper, Trina Porte, and Elaine Abramson.

Winning Writers Editor Jendi Reiter's poems "Close", "Soul Contract", and "Lower East Side Playground, 1974, 2014" were published in Atelier of Healing, a poetry anthology about trauma and recovery, edited by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé and Eric F. Tinsay Valles. Read these poems online here.

Winning Writers contest judge Ellen LaFleche's poem "Global warming: 103 degrees with half moon rising" was featured in a virtual exhibit at Forbes Library in Northampton, MA. The exhibit's theme was "In This Together: A Virtual Exhibit on Planetary and Human Health", showcasing creative writing and artwork by Western Massachusetts residents. It will run from July 5-September 5.

Learn about our subscribers' achievements and see links to samples of their work.

Have news? Please email it to

Ad: Submit Your Book Manuscript at Atmosphere Press

So far in 2021 Atmosphere authors have sold thousands of books across five continents, received starred or featured reviews with Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, and have even appeared on a giant billboard in Times Square. Atmosphere has had books with 1,000+ first-month sales in four different genres, and their Author Connect program unites their authors with each other like no other press. And they're just getting started.

Atmosphere Press currently seeks great manuscripts, and they'll be the publisher you've always wanted: attentive, organized, on schedule, and professional. They use a model in which the author funds the initial publication of the book, but retains 100% rights, royalties, and artistic autonomy. From an exceptional editorial team through book design and into promotion, partnering with Atmosphere is the way to do your book right.

So, send your manuscript their way. Submissions are free and open to everyone and in all genres.

Ad: Rattle Poetry Prize Deadline Today!

Rattle Poetry Prize

Deadline: TODAY, July 15 (11:59pm Pacific Time for online entries)

The annual Rattle Poetry Prize celebrates its 16th year with a 1st prize of $15,000 for a single poem. Ten finalists will also receive $500 each and publication, and be eligible for the $5,000 Readers' Choice Award, to be selected by subscriber and entrant vote. All of these poems will be published in the winter issue of the magazine.

With the winners judged in a masked review by the editors to ensure a fair and consistent selection, an entry fee that is simply a one-year subscription to the magazine—and a runner-up Readers' Choice Award to be chosen by the writers themselves—the Rattle Poetry Prize aims to be one of the most writer-friendly and popular poetry contests around.

We accept entries online and by mail. See Rattle's website for the complete guidelines and to read all of the past winners.

Please enjoy this past Rattle Poetry Prize Winner by Roberto Ascalon, published in Rattle #42, Winter 2013:


     or How Come Some Brown
     Boys Get Blazed Right
     Before Class and Other
     Questions Without Marks

how much damn broke
does it take to want to
burn just before class
lung green with chaos
how many times the
police come to the door
way past late, your auntie
face forlorn and flashing
in the turning blue, how
much knuckle in a boy
fist gotta break cheek till
body want to go numb
how much brave you
gotta front, pay forward
like a hard stare, like a
work muscle jaw
how many legal papers
say stay or go, right or
nothing, home or jail
love or palm skin
how many words
or promises did dad
mom and god knows
who else have to crush
so that you spit out
your eyes and slouch
like a demon, daring
me to call out your
name, as if it had
power anyway, as if
your own name, when
you strangle it out
your throat spill god
stuff, god, like a broke
egg, baby born into
fire, how come fire
put you to bed instead
of sweet hands, good
hands, why they put bad
hands, why bad hands
why the fire this time
god, why, we ain’t done
nothing, nothing yet
nothing yet and nothing
wrong, except the babies
are on fire, on fire, babies
burning by the stairs
before school begins

Ad: A Supportive and Inspiring 4-Week Online Poetry Retreat Created by Poets for Poets

Two Sylvias Press Online Poetry Retreat

NEW THIS YEAR: Guest Poets Diane Seuss & Jennifer Givhan!

WHAT YOU NEED: Access to email and a desire to write new poems.

WHAT WE PROVIDE: Poem prompts, sample poems, a Two Sylvias Press publication, a PDF of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity & Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey (this book has been named #3 of the "Best New PR Books" by Book Authority, as featured on CNN, Forbes, and Inc.) as well as reflection questions/activities to guide and inspire. All prompts, writing exercises, and inspiration sent daily or weekly to your email (your choice!)

AND—at the end of the retreat, an award-winning poet will critique one of your poems and offer ideas on where to submit them! (Summer participants choose critiques from Diane Seuss, Traci Brimhall, January Gill O'Neil, Jennifer K. Sweeney, and Jennifer Givhan! Or if you choose the October retreat, receive critiques from the editors of Two Sylvias Press!)

Praise for Two Sylvias Press Online Poetry Retreat
"I decided to take the Two Sylvias Press Online Poetry Retreat as a way to reignite my passion for writing poetry and reconnect with my 'poet's mind' after not writing poetry for several years. The format was perfect for me—it enabled me to work alone and at my own pace while still feeling connected through daily prompts and encouragement. The result: I wrote more poems in that four-week period than I had written in as many years and new poems are still coming. The feedback I received was insightful and improved the poems while still showing respect for the essence of the work."
     —Cathy J. (read other testimonials here)

Click here to learn more and register.

Ad: Grayson Books Poetry Prize

Grayson Books

Deadline: August 15

The 2021 Grayson Books Poetry Prize is now open. All poets writing in English are invited to submit. Electronic submissions only, please. Use our submission manager to enter your 50-90 page manuscript. The winner will be awarded a $1,000 prize, publication, and 10 copies. Reading fee: $25.

Please do not put contact information on the manuscript. Acknowledgments may be included with your submission, but are not required. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable if we are notified immediately about an acceptance elsewhere. Multiple submissions are fine; each must be accompanied by a fee.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer is this year's contest judge. Her most recent poetry collection, Hush, won the Halcyon Poetry Prize, and her work has appeared in O Magazine, A Prairie Home Companion, PBS NewsHour, Poetry of Presence, and in her daily poetry blog, A Hundred Falling Veils. She cohosts Stubborn Praise, an online poetry reading series, along with James Crews, and cohosts Emerging Form, a podcast on the creative process.

Please enjoy these poems from Thief by our 2020 winner Jennifer Stewart Miller.

Because the pear tree

is as fluffy-white and absurd as a prize poodle,
and thunder clouds sidle into the blue sky like thieves;

because the maple's new leaves are as tiny
and perfect as the hands of a fetus,

and anyone can see that some toucans
lead secret lives as tulips;

because all the shades of green we've named are not
enough, and over and over we sow the seeds,

and peony buds bulge like bellies pregnant
with overdue babies,

while the lawn mower droning in the distance
aspires to be a hive of bees—

in spring, I should know better, but still—
I want to sink down on my knees.

Blizzard Aubade

All night long, the snowplows plowed up
our shawling dreams—my love,
we were scraped down to the road
and salted to sleep again and again.

What was frozen melted and froze anew,
and still it kept snowing—joys and regrets
piling up, drifting into corners and against
doors. Wind howled at our windows.

Like a woolly mammoth, morning lumbers
toward us. As it was long ago—thick wool
of forgotten eons—we drowse in our
downy burrow, bodies spooned, respiration

slowed. Our history is buried in snow.
What was human is only mammal now.

Ad: HEART Poetry Award


Deadline: August 31

Nostalgia Press will award $500 and publication in HEART 16 (Winter 2021). Honorable Mentions also published.

John Sibley Williams

  • Judge: John Sibley Williams
  • $10 entry fee covers 3 poems
  • All contestants will receive the Winter 2021 issue of HEART
  • Submit prose poems that are insightful, immersing, poignant, and reflective (example)
  • Submit unpublished work only
  • On each page, please include your name, address, phone number, and email address (this information will be hidden so your work can be judged blind)
  • Winners will be announced on the Nostalgia Press website
  • Submissions will not be returned

Submit online or mail your entry to:
Nostalgia Press
Attn: HEART Poetry Award
115 Randazzo Drive
Elloree, SC 29047

Please enjoy this poem by Jeff Burt of Mount Hermon, California, winner of our 2019 HEART Poetry Award:


Let me suffer the blessing of blindness
under this wide platinum sky.

When winter has returned
with its short chapped orbit

let my vision ache from the image
of the sun red on my eyelids

witnessing sunset near red cedars
standing on a frozen creek

tracking fox prints and scattered feathers.
Let my footfalls crack

the murdering ice, my hunger
diminish with sufficient bread,

my word gutter like the stuttering light
of candles, a wick drowning in wax,

then diminish into whispers,
evaporating cyclones of breath.

Let me chug the air until my lungs burn.
Let me trample. Let me slog. Let me empty.

Let me bury the downed bird of song
in the evergreen thicket of hope.

Ad: On The Premises Short Story Contest (no fee)

On The Premises

Deadline: Friday, September 3, 11:59pm EDT

Last time we checked, 77% of web-based fiction magazines pay their fiction writers nothing.

So did 60% of print-only fiction magazines!

If you'd like to try getting paid for your fiction, why not consider us? Since 2006, On The Premises magazine has aimed to promote newer and/or relatively unknown writers who can write creative, compelling stories told in effective, uncluttered, and evocative prose. We've never charged a reading fee or publication fee, and we pay between $75 and $250 for short stories that fit each issue's broad story premise. We publish stories in nearly every genre (literary/realist, mystery, light/dark fantasy, light/hard sci-fi, slipstream) aimed at readers older than 12 (no children's fiction).

The premise of our 38th contest is "Monster". For this contest, write a creative, compelling, well-crafted story between 1,000 and 5,000 words long in which someone or something is considered to be a monster...and maybe that's accurate! Maybe you're writing a straightforward horror story. Or maybe the "monster" label is terrible and undeserved. Or is the truth somewhere in between? That's entirely up to you.

Any genre except children's fiction, exploitative sex, or over-the-top gross-out horror is fine. We will not accept parodies of another author's specific fictional characters or world(s). We will accept serious literary drama, crazy farces, and any variation of science fiction and fantasy you can imagine. Read our past issues and see!

You can find details and instructions for submitting your story here. To be informed when new contests are launched, subscribe to our free, short, monthly newsletter.

"On The Premises" magazine is recognized in Duotrope, Writer's Market,, the Short Story and Novel Writers guidebooks, and other short story marketing resources.

Ad: The Dream Quest One Poetry and Writing Contest

Deadline: September 22

The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest is open to anyone who expresses their innermost thoughts and feelings as beautiful literary art that's worth telling everyone! We welcome all who dream…Write a poem or short story to compete for cash prizes totaling $1,275. All works must be original.

Prose prizes: $500, $250, $100
Write a short story, 5 pages maximum, on any subject or theme; fiction, nonfiction, or creative nonfiction (including essays, journal entries, and screenwriting). Entry fee: $10 per story.

Poetry prizes: $250, $125, $50
Write a poem of 30 lines or fewer on any subject. All styles and forms accepted. Entry fee: $5 per poem.

All entries must be typed or neatly hand printed. Multiple entries welcome. You may simultaneously submit work to this contest and to other contests. All winners will be published online on our Dare to Dream pages on October 31. Read past winning entries.

Enter via email or mail. See details!

Our Mission
The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest seeks to inspire, motivate and encourage anyone having the desire or love of poetry and writing to continue doing so without fear of failure or success! Remember, in whatever you do, "it's okay to dream," for dreams do come true…

Ad: Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century

Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Centure

Please enjoy this excerpt from Juliana Aragón Fatula's review of Puro Chicanx that appeared in La Bloga on July 2:

"In this historic anthology, we meet poets, scholars, and la gente anxious to tell their stories. This irreverent, rebellious, inventive, rasquache, distinguished compilation contains poetry and prose by the talent of candid 21st Chicanx writers in the U.S. These writers offer an assemblage that will be used in Chicanx Studies, Ethnic Literature, Chicanx Literature, Creative Writing and Poetry classrooms, and writing workshops. Students in high schools and universities will benefit when this book is added to their literature curriculum to advance in education and lead the world in racial equality and cultural diversity, this book belongs in our schools and libraries. This anthology deserves every award and praise it receives. Lessons learned in these works lend the reader an eye to Chicanx culture often marginalized and undervalued.

"Many of these writers are Chicanx icons in the literary canon. They communicate their own distinctive attitude about impoverishment, social and health issues, and the necessity to educate our children to think one world, one people. They are warrior poets who weave the motherland's tapestry."

Ad: Bullies in Love by Jendi Reiter

Bullies in Love

Jendi Reiter's second full-length collection, with fine art photography by Toni Pepe, is published by Little Red Tree.

Poet Carol Smallwood says, "The writing dazzles, surprises, and beguiles the reader with its unexpected vistas. The photography questions what we see; the poems question the ever present role of sex, probe comfortable personal assumptions and our collective cultural fairy tales."

Please enjoy this sample poem and purchase Bullies in Love on Amazon.

Mis Numeros

Una lagartija, one
salamander — son
spun in the vernal womb, you turn
on my lap to gum this page,
dos hojas, two
leaves like your double tree
of names, mothers, she
(me) who waited and she who grew
you, the reason we learn
to try these words on our tongues
like the wet fruit you mash in your fist,
tres fresas, three
strawberries, why is death the color of kisses,
quatros corazones, four
hearts that never banged
against baby ribs like the good ringing
of your spoon on wood,
cinco zanahorias, five
carrots sunrise splattered, scattered
brothers in a fairy tale,
your other father's sons
baptized in Colombian rain —
him salamander again, gone to ground
to work without a name,
paperless, surviving in the cracks, as
seis serpientes, six
snakes of my lean years whispered praise
for quiet rooms, bare cellars, battle-rest
that you laugh at each dawn, silver
rattle crash that shakes
siete estrellas, seven
stars from the sky over two nations,
four ancestors, unnumbered questions
you will bellow, my April ram,
when these words become yours.

Inspired by the bilingual picture book Mis Numeros by Rebecca Emberley

Spotlight Contests (no fee)

Some contests are best suited to writers at the early stages of their careers. Others are better for writers with numerous prizes and publications to their credit. Here is this month's selection of Spotlight Contests for your consideration:

Emerging Writers
Diverse Writers/Diverse Worlds Grants. The Speculative Literature Foundation will award two diversity-centered grants (Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds) of $500 apiece for book-length speculative fiction rich in diversity. Diverse Writers is for "underrepresented and underprivileged groups...whose marginalized identities may present additional obstacles in the writing/publishing process"; Diverse Worlds is for "work that best presents a diverse world, regardless of the writer's background". Submit an excerpt of 5,000 words or fewer from an in-progress manuscript. Due July 31.

Intermediate Writers
Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets. The Wordsworth Trust and the British Library will give two top awards of 5,000 pounds: one for the author of a poetry chapbook published or self-published in the UK between March 1 of the previous year and the contest deadline, and one for an outstanding UK publisher of poetry chapbooks. Winning poet will become Harvard University's Michael Marks Poet in Residence in Greece in the Spring following the deadline year. Books should be no more than 36 pages. Due September 17.

Advanced Writers
Debra E. Bernhardt Labor Journalism Prize. The New York Labor History Association and LaborArts will award $1,000 for a published article that furthers the understanding of the history of working people in the US or Canada. Entries should have been published in print or online between August 31 of the preceding year and August 30 of the deadline year. Articles focused on historical events and articles about current issues (work, housing, organizing, health, education) that include historical context are both welcome. Due August 30.

See more Spotlight Contests for emerging, intermediate, and advanced writers within The Best Free Literary Contests database.

Search for Contests

Calls for Submissions

Winning Writers finds open submission calls and free contests in a variety of sources, including Erika Dreifus' Practicing Writer newsletter, FundsforWriters, Trish Hopkinson's blog, Erica Verrillo's blog, Authors Publish, Lambda Literary, Lit Mag News RoundupPoets & Writers, The Writer, Duotrope, Submittable, and literary journals' own newsletters and announcements.

Mom Egg Review: "Mother Figures" Issue (poetry, fiction, essays about iconic real or fictional mothers - July 15)

PTO Magazine (creative writing and artwork about post-capitalist utopia - July 15)

Voices of Lincoln Poetry Contest (poetry by youth and adults on the theme "If Life Were a Game Show, What Would Poets Say?" - July 20)

Uncharted Magazine (speculative, mystery, and horror stories - July 31)

Subnivean: Summer Open Reading Period (poetry and short fiction - August 1)

The Best New True Crime Stories: Unsolved Crimes and Mysteries (narrative journalism about cold cases - September 1)

Rattle "Librarians" Issue (poetry by current and former librarians - October 15)

The Best New True Crime Stories: Crimes of the Famous and Infamous (narrative journalism about celebrities committing crimes - January 1)

PSA: Why the Third-Grade Reading Level Matters

Why the Third-Grade Reading Level Matters

Condensed from a post at ProLiteracy:

In the adult literacy field, we often cite the statistic that 43 million adults in the US cannot read above a third-grade level. But have you ever wondered why the third-grade level is significant? Educators have determined third grade is when students transition from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn (Weyer & Caseras, 2019). 

When a learner reaches the fourth-grade level, 85 percent of the curriculum shifts from the learner's ability to just read the content to the learner's ability to actually comprehend the content (The Children's Reading Foundation). 

The Annie E. Cassie Foundation discovered that students who were unable to read at the third-grade level were four times less likely to graduate high school (Fiester, 2010). In addition, a study from the Ohio Department of Education found that when students met the third-grade milestone, they were five times more likely to achieve college and career readiness. 

A more educated adult population would increase the earning potential of individuals while providing huge benefits for the economy as a whole. Bringing all adults to the equivalent of a sixth-grade reading level would generate an additional $2.2 trillion—or 10% of GDP—in annual income for the country.

Though the goal is still to help as many students as possible to reach the third-grade reading milestone, some learners will continue to fall short. For this reason, we must continue to seek out innovative ways to engage adults in literacy learning—whether in traditional adult education classrooms, with digital applications, or using a combination of both—to bring low-literate adults up to their full potential.

Learn more at ProLiteracy.

Favorite New Resources

Here are some of our favorite newly added resources at Winning Writers. For a full list, see our Resource pages.

Author Level UpAuthor Level Up
Sci-fi and fantasy author Michael La Ronn shares tips on writing, publishing, and marketing

Balloons Lit. Journal
English-language online journal based in Hong Kong publishes creative writing and art for readers aged 12-16

International literary magazine for writers aged 14-18

Fantasy Map Generators and Worldbuilding Tools
BookRiot recommends these 10 free or paid sites to visualize your fictional terrain

Graphic Policy
News and reviews about the comics industry, with emphasis on mainstream properties

Independent Book Review
Review site specializing in small press and self-published books

Website collects information of interest to children's book writers and illustrators

Know Your Rights: Key Provisions in a Publishing Contract
Literary agent and attorney Joseph Perry explains typical contract terms

Magic Dragon
Magazine for art and writing by children aged 12 and under

Metonymy Press
Small press in Montreal publishes queer, feminist, and social justice literature

Paper Lanterns
Irish journal of literature for teens and young adults

Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts
Interfaith literary journal with a social justice orientation

Software for organizing research documents

Rainbow Book List
American Library Association's annual recommendations of LGBTQ books

Self-Publishing School
High-priced, intensive coaching program to finish and promote your book

Smoke and Mold
Literary journal for trans writers focusing on nature and climate change

Online literary journal focused on comics and graphic narratives

The Comics Journal
Online journal offers in-depth history and reviews of comics

The Self Publisher
Novelist and writing coach C.S. Lakin shares advice on designing and marketing your books

"The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy, illustrated by Julian Peters

Poems to See By features 24 classic poems with visual interpretations by comic artist Julian Peters. Mr. Peters has graciously allowed us to reprint "The Darkling Thrush" from the book.
The Darkling Thrush
The Darkling Thrush
The Darkling Thrush
The Darkling Thrush
The Darkling Thrush
The Darkling Thrush

The Last Word

Jendi Reiter

Free at Last
Readers of this blog may remember my pen pal "Conway", the poet and artist who was serving 25-to-life under California's three-strikes sentencing law for stealing a motorcycle. This Independence Day finally has real meaning for him, because he is FREE! He is thriving in a re-entry program in Los Angeles, reuniting with his devoted daughters and learning how to use the Internet. He dreams of opening up his own auto repair shop and tattoo parlor. Read more of his poetry here and here, or browse the Prison Letters category on this blog.

Read more

Jendi Reiter is the editor of Winning Writers.
Follow Jendi on Twitter at @JendiReiter.