The best free literary contests with deadlines to April 30 |

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Winning Writers Newsletter - March 2020

View Free Contests We found over three dozen excellent free poetry and prose contests with deadlines between March 15-April 30. In this issue, please enjoy "Critics", an excerpt from The Forerunner by Kahlil Gibran.

Jim DuBois

We'd like to give special recognition to Jim DuBois, who ably stepped in as a new assistant judge in our 2019 North Street Book Prize competition and continues this year. We deeply regret omitting his name from last month's announcement of the winners. 

Last Call!
Deadline: April 1. 19th year. $2,250 in prizes, including a top award of $1,000. Final judge: Jendi Reiter. Previously published work accepted. See last year's winners and enter here.

Deadline Next Month
Deadline: April 30. 28th year. $8,000 in prizes, including two top awards of $3,000 each. Fee: $20 per entry. Final judge: Dennis Norris II. Previously published work accepted. See last year's winners and enter here.

Coming in next month's newsletter: We'll announce the winners of our 17th annual Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest. View past newsletters in our archives. Need assistance? Let us help. Join our 128,000 followers on Twitter. Advertise with us, starting at $40.

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Recent Honors and Publication Credits for Our Subscribers

Congratulations to Geoffrey Heptonstall (featured poem: "A Late Memorial"), Gifford MacShane, Meg Eden (featured poem: "Response to the Brother Who Wants to Move in After the Earthquake:"), Gail Thomas, Ken Allan Dronsfield, Ellaraine Lockie, J. Paul Cooper, Kathleen McCormick, Antoinette Carone, R.T. Castleberry, and R. Bremner.

Winning Writers Editor Jendi Reiter was interviewed by Susan Glass for the Slate Roof Press blog this month about their winning poem in the 2019 Glass Prize Broadside Contest, "Psalm 55.21".

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

Have news? Please email it to

2020 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor (no fee)

Craig van Rooyen

Rolling Deadline

Rattle is proud to announce Craig van Rooyen's "Siege Machinery", which appeared in issue #64, as the winner of the 2020 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor.

We established the Neil Postman Award for Metaphor in honor and remembrance of Neil Postman, who died on October 5, 2003. The intention of the award is simple and two-fold: to reward a given writer for their use of metaphor, and to celebrate (and, hopefully, propagate) Postman's work and the typographical mind. Each year, the editors choose one poem that was published from regular submissions to Rattle during the previous year. There are no entry fees or submission guidelines involved. The author of the chosen poem receives $2,000.

For more information and to read all fourteen previous winners, please visit the award's webpage. To submit your own poems, choose any free submission option on our Submittable page.

by Craig van Rooyen

Dusk slides beneath her dress,
creeps across her thighs, slips

over the rise of her belly.
Night gathers in the hollow

at the base of her throat.
I know she hears knives sharpening

when I unzip her,
the dress down-fountaining

over her bare feet. I can vanish
into the dark small of her back,

my bristled chin plowing
down its single row.

But there are places I dare not touch.
The timpani behind a knee,

the bowstring throat, a taut
and fluted ankle:

each an old crime scene
still taped off.

Yet, she has learned to open,
guiding the hot blades

of my hands into untouched places
that burn with their own furnaces.

I don't pretend to be a healer,
bring only my glinting hook of need

to petal open her ribs, crack through
the gristle of her assembled face.

She is a horse, gravid
with the bodies of old lovers.

With them, I move inside her
waiting to set the city on fire.

—from Rattle #64, Summer 2019 

Now Available: Write 30 New Poems in April!

Optional poem critique from the editors of Two Sylvias Press

Back by popular demand: Write 30 new poems for NaPoWriMo!

Celebrate National Poetry Month with 30 NEW prompts delivered directly to your inbox each day in April!

Also available: a CRITIQUE of one of your poems by the Editors of Two Sylvias Press! (Space is limited.)

Sign up today to receive a prompt sent to your inbox each day in April!

We also have a limited number of poem critiques available from Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, the editors of Two Sylvias Press. Receive personalized and detailed feedback for a modest added cost.

Click here to learn more & sign up for our April Poetry Prompts to be sent to you!

$6,000 in Prizes: Nimrod International Journal’s Literary Awards for Fiction and Poetry

Nimrod Literary Awards

LAST CALL! April 1 deadline

The 42nd annual Nimrod Literary Awards—The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction—are open. The Awards offer first prizes of $2,000 and publication and second prizes of $1,000 and publication. Winners will be brought to Tulsa in October for the Awards Ceremony and Conference for Readers and Writers. All finalists and semi-finalists will be considered for publication at a rate of $10 per page.


  • Poetry: 3-10 pages
  • Fiction: 7,500 words maximum
  • Fee Per Entry: $20 payable to Nimrod, includes a one-year subscription

No previously published works or works accepted for publication elsewhere. Author's name must not appear on the manuscript. Include a cover sheet containing major title(s), author's name, full address, phone, and email. Entries may be mailed to Nimrod or submitted online.

For complete rules, visit Nimrod's website.

Last call! Win $1,000 for a Humor Poem (no fee)

Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest

Dancing Poetry Contest

Dancing Poetry Festival

Deadline: April 15

Now in its 27th year, all Dancing Poetry Festival prize winners will receive a prize certificate suitable for framing, a ticket to the 2020 Dancing Poetry Festival at the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Theater at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, and an invitation to read their prizewinning poem at the festival.

Three Grand Prizes will receive $100 each plus their poems will be danced and filmed. Many smaller prizes. Each Grand Prize winner will be invited onstage for photo ops with the dancers and a bow in the limelight.

Please look at photos of our Dancing Poetry Festivals to see the vast diversity of poetry and dance we present each year. For poetry, we look for something new and different including new twists to old themes, different looks at common situations, and innovative concepts for dynamic, thought-provoking entertainment. We look forward to reading your submissions. See the complete contest rules and please enjoy "Tapestry" by Jennifer Lemming, winner of a Grand Prize in 2019.

Solstice Annual Contest for Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction

Deadline: May 5

Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices (The Best American Essays 2018, Notable Essays 2015 & 2016, a Best of Net, and Pushcart poetry finalists) announces our annual contest. $1,000 Fiction prize; $500 Poetry Stephen Dunn Prize; $500 Nonfiction Michael Steinberg Prize. Reading fee: $18. Submit here, and purchase our latest print issue.

$2,800 Short Fiction Prize

Deadline: April 30

The 2020 CRAFT Short Fiction Prize is now open to original fiction up to 5,000 words. Three winners will be selected by guest judge Alexander Chee, with $2,800 awarded. Each winner receives publication with a written introduction by the judge; first place also wins a subscription to Journal of the Month. We look forward to reading your work! Submit here.

Alexander Chee is the bestselling author of the novels Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. His essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, T Magazine, Harpers, Vulture, and Best American Essays 2016 and 2019, among others. He is the winner of a 2003 Whiting Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in prose, the AAWW Lit Award, the Publishing Triangle's Randy Shilts Nonfiction Award, and a Lambda Literary Trustees Award. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic, an editor at large at VQR, and teaches as an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

CRAFT works with all writers, established as well as emerging. We use craft as a focal point and a lens through which to present fiction. We explore the art of fiction with a focus on the elements of craft. We feature new and republished fiction, critical pieces on craft, interviews, book annotations, and much more.


Win $3,000 for a Story or Essay

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

  • Sponsored by Winning Writers and Duotrope
  • Final judge: Dennis Norris II
  • Both published and unpublished work accepted
  • $8,000 in total prizes
  • Top 12 entries published online
  • Fee per entry: $20
  • Submit online by April 30

Curt Johnson Prose Awards

2020 Curt Johnson Prose Awards

Deadline: May 1

DECEMBER MAGAZINE seeks submissions for our 2020 Curt Johnson Prose Awards in fiction and creative nonfiction. Prizes each genre — $1,500 & publication (winner); $500 & publication (honorable mention). All finalists will be listed in the 2020 Fall/Winter awards issue. $20 entry fee includes a copy of the awards issue. Submit one story or essay up to 8,000 words. For complete guidelines and judge information visit our website.

december, founded in 1958 and revived in 2013, has a distinguished legacy of publishing the early work of little-known writers and artists, many of whom became major literary figures, including Donald Barthelme, Marvin Bell, Stephen Berg, Rita Mae Brown, Raymond Carver, Stephen Dunn, Donald Hall, Michael Harper, Donald Justice, Ted Kooser, Philip Levine, Joyce Carol Oates, Marge Piercy, William Stafford, C.K. Williams, Charles Wright, and James Wright.

Montreal International Poetry Prize

Montreal International Poetry Prize

Creative Nonfiction Seeks New Essays

Creative Nonfiction wants essay submissions

Deadline: May 18

Creative Nonfiction is currently seeking new essays for upcoming issues of the quarterly magazine.

We're open to submissions on any subject, in any style. Surprise us!  

We pay a flat $125 + $10/printed page on publication. $3 fee to submit online, or free for current subscribers.

Essays must be previously unpublished and no longer than 4,000 words. Multiple submissions are welcome, as are entries from outside the United States.

Complete guidelines here.

Elk River Writers Workshop - Early Application Recommended

Elk River Writers Workshop

The Elk River Writers Workshop embodies the idea that deep, communal experiences with the wild open the door to creativity. We bring together some of the most celebrated nature writers in the United States with students who are serious about fostering a connection with the environment in their writing. It all happens at Chico Hot Springs, a historic retreat just north of Yellowstone National Park.

Our workshop takes place in one of the most wild and beautiful settings in the country, a place which has inspired the work of conservationists, writers and artists for over a century. During our five-day workshop, we offer critiques of students' writing, excursions in and around Paradise Valley, and a chance to join a community of writers, artists and conservationists who are attempting to tackle climate change in their lives and art.

Workshop classes take place in the mornings at Chico Hot Springs and are limited to 10 students each. In the afternoons, students may select from a menu of excursions with experts in local ecology, wildlife and archaeology. Learn more and apply online.

The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest

Deadline: August 15

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 with 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 October 18, 2020. 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…

Suanne Laqueur's An Exaltation of Larks: "An ambitious yet accessible novel"

An Exaltation of Larks

An Exaltation of Larks spans three decades and follows the intertwined fates of Alex Penda, a refugee from the 1973 coup in Chile; Valerie Lark, who befriends Alex after his arrival in New York; and Javier Landes, an aspiring writer who supports himself as an escort to wealthy women.

An Exaltation of Larks won the grand prize in the 2017 Writer's Digest Book Awards, and took first place for Genre Fiction in the 2019 North Street Book Prize competition. Final judge Jendi Reiter wrote,

"Two 9/11 events frame the novel: the CIA-backed coup on September 11, 1973 that replaced Chile's president Salvador Allende with the dictator Auguste Pinochet, and the World Trade Center attack in 2001. Despite these references, Exaltation wasn't a political book, more an exploration of how people find a new family and home base after traumatic displacement.

"For me the strength of this book was the characters' rich inner lives—their yearning for love and their devotion to one another…There were not enough books in the contest where I genuinely felt something for the characters. This was one of them. Halfway through the novel, I was putting the sequels [A Charm of Finches and A Scarcity of Condors] on my Goodreads."

Read an excerpt from An Exaltation of Larks (PDF)

Buy An Exaltation of Larks from the author's website or on Amazon

Blackwax Boulevard: Five Years, What a Surprise by Dmitri Jackson

Blackwax Boulevard

Mama's Needle by Jeanette Stickel

Mama's Needle

First Prize, Children's Picture Book, 2019 North Street Book Prize

"I love the book's focus on the needle and the way it symbolized joy and imagination, power and empathy, creativity and thrift. Consider these lines from the book, in which the boy is describing his dream: 'That needle caught a bird flying by, but it didn't hurt it' and 'it speared some leaves shivering in a tree, and rays from the sun.' These poetic words meld beautifully with the colorful drawings of fabric and scraps."
—Ellen LaFleche for Winning Writers

In this engaging picture book, a young African-American boy tells of his mama's needle and her spool of long white thread. She uses it to patch holes in the knees of his pants, bind scraps of cloth into quilts, and stitch dreams into reality. When he has a magical dream of her needle and thread, his mama stitches the images onto a quilt. "Her long shiny needle stitched those pieces together for remembering. Mama says I should go ahead and fly with my dreams."

And he does, taking his quilt with him. It becomes a cape as he rides a dog sled up a snow-covered mountain; a parachute, a saddle-blanket on a camel, a tent, a sail on a sailboat and finally, a flying carpet. "And maybe, some day we'll meet, when you're off flying with your dreams."

Read an excerpt from Mama's Needle (PDF)

Buy Mama's Needle on Amazon

The King of Karaoke by Bob Sylva

The King of Karaoke
First Prize, Mainstream/Literary Fiction, 2019 North Street Book Prize

In his short story collection The King of Karaoke, Bob Sylva, a retired newspaper columnist for The Sacramento Bee, depicts the diversity and resilience of immigrant life in his native city. Sadness and struggle lend these tales a realistic flavor, but they end on a note of optimism about human connection, a pleasant change from the fashionable bleakness of much literary fiction.

This well-written, heartwarming story collection would make a great book-club selection or "One City One Book" reading assignment.

Read an excerpt from The King of Karaoke (PDF)

Buy The King of Karaoke from the author's website

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
Great American Think-Off. US writers may submit essays up to 750 words on a selected philosophical theme. Four finalists receive $500 and an expenses-paid trip to New York Mills, MN in June for a debate to determine the contest winner. The 2020 topic is: "Which is more important: to win or to play by the rules?" Due April 1.

Intermediate Writers
James Laughlin Award. Recognizes a US poet's second book of 48-100 pages in length, under contract to a US publisher and forthcoming in 2021. The Academy of American Poets will award the winner $5,000, a weeklong residency in Miami Beach, FL, and buy 1,000 copies of the winning book for distribution to its members. Publisher should submit four copies of manuscript or page proofs (no bound books or galleys) with author's name removed and entry form. Due May 15.

Advanced Writers
Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. The Writers' Trust of Canada will award C$50,000 for novels or short story collections published in Canada by Canadian citizens or permanent residents. The May 20 deadline is for books published between March 11 and May 19 in 2020. Submit entry form, press kit, and list of titles published by that publisher, to establish eligibility via sponsor's online form. Publishers should send 5 copies of the book (or 3 bound galleys, to be followed by at least 2 copies of the book). Due May 20.

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

Search for Contests

Calls for Submissions

PSA: ProLiteracy and the National Coalition for Literacy Help Census Reach Low-Literacy Adults

The National Coalition for Literacy has just launched its Pledge To Be Counted! campaign with a specific focus on adults with low levels of literacy, numeracy, and digital skills. Here are resources for teaching and outreach:

Also, if you would like to subscribe to a special Census news list, you can do so here.

Pledge To Be Counted today!

Award-Winning Fiction and Nonfiction from Around the Web

S. Brook Corfman

This month, editor Jendi Reiter highlights fiction and nonfiction that have won recent prizes.

by S. Brook Corfman

Winner of the 2019 Tupelo Quarterly Prose Open Contest
Most recent deadline: received by December 1
Tupelo Quarterly, an online journal from notable poetry publisher Tupelo Press, offers annual poetry and prose contests with $500 prizes. Corfman's hybrid text gives a glimpse into the interior life of a genderqueer worker in a jewelry store who perceives the strangeness of the world more acutely the more she becomes present in her body.

by Meg Richardson

Winner of the 2019 CRAFT First Chapters Contest
Most recent deadline: received by July 31
CRAFT is an online literary magazine that pairs original short fiction with the authors' brief essays on storytelling technique. This contest, offered on an occasional basis, awarded prizes up to $2,500 and a manuscript critique for the first chapter of a novel or novella in progress. Richardson's winning entry, narrated by the teenage daughter of a pawnshop owner in Grand Cayman, blends entertaining situations with a darker current of innocence about to be lost.

by Shane Page

Third Prize Winner of the Summer 2019 Masters Review Short Story Award for New Writers
Most recent deadlines: August 31, February 2 (received by these dates)
The Masters Review offers twice-yearly short fiction contests with prizes up to $3,000 for emerging writers, defined as writers whose past fiction books, if any, were self-published or had a circulation under 5,000. Check website later this spring for the Summer 2020 contest dates. This achingly real story is told from the viewpoint of a youth watching "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" while his parents arm-wrestle to settle how their marriage ends.

by Uzma Aslam Khan

Winner of the 2019 Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Competition
Most recent deadline: received by October 8
This prestigious journal founded by director Francis Ford Coppola awards $1,000 and literary agency review for a winning story. The 2020 contest will open in July. In this complex story with a vivid sense of place, a tour guide in a Massachusetts nature preserve is moved to take action against an entitled male predator.

"Critics", an excerpt from The Forerunner by Kahlil Gibran

The Forerunner

One nightfall a man travelling on horseback toward the sea reached an inn by the roadside. He dismounted, and confident in man and night like all riders toward the sea, he tied his horse to a tree beside the door and entered into the inn.

At midnight, when all were asleep, a thief came and stole the traveller's horse.

In the morning the man awoke, and discovered that his horse was stolen. And he grieved for his horse, and that a man had found it in his heart to steal.

Then his fellow-lodgers came and stood around him and began to talk.

And the first man said, "How foolish of you to tie your horse outside the stable."

And the second said, "Still more foolish, without even hobbling the horse!"

And the third man said, "It is stupid at best to travel to the sea on horseback."

And the fourth said, "Only the indolent and the slow of foot own horses."

Then the traveller was much astonished. At last he cried, "My friends, because my horse is stolen, you have hastened one and all to tell me my faults and my shortcomings. But strange, not one word of reproach have you uttered about the man who stole my horse."

From Wikisource

The Last Word

Jendi ReiterUptown Rat
When does victim advocacy become an imposition of our own values on someone else's religion? Personally, this is the point where I feel we're making an idol out of tolerance and pluralism.

[read more]

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

One of the 101 Best Websites for Writers (Writer's Digest)