The best free literary contests with deadlines through March 31.

Winning Writers - best resources for poets and writers

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Welcome to Our February Newsletter

We found over four dozen quality free poetry and prose contests with deadlines between February 15-March 31. View their profiles now! See below for contests we especially recommend for writers at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced stages of their careers, and our selection of calls for submissions. In this issue: the conclusion of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", illustrated by Julian Peters.

We are thrilled to announce the winners of our first North Street Book Prize competition for self-published books. They are Gloria Taylor Weinberg (top left), Jenna Leigh Evans (bottom left), and Elizabeth Kirschner (bottom right). They each received $1,500, a marketing consultation with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, a $300 credit at BookBaby, and three free ads in this newsletter. We also commend our six Honorable Mentions—Tricia Cerrone, Nat Goodale, Delaney Green, Alec Hastings, Russel Lazega, and Deborah McCarroll, and seven Finalists—Max Gordon, Cheryl Sawyer, G.G. Silverman, Beth Lyon Barnett, Eugene McCreary, Rose Mary Stiffin, and Monica Vickers. Judges Jendi Reiter and Ellen LaFleche reviewed 400 entries. We awarded $6,000 in all. Please read excerpts from our winners' outstanding novels and memoirs, with critiques by the judges and advice for future contestants. See the press release about the winners. Our new competition opens today, with a deadline of June 30. ENTER HERE.

Don't forget! Our no-fee Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest deadline is April 1. Our Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest deadline is April 30.

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Upcoming contest deadlines:

Non-Fiction Writing Contest
We are looking for personal essays, memoirs, and works of literary non-fiction on any topic, 500-7,000 words. Winner receives $100 cash. Deadline: TOMORROW - February 16!

Newbie Writing Contest
Write a story that starts with this sentence: "Hell found me." Fiction and non-fiction welcome. $100 to the winner. Deadline: February 20.

ABC Poetry Contest
Write a poem where the first letters of each line follow this pattern. The winner takes away $100. Deadline: February 22.

Rispetto Poetry Contest
A Rispetto is a poem that has two quatrains with a strict rhyme scheme. The meter is usually iambic tetrameter with a rhyme scheme of abab ccdd (example). Cash prize of $100 for the winner. Deadline: February 27.

See all our upcoming contests and
find out more.


Recent Honors and Publication Credits for Our Subscribers

Congratulations to John Stokes, Karen Braucher Tobin, Joan Leotta, Jen Karetnick, Lind Grant-Oyeye (featured poem: "M-Moments"), Theresa C. Vara, Paul Fericano, Isobel Cunningham (featured poem: "Montreal Pantoum I"), Annie Dawid, Diana Anhalt, Akua Lezli Hope, and Carolyn Howard-Johnson.

Winning Writers Editor Jendi Reiter's debut novel, Two Natures, will be published in September by Saddle Road Press. Set in New York City in the early 1990s, Two Natures is the coming-of-age story of Julian Selkirk, a fashion photographer who struggles to reconcile his Southern Baptist upbringing with his love for other men. Read an interview with the author at David Alan Binder's literary blog. In other news, Jendi's poem "The Fear of Puppets and the Fear of Beautiful Women" will be reprinted in The Doll Collection, the first anthology from Terrapin Books, a new literary press in New Jersey. This poem originally appeared in her chapbook Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009); email her for ordering information. Her poetry collection Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree, 2015) was profiled in the December/January 2016 issue of Shelf Unbound (see page 115), a magazine that reviews small press and self-published books.

Winning Writers has some good news of its own. The Write Life recently named us to their list of the "100 Best Websites for Writers 2016".

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

Have news? Please email it to

On Sale Now: Edisto Jinx by C. Hope Clark

Edisto Jinx

The latest mystery thriller in The Edisto Island Mysteries from C. Hope Clark

"The psychological twists in Edisto Jinx are as intriguing as the vivid imagery of Ms. Clark's writing. From characters with just the right amount of flaws to make them realistic, to the eerie peek into a madman's mind, it is a gem of a story I didn't want to end."
—Sharon Sala, author of Cold Hearts, NY Times and USA Today Bestselling author

Buy at Amazon.

Announcing: Elephants in the Room by Charlene Wexler

Elephants In The Room is award-winning author Charlene Wexler’s latest collection of short fiction and essays examining life, love, and the tragedy and comedy of the human condition. Buy now for $2.99 at Amazon.

Five-star reviews from readers:

"What a delightful story! Charlene Wexler's work is always fun and full of warmth and wit!"

"I've been waiting for Charlene Wexler to do another book of short stories and essays. Great to be able to read one of her books in short bursts and come back to it again and again. There's a lot of funny in this book, and a lot that makes you think, too. People of all ages can enjoy her light and breezy style. Thanks, Char, for your latest gem!"

Please enjoy this excerpt from the book, "A Letter to My Parents from a Woman Approaching Seventy".

Elephants in the Room

42 Miles Press Poetry Award

Deadline: March 1. Indiana University South Bend's 42 Miles Press Poetry Award will be given to an emerging or established poet for a book-length manuscript of at least 48 pages. Winner receives $1,000 and 50 copies, and will be invited to give a reading in South Bend. David Dodd Lee, Series Editor, will judge. Entry fee: $25 made payable to Indiana University.

For complete guidelines, go to

Please enjoy these two excerpts from our recent releases, The Bottom by Betsy Andrews and Precarious by Allan Peterson.

David Dodd Lee

In Fact Books Seeks Essays on "Siblings"

In Fact Books

Deadline: March 7. For a new anthology, In Fact Books is seeking true stories that capture the complexities and comforts of sibling relationships.

We hope to represent the widest possible variety of sibling relationships—whether adoptive or biological, step or full, human or animal, one or many. Chronicle life as the only brother in a house full of sisters. Recount wisdom dispensed by a much older sibling (Did you follow it? Was it any good?). Enlighten us about birth order or genetics. Confess: as a kid, did you ever wish for a different sibling altogether? As an adult, do you still?

Stories reflecting perspective and change interest us. Maybe the brother who gave you swirlies as a kid became your best friend as an adult. Maybe you and your twin created a secret language and were inseparable. Maybe you and your twin don't talk now. We love personal essays, but also profiles, histories, and science-driven scenarios. So maybe your story isn't about you at all.

Whatever the case, if you have a true sib story, we want to read it.

Submissions must be 4,000 words or fewer.

Guidelines at

Gulf Coast Prizes in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction

Deadline: April 9. Gulf Coast will award $6,000 in prizes to poets, essayists, and fiction writers. This year's judges are Ayana Mathis (Fiction), David Shields (Nonfiction), and Rick Barot (Poetry)!

The contest awards publication and $1,500 each to the best poem, essay, and short story, as well as $250 to two honorable mentions in each genre. The winners will appear in Gulf Coast 29.1, due out in Fall 2016, and all entries will be considered for paid publication on our website as Online Exclusives. The $23 reading fee includes a one-year subscription to Gulf Coast. Only previously unpublished work will be considered. The contest will be judged blind.

Online Submissions Accepted via Gulf Coast's Submittable Page
• Poetry: Submit up to five poems (ten pages max) in a single .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf file.
• Prose: Submit one story or essay (twenty-five pages max) in a single .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf file.
• Your uploaded entry should not contain your cover letter, your name, or any contact information.

Postal Submissions
Mail to Gulf Coast, ATTN: Gulf Coast Prize in [Genre], Department of English, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-3013. Please include your $23 reading fee payable in US dollars to Gulf Coast. Contact information should appear only on your cover letter.

Please enjoy this excerpt from "Apricots" by Aurvi Sharma, winner of the Gulf Coast Prize in Nonfiction.

Gulf Coast

2016 Editor's Reprint Award at Sequestrum

Deadline: April 30. The 2016 Editor's Reprint Award at Sequestrum offers $200 and publication in the Fall '16 issue for one previously-published selection of fiction or nonfiction. A minimum of one runner-up will receive publication and a cash prize. Finalists last year included industry-leading publications (Tin House, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, etc.) as well as many new, niche, and even defunct markets. All finalists listed on the website. Enter online. No length or theme restrictions.

Sequestrum has an international readership of 1,500+ per month and publishes poetry and prose on a bi-weekly basis. All publications are paired with a stunning visual component by our staff. Past contributors include Guggenheim and NEA Fellows, Pulitzer Prize finalists, as well as many new and emerging voices. More here:


Creative Nonfiction Seeks Essays on "Joy"

Creative Nonfiction

Deadline: May 16. Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to JOY.

Too often the moments that move us to write are bleak ones—stories of loss, hardship, or learning through painful interactions. For this issue we're looking for well-crafted narratives that explore the brighter moments in life, those that teach and enlighten us through their beauty or humor.

Your tale of joy need not revolve around ecstatic delight or a once-in-a-lifetime moment; we are equally interested in thoughtfully-written pieces about finding pleasure in small things or unexpected places, and in works that highlight moments of joy in the midst of otherwise difficult circumstances. We also welcome less common approaches to this topic: the science of happiness, the history of some particularly joyful event, pop-cultural manifestations of bliss, and so on.

Submissions must be 4,000 words or fewer.

$1,000 for best essay; $500 for runner-up.

Guidelines at

Dancing Poetry Festival Contest

Deadline: May 15. All Dancing Poetry Festival prize winners will receive a prize certificate suitable for framing, a ticket to the Dancing Poetry Festival 2016, and an invitation to read their prizewinning poem at September's Dancing Poetry Festival in the Florence Gould Theater at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA.

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.

Winning poems have ranged from the travels of Matisse to a Picasso painting, falling leaves, love, Iraq, China, history, dance, current events, reverie, socially significant situations, and even some humor sprinkled here and there. Please don't feel constrained to write a poem about dancing.

Learn more and enjoy "Into the blue..." by Katy Brown, a 2015 Grand Prize winner.

Dancing Poetry

Spotlight Contests

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
New York City Emerging Writers Fellowship. The Center for Fiction awards between nine and fifteen fellowships of $5,000 each for writing samples of no more than 7,500 words by writers who live in New York City and have not published a first novel or short story collection. Due February 29.

Intermediate Writers
Madeline P. Plonsker Emerging Writer's Residency Prize. Fiction contest for emerging writers under 40 with no major book publication awards 3-week residency at Lake Forest College in Illinois, with $10,000 stipend, to complete a manuscript, followed by possible publication by &NOW Books, with distribution by Northwestern University Press. Due March 1.

Advanced Writers
Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award. $1,000 for the best book of poetry published by a US resident in the previous calendar year. Due March 1.

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

Search for Contests

Calls for Submissions


PSA: Literacy and Prison

  • Forty-one percent of inmates have not completed high school.
  • More than half of inmates report taking an educational program while incarcerated.
  • People of color in prison are less likely than whites to have a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate.
  • 1.5 million people with the lowest levels of literacy are incarcerated.
  • States that raise high school graduation rates experience significant declines in incarceration rates.
  • A one percent increase in the high school completion rate of all men ages 20 to 60 would save the US as much as $1.4 billion per year in reduced costs from crime.
  • Those who participate in correctional education classes have lower rates of re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration than those who do not participate.

Learn more and get involved at ProLiteracy.

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Julian Peters: "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats (conclusion)

La Belle Dame Sans Merci
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
La Belle Dame Sans Merci

See the previous installment in our January 15 newsletter. See the text of the poem and commentary at the Poetry Foundation. See more comics by Julian Peters.

The Last Word

Trusting Tootle
It’s curious how some books acquire classic status, re-purchased by generations of parents and well-wishers, perhaps without much thought about the meaning of the story...Tootle and his classmates at the Lower Trainswitch School for Locomotives are cuddly, expressive precursors of the colder computer-generated animation of Thomas the Tank Engine. Scuffy [the Tugboat] conveys a world of emotion with just eyes, eyebrows, and the tilt of his smokestack. These books are selling nostalgia for an era when America was an industrial powerhouse and no one had heard of global warming or acid rain. However, both tales hammer home a repressive message about staying in your assigned social role and doing what you’re told. [continue at Reiter's Block]

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

Jendi Reiter