South African Culture Essay Contest

Florence Olufemi Oju’s account of an eye-opening trip to visit family in Nigeria and Lind Grant-Oyeye’s poem connecting the Niger river to the River Nore are this year’s adult winners of the Irish Times Irish Aid Africa Day writing competition.

Matthew Price’s short story, Penumbra, about the challenges facing an African mother and daughter in Ireland, won the secondary school prize, while poems celebrating Africa by Jimmy Omokuba and Ireland and Africa by Boitumelo Ntsimane won the primary school award.

The winning entries were selected by Martin Doyle, Books Editor of The Irish Times, and Máirtín Cronin of Irish Aid. Winners will each receive a selection of books to the value of €50. The African-themed short story and poetry competition for writers of all ages marks Africa Day 2017 and is designed to showcase emerging talent, as well as established writers. This is the third year that the competition has taken place.

Highly commended were (adults) Etienne Muller, Deirdre Toomey, Patricia O’Connor and Mary Sorohan; (Secondary) Anna Maya Pawlowski, Hazel Kevlihan, David Garvey, Michael Dake; and (Primary) Lara Ekaldi, Reme Otuos, Caroline Wall and Lucy Maxwell Guinan.

Irish Aid hosts its flagship Africa Day event today, Sunday, May 21st, in the grounds of Farmleigh Estate in the Phoenix Park, Dublin 15. This free family-focused event will feature the sights and sounds of Africa, through performances by well-known African and Irish musicians; children’s entertainment; traditional African drumming and dance workshops; and much more.

Primary school winners

The Irish African Fields
By Boitumelo Ntsimane

From the back garden of my Irish home; on a beautiful lovely bright Spring day,
I see the blue skies of Ireland; the same blue skies as that of Africa,
I see the small and the huge birds roaming by; the same as the birds of Africa,
I see the aeroplanes going by; the aeroplanes that ferried my parents and my grandparents,
I see the aeroplanes full of hopes, dreams, aspirations and ambitions,
I see the aeroplanes that deprived Africa of its talents and its children,

I see the green fields of Athenry, the same as the fields of Africa,
The fields full of crop, sheep, cow and pig; the same as the fields of Africa;
The Irish fields full of crop that nourishes my people in Africa,
The fields that enriches the dreams and aspirations of Africa,
The fields that brings life to Africa,
The fields that brings hope to Africa,
The fields that unite my African people to a dining table,
The fields quench the thirst of my African people,

This is what African fields feel like,
From South African fruits to Kenya’s coco,
The fields that provide the world with diamonds, gold and platinum,
From Zimbabwean and Botswanan diamonds to the gold of South Africa,
The fields with minerals that makes the world connect with each other,
From The Democratic Republic of Congo to Rwanda’s tantalum,
Now the world can communicate with each other with ease,
We thank God for the African fields; we thank God for the Irish fields,
God bless Ireland, Nkosi sikelel iIreland,
God bless Africa, Nkosi sikelel iAfrika…

By Jimmy Omukuba

You are a question mark in the sea
Everyone wants to visit you
The Kibera slums of Nairobi,
We all want to witness the eighth wonder of the world
The pink flowers of Lake Nakuru are breathtaking
The butterfly forests of Kakamega are home to me.

You hold such a rich history
You are the cradle of mankind
Tales about you are sweet like honey
Little children gather around the fireplace
To listen to the sweet tales of their grandfathers and grandmothers
Never to depart from them when they grow up.

Africa you are so blessed with natural resources
Like a playful calf your people move freely
Spreading love beyond their borders
With open arms and a warm handshake
They even have an endearing name for the white man: Mzungu

Without you the circle of life is incomplete
So blessed with beautiful people; from the inside to the outside.

Your rivers’ flow is an echo to the playful children
Emichera chia Africa emikhongo munane (the eight biggest rivers of Africa):
Niger, Congo, Orange, Limpopo, Kasai, Nile, Ubangi, Zambezi.

Beloved Africa,
God Has blessed you
The whole world loves you
I wish you were my pet
To look at every day
I wish I could hold you whenever
I wish I could steal you just for myself
But I can’t
My love for you Africa is like a waterfall
Forever present.
May God bless you Africa
Without you Africa I will die!

Secondary school prize winner

By Matthew Price

A smile is squirming on his face. “So, can you start Monday then?”

”I can’t, I’m sorry.”


”Thank you, but I can’t.”

His eyebrows knit together then, in what I suppose is sympathy. “Diola,” he says, like the name’s a heavy thing. He always uses my name, even though I told him when we met to call me Dee. He says it all the same, stretching the vowels out like he’s torturing them on a rack. “I’m only after offering you a job. And you’ve been volunteering at the museum for three years now; it won’t be much of a change only we’ll be paying you. Of course, you’ll accept.”

I sip my coffee. Its taste is bitter and familiar. Beside me, a little girl drinks hot chocolate the way a hamster might. I would smile at her, but I am meant to respond. “I’m sorry. No.”

He looks hurt, so I force a friendliness over my face. I project the stale, bitter warmth of the coffee. “I just don’t understand you, Diola,” he says. As he says it, I see the understanding stray into his eyes. It stains his expression.

He doesn’t let me pay for my own coffee like he usually does. And he doesn’t say he’ll see me tomorrow either. He leaves in a polite hurry. I turn to the girl. She’s gone already. The half-drunk hot chocolate gives off small tendrils of steam.

The bus drops me a short way from home. There’s a chill to the air, but it’s not too cold as long as I keep moving. The walk takes about as long as it always does.

Inside the gates, I pass the old man whose name I have forgotten, or never knew. He’s still limping from a month ago. As he shuffles by his roving eyes wash over me but take no notice. The drugs have quietened him. His face is like a stopped clock.

I unlock the door and step inside. The little one is not home yet, so I sleep for a while.

I wake too soon, with sunlight in my eyes. The blinds are drawn, but bent and broken and out of shape so that ribbons of light come through the gaps.

I open the door of the bedside locker and move aside the stack of books until I can reach in and take out the contraband. It’s illegal here and if they knew about it, we could be sent away. I plug it in; it is still full from the last time. Its sound gradually invades the silence. Whispering at first, then spluttering, now shrilling as it comes to boil. I touch the steel with the backs of my fingers. I let the sudden, fierce heat sting the flesh; let the sharpness of pain soften the edges of everything else. I am focussed. I take them away at the last second before the skin blisters. It’s finished then. I put it back in the drawer and pile the books tightly in front of it and its silent again but for the soft ticking of the clock.

She arrives home sometime after that. Full of stories about the day and its many happenings and the cruelty of her teacher and the cleverness of herself and her friends. Saoirse is her name. When we got here, she was only two and I thought it would be a good idea to give her an Irish name so that she’d fit in better. Sometimes she asks to hear stories about Abebi, the girl in Nigeria, not understanding that Abebi is her, and she is Saoirse, and Saoirse is Abebi.

“Mama.” She twists one of the buttons on her uniform.

“What is it, child?”

“Ms. O’Brien says we have to make a poster about Ireland and it has to be really colourful.” She is standing awkwardly, one small foot on top of the other like a clumsy ballerina. “But we don’t have any colouring pencils.”

I think of the bus journey to town and the bus journey home, and imagine the bus journeys and treats that tomorrow will demand.

“I’ll write you a note.”

She takes out her copybooks, starts to write. She’s practising her cursive. Her brown eyes following the pencil across the page, her wrist moving slowly, deliberately, tracing big curly capitals. I watch her and think for a moment about how time can move at a hundred miles an hour and stand still, all at once.

I put her to bed. We read a story. She likes princess stories now. She tells me goodnight and how she loves me in the beautiful mongrel accent that’s all her own. The little sounds out of her tell me she’s asleep. Soft murmurs, voiced breaths. Her tiny eyelids flutter like the wings of a moth. When I’m certain she won’t miss me, I step outside.

I walk to the place where the coils of barbed wire atop the gate scrape the clouds. A month ago, a gang scaled the fence, painted on the walls, and beat up the old man for no reason other than he happened to be passing. The next day, the wire went up and the wall was painted over so that now you can hardly read the words anymore.

The sun is still up, just about, but a yellowish moon is already high in the sky. It’s that strange time when it’s not day anymore and not yet night. The setting sun stains the sky purple: a hundred hues layered over one another, like a wildflower, a bruise. The purple stretches as far as I can see and I know farther still. The sun steps in behind the hills then, and the violet tinge is rinsed from the clouds as they streak by overhead in no hurry at all.

I turn to walk back. There’s no light to guide me now, except that of the jaundiced moon, but it is enough. I know the way well.

Adult section winners

Mother Tongue
By Lind Grant-Oyeye

I borrowed these deep words from my mother,
while we sat at the bank of the Niger river.
The evening sun resting on the silhouette of our past.
Filled and fulfilled for the day, her breadth scattered
on errant molecules of water;
“bless this child. Let her rise as the wave that greets
a lost seagull and brings it back home to the Centre.
It floats while holding unto old and new dreams”.
My reverie has brought me here –
to the banks of the River Nore. It meanders like
the zig -zag journey of a bird lost in transit.
I watch like a merchant ship, a man: his harp and a smile.
He sings of loving; speaks of a girl who seemed lost in the
milling crowd in Galway city. He sings of birds –
how they learn to fly before and after a storm;
he whispers words like “fáilte”
but I feel my mother’s tone,
in the voice of a man, that used to be a stranger
while I speak to the evening breeze, blessings from my mother,
upon the child in me, in a new language that speaks of hope.

The Feeling of Being Home
By Florence Olufemi Oju

I travelled to Nigeria recently.

I finally got to see it for myself!

Initially, I was not buying the idea of a family trip back to Nigeria. I left Nigeria when I was 5 years old. I was not in contact with any of my family members from both my parents’ side well except for my mum’s sister and her children who have been a part of my life. I had not stayed in touch with any of my childhood friends which is the norm with most five year olds unless the relationship proceeds into secondary school. So let’s just say I had a hostile feeling of going back to Nigeria, I just couldn’t picture fun at all.

As we landed in the Muhammed Muritala airport all I could see was Africans! The first thing that came to my mind was ‘wow everyone here is black’. It was overwhelming. The only other place I remember seeing so many Africans was in the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin ( if you’ve been there you would know what that is like!) The change of weather was quite drastic; it seemed almost as if there was no air to breathe, as if the air had ceased. I felt almost suffocated. There was a smell of sand, hot sand and I didn’t particularly like it.

In the midst of these overwhelming emotions I had a feeling that I had never felt before; it was the feeling of being around my own kind. There was no need to pretend. No need to try and fit in, no need to try and make sure I was understood or to check if my accent was still in tune to the majority. This feeling was very much the feeling of being at home. It was so beautiful.

Outside the airport, as we struggled to exit with over 10 big suitcases. I noticed my mum’s sister, her husband and one of their cousin. My first reaction was a pause, because while I had met my mum’s sister and her husband. I had never met my cousins. So many things were running through my head when I saw her “Wow! She is so pretty!”, “She isn’t as dark skinned as I expected,”, “Are we going to get along? Do we have the same interests?” You can imagine - I had never had a real discussion with any of my cousins up until this point other than the typical “hello, how are you doing today?” . We lived in different worlds.

The trip from the airport to the hotel was interesting. In such a short period of time, we quickly saw both the developed and undeveloped side of Lagos city. The streets were still very much alive even at 12:00am. It was full of people selling, buying, bargaining and chatting. We saw people selling ‘ suya’- roasted corn - and many other foods that I still don’t know the name of. I could not wait to get out and explore the nightlife. Despite my negative attitude throughout the journey from Ireland; at this stage I was smiling. All of a sudden I could picture ‘ fun’, there really was a special feeling attached to this place. It truly was home!

Culture is my thing!

The African native attire- the Nigerians who live abroad wear the regular top and jean etc. This could change if there was an event or party that requested an African theme - aso ebi . There were odd days when one would feel quite African and would dress as so. But in Nigeria, wearing a native cloth was just as fine as choosing a regular English outfit. It created such a colourful scene. I wish this was the same in Ireland. In Nigeria Friday was set apart for employees to dress in their native clothes to work.

Languages- There are over 100 languages in Nigeria. English is communicated in different ways. The majority speak to each other in what they call Broken English. Don’t be fooled by the term Broken English .This is very much its own language which is not to be confused with Pidgin English (basically English in an African accent). Broken English is one of the ways of overcoming language barriers because there are over a 100 languages. As you can imagine, I felt lost in conversations most of the time.

Speaking of communication, I saw it break down spectacularly whenever we got stuck in traffic in Lagos. Instead of cars in a single file, like you’d see during bad traffic on an Irish road. You have drivers creating their own lanes at all sorts of angles, screaming at each other...

“Ori eh ope!” (Your head is not correct!)

“Oloshi!” (Idiot!)

Mumu!!!” (Daft! Fool!)

...and many other things that I won’t repeat! You’ll also regularly see cars driving towards each other in the same lane, then the drivers stop and curse the lives out of each other. In my head I’m thinking ‘would you not have stayed in opposite lanes in the first place?’. As you’ve probably guessed, the road system there is a lot less formal. Although there are road taxes and rules, often you can buy your way out of trouble. True to the Nigerian spirit, we just get on with it - but like any good passionate person in a traffic jam, we can get angry!

There are a lot of markets in Nigeria. The top 20 markets are in different States. I went with my mum and her sister to the Balogun / Dosumu market in Lagos Island. It was huge! There were so many people, so many options to choose from, and everything you could imagine was there - hair extensions, clothes, food, make -up and the list goes on. Whenever we passed the food and fresh fish stalls there was a funny smell that could throw one off, but I didn’t mind.

During the trip my cousin and I went to other markets like the Computer Village in Ikeja and Yaba market popularly known as Tejuosho market. The computer village market was also pretty big, you could get any technical gadgets here - phones, laptop, chargers etc. You’ll just need to be sure of the vendors you choose from. I found the way the vendors operate over there is a bit different to what you’d see in my adopted home in Dublin. Electricity was all powered by generators. You also had many young dropout workers who were looking for any means of living by repairing phones, laptop etc.

During my adventures at the Yaba market in Lagos, when stall owners tried to sell me something, I’d say ‘ no thank you’. And I got stared at as if I was abnormal. My cousin laughed and stated ‘yes, they will know you are not from this place!’. Apparently, the normal thing to do is just walk past and ignore, or even worse- hiss! If you don’t, you risk getting physically dragged left, right and centre by vendors. Luckily, my cousin turned into a bodyguard and kept a close eye on me. This wouldn’t tend to happen in Ireland - well, not unless you’re on Moore Street (a street filled with different ethnic backgrounds, with plenty of Africans!), and even at that, people are mostly trying to lure you in with compliments. That being said, the market was so much fun it was a different type of experience than I was used to.

Once I got the hang of the weather, I decided it was time for something a little more dangerous - at least, that’s how it felt whenever I used public transport! In Ireland motorbikes are not a form of public transport, but in Nigeria an okada as it’s called is a pretty popular way for up to 3 people to get around. Risky? Yes. But they’re the fastest method of transport around. God love the first okada man who gave me a lift. I remember holding on to every part of his body for dear life as he speed down the really bumpy Onike road, “ Aunty!” he shouted, “Wetin now! why you dey grab me like that !?” . My cousin laughed as I held on even more tighter, by the time I got off you’d swear I had been a part of the Olympic race - and won, that’s how bad I was panting. I was like: ‘Fam, I’ m not gonna be killed while on holidays! I will make it back to Ireland alive!’ (If motorcycles aren’t your thing, you also have the Maruwa or Keke, a tricycle which can carry four people and it’s significantly slower).

And then you have the ‘mo-lue’ or ‘danfo’ – a small bus. My bodyguard cousin wisely only brought me onto the danfo once or twice. I laugh everytime I think about it. They have bus conductors who called customers onto the bus. To give you an idea of what they do: Imagine this in Dublin: no bus stops, no indication of where you are, except someone holding onto the handrail screaming: “CLAREHALL, CLAREHALL, CLAREHALL!”, Just so you’d know where you’re going. This was the routine for all the stops along the way. The bus moving at a break-neck speed on bad roads, - I don’t know how the conductors don’t fall off the bus; if they did , it could be instant death or serious damage.

We were lucky to make amazing friends through family. I have to say, making friends made such a difference to our trip. I wouldn’t have seen any of Lagos’s night life without them. We went to the Ozone cinema. We went on long night walks and got a feel for a different view. This was important because we got to mingle with our age group. I also got to learn much more about Nigeria. We even got an Uber Taxi, I had no clue this existed in Nigeria.

They showed and told us what the younger version of the country looks like. At night depending on the areas you live. Movement was not always allowed for security and safety reasons. Like every regular young person in Dublin, Friday and Saturday nights happen at clubs, cafe bars with live bands and what not. In quote from a friend ‘night life depends on family background, location and the specific day’. Oh! Before I forget to mention the legal age is 18.

I had a negative or should I say downgrading image of the country prior to my trip! Meeting new friends and going on mini adventures has helped me see how beautiful Nigeria is. It helped me to see the cultural aspect, which was amazing.

Based on my past experience when I travel would normally feel homesick. In these scenarios I would miss home - Ireland. However, this time I was not homesick, it was the feeling of being at home. This trip has made me more appreciative of Nigeria – my own people, my own roots.

About the winners

Florence Olufemi-Ojo is a 22-year-old from Nigeria who moved to Ireland as a child, 16 years ago. She lives in Tallaght, Dublin. She works with homeless people and performs with Ireland’s leading multicultural choir, Discovery Gospel Choir.

Lind Grant-Oyeye is Irish-African of Nigerian descent. She enjoys writing and use poetry as an artistic medium to highlight social justice issues. She is the recipient of the UHRSN human rights poetry award, for her work M-moments, bringing attention to the world refugee crisis. She calls Kilkenny and a few other places around the world home. 

Matthew Price is a 16-year-old Transition Year student in Terenure College. He has lived in Rathfarnham, Dublin all his life. He chose to enter the competition because he has a passion for writing, a great admiration for African cultures, and he wanted to highlight the struggle the current Direct Provision system poses to asylum-seekers from Africa and, of course, throughout the world.

Boitumelo Ntsimane is a nine-year-old Irish girl, born to South African parents. She lives in Portlaoise and attends Portlaiose Educate Together National School.

 Jimmy Omukuba is a 13-year-old Kenyan primary school pupil from the village of Shirali in Kakamega County. He is in standard eight and will be sitting for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations this November to join secondary school next January. He goes to school at Munyanza Primary School in the neighbouring village of Ebulakayi.

When I was about 12, I saw an ad in a magazine for a poetry contest that sounded fancy and impressive, something like “International Library of Poetry.” I bled poetry at that age, so I crossed my fingers and sent in a poem I’d been slaving over for weeks.

And, lo and behold, the people behind the contest quickly wrote back to tell me my poem had been selected as a winner!

I was speechless with honor. Of the thousands of poets who must have submitted to the contest — no doubt many of them adults much wiser and more skilled than me — my poem had been chosen to be featured in an exclusive, hardcover anthology! And honored on a something-karat-gold plaque!

Of course, I had to pay $50 if I wanted to see my work in print in the anthology, and I had to pay another $100 if I wanted the plaque. Those were the only “prizes.”

Even as a pre-teen, I sensed a scam.

Sadly, not much has changed when it comes to companies trying to take advantage of writers who want a chance at recognition and maybe a little bit of money. Google the term “writing contests,” and you’ll come up with approximately 8 million results. It can be hard for a writer to know where to start looking for competitions, and how to tell if they’re legitimate or not.

So I’ve done the legwork for you.

Here are 31 reputable, well-reviewed, free writing contests for poets, fiction writers, essayists and more.Some legitimate contests do charge a small entry or “reading” fee, but often a fee can be a red flag for a scam, so you may want to stick to free contests — and there are certainly enough of them.

Fiction and nonfiction writing contests

Ready to share your novel or personal essay with the world? Whether you’re a newbie or more established writer, you’re likely eligible for a few of these contests.

1. L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest

Whatever your feelings about L. Ron Hubbard’s work and philosophy, the prizes for this regular contest are nothing to sneeze at. Every three months, winners earn $1,000, $750 and $500, or an additional annual grand prize worth $5,000.

Submissions must be short stories or novelettes (up to 17,000 words) in the genre of science fiction or fantasy, and new and amateur writers are welcome to apply.

Deadlines: Quarterly on January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1.

2. Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize

Awarded to “the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre,” this prize provides a $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf Press.

If you live in the U.S. and have published at least one book (in any genre), you’re eligible to submit a current manuscript in progress for consideration. The judges look for winners who push the boundaries of traditional literary nonfiction.

Deadline: Contest is every other year, with the last one running in 2016. The 2018 deadline has not been announced.

3. Drue Heinz Literature Prize

You can win $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press with this prize, awarded for a collection of short fiction.

You may submit an unpublished manuscript of short stories, two or more novellas or a combination of novellas and short stories. Your total word count should be between 150 and 300 typed pages.

Deadline: Annual submission window is May 1 through June 30.

4. Tony Hillerman Prize

Presented by St. Martin’s Press and WORDHARVEST, this prize awards the best first mystery novel set in the Southwest with $10,000 and publication by St. Martin’s Press.

It’s open to professional or non-professional writers who have not yet had a mystery published, and there are specific guidelines for the structure of your story: “Murder or another serious crime or crimes must be at the heart of the story, with emphasis on the solution rather than the details of the crime.”

Deadline: TBD

5. St. Francis College Literary Prize

This biannual prize honors mid-career writers who have recently published their third, fourth or fifth work of fiction. The winner receives $50,000 but must be able to appear at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY to deliver a talk on their work and teach a mini-workshop in fiction to St. Francis students.

Deadline: Biannually; the deadline for work published between June 2015 and May 2017 is May 15, 2017.

6. Young Lions Fiction Award

This $10,000 award recognizes “young authors,” which the rules define as any author aged 35 or younger. Submit any novel or short story published or scheduled to be published in the calendar year. Works must be written for adults; children’s or YA pieces are ineligible.

Deadline: Annually in the fall (most recently in August or September). 2017 deadline not yet announced.


This boutique publishing firm offers a full-fledged publishing deal to its contest winner. Submit a novel of 20,000 words or more in any fiction genre (no fanfic, short stories or poetry) and if it’s selected, Inkitt will provide you with professional editing, a cover design, and 25 percent royalties. They also have a strategy to get you into the Amazon Top 100. (Not too shabby.)

Inkitt runs contests regularly, so be sure to check back often!

Deadline: See individual contest pages.

8.Real Simple’s Life Lessons Essay Contest

Have you ever had a “eureka” moment? If you have, and you can write a compelling personal essay about it in no more than 1,500 words, you may be able to win $3,000 in Real Simple’s annual essay contest.

Deadline: Annually; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

9. New Voices Award

Presented by Lee & Low Books, an award-winning children’s book publisher, this award is given for a previously unpublished children’s picture book manuscript (of no more than 1,500 words) written by a writer of color.

The winner receives $1,000 cash and a standard publication contract. You may submit up to two manuscripts.

Deadline: Submissions must be postmarked by September 30 each year.

10. Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence

This contest aims to provide visibility for emerging African American fiction writers and to enable them to focus on their writing by awarding a $10,000 cash prize. Eligible authors should submit a work of fiction, such as a novel or short story collection, published in the calendar year.

Deadline: Annually; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

11. PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Honoring the best work of fiction published by an American author in a single calendar year, this award has been given to the likes of John Updike, Philip Roth and Ann Patchett.

The winner receives $15,000 and an invitation to read at the award ceremony in Washington, DC. Four finalists also each receive a $5,000 award.

Deadline: Annually on October 31 for books published that calendar year.

12. Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize

Presented by the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival, this annual prize awards $500 cash for “the best Brooklyn-focused non-fiction essay which is set in Brooklyn and is about Brooklyn and/or Brooklyn people/characters.” (So it’s Brooklyn-centric, if you haven’t picked up on that yet.)

Submissions should be four to 10 pages (up to 2,500 words), and five authors will be chosen to read and discuss their submissions at the annual December event.

Deadline: Annually in mid-November.

13. Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

Fiction and nonfiction writers who have recently published a book that “contributes to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures” are eligible for this award, which offers $10,000 cash as well media and publicity opportunities.

Submissions must be published in the prior year (so books published in 2016 are eligible for the 2017 award).

Deadline: Annual submission window is September 1 through December 31.

14. Marfield Prize (a.k.a. National Award for Arts Writing)

Presented by the Arts Club of Washington, this award seeks to honor nonfiction books that deal with “any artistic discipline (visual, literary, performing, or media arts, as well as cross-disciplinary works).” This may include criticism, art history, memoirs and biographies, and essays.

Deadline: Annually in the last quarter of the year; the 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

15. W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction

If you’re a war buff, this competition is for you. It awards $5,000 to the best piece of fiction set during a period when the U.S. was at war (war may either be the main plot of the piece or simply provide the setting). Submissions may be adult or YA novels.

Deadline: Annually on December 1.

16. Friends of American Writers Chicago Awards

FAW presents two annual awards: an Adult Literature Award for literary fiction or nonfiction, and a Juvenile Literature Award for a children’s/YA book.

Authors must reside in the state of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin — or they must set their book in one of those locations. Prize amounts vary from year to year but are typically between $500 and $2,000.

Deadline: Annually at the end of the year; 2017 deadline has not yet been announced.

17. Hektoen Grand Prix Essay Contest

Hektoen International, an online journal dedicated to medical humanities, offers two prizes annually for essays of no more than 1,600 words in two categories.

The Grand Prize of $1,200 is given for an essay suited for their Famous Hospitals section, while a Silver Prize of $1,000 is given to the best essay suited for the sections of Art Flashes, Literary Vignettes, Moments in History or Physicians of Note.

Deadline: Annually; 2017 has passed and 2018 deadline is not yet announced.

18. Nelson Algren Short Story Award

Presented by the Chicago Tribune, this award presents $3,500 to one grand prize winner, $1,000 to four finalists and $500 to five runners-up for a short fiction story of less than 8,000 words.

You may submit up to two short stories, but note that your name must not appear anywhere on your submission as the process is anonymous.

Deadline: Annually; 2017 has passed and 2018 deadline is not yet announced.

19. Minotaur Books / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition

Writers 18 and older who have never had a novel published (in any genre) are eligible for this prize, awarded for an original book-length manuscript where “murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story.” The winner receives a publication contract with Minotaur Books and an advance of $10,000 against future royalties.

Deadline: Annually in the last quarter of the year. The deadline for 2017 awards has passed; the deadline for 2018 awards has not yet been announced.

20. FutureScapes Writing Contest

Want to change the world? Then listen up.

FutureScapes is looking for concrete, substantive pieces that “can provide a roadmap for cities, states, and nations to follow.” If you just want to write the next Hunger Games, this isn’t the contest for you, but if you’re inspired by politics and civic issues, you’ve found the right place. (Case in point: the inaugural theme, “Empowerment Cities,” features a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville.) First place wins $2,000; second place $1,000; and four runners-up will get $500 each. Oh, and did we mention publication in an anthology that will be “distributed to mayors, governors and members of the U.S. Congress”?

Deadline: Annually; deadline for 2017 is TBD.

21. Stowe Prize

This biennial prize of $10,000 honors an American author whose work has had an impact on a critical social justice issue (as did Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

In addition to submitting a copy of your book or written work, you must also complete a 250-word statement that describes the tangible impact your piece has made in the world and outlining any social justice work you perform outside of your writing.

Deadline: Biennially in odd-numbered years. The deadline for 2017 awards has passed, and the deadline for 2019 have not yet been announced.

22. The Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Non-Fiction

Creative nonfiction essays of no more than 5,000 words on any subject, are eligible for consideration for this award, whose winner receives $250 and publication in Lunch Ticket, the literary and art journal produced by the MFA community of Antioch University Los Angeles.

Works must not have been published elsewhere. Award winners are required to submit a 100-word biography, recent photo and a short note thanking the Woods family for their generosity and support.

Deadlines: Biannual reading periods are the month of February for the Summer/Fall issue and the month of August for the Winter/Spring issue.

23. Words & Brushes

This contest seeks to foster collaborations between artists and writers. Select a piece of artwork from the gallery provided and submit a short story inspired by it and you could win $350 — plus a spot in a future art book showcasing these collaborations. Short stories should be between 2,000 – 5,000 words.

Deadline: Annually; 2017 has passed and 2018 deadline is not yet announced.

24. Write the World

For young writers ages 13-18, this cool contest also serves as a mini writer’s camp. Recognizing that “a first draft is never perfect,” submissions actually receive peer review by authors, writing teachers and other experts and writers are given the chance to revise their pieces based on this feedback before submitting them for final prize consideration. There’s a $100 prize for the winner and $50 for the runner-up (plus $50 for the best peer-reviewer). All three are featured on Write the World’s blog alongside comments from a guest judge. And since each month’s prompt is from a different genre, developing writers get a chance to test out different styles.

Deadline: Monthly.

25. Prose.

Stuck with writer’s block and looking for a way to jumpstart your escape? Prose offers weekly challenges meant to spark your creativity; many are just for fun, but look for the weekly numbered challenges posted by Prose (rather than community members or sponsors) for a chance to win money.

Prizes are typically between $100 – $200 and word counts are low — some as low as under 150, some as high as 500, but all say “quality beats quantity.” So even if all you get from the prompt is a chance to flex your brain, it’s not a bad deal.

Deadline: Weekly.

Poetry contests

Curious about opportunities for poets? Your stanzas — rhyming or not — could be worth a fair amount of money in these competitions.

26. Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award

Open to African American poets, previously published or not, this award provides a $500 prize and publication by Boardside Lotus Press for the best book-length collection of poems (approximately 60 to 90 pages).

Deadline: Annually on March 1.

27. James Laughlin Award

If you’re already a published poet, this is the award for you; it’s given for a second book of poetry due to come out in the forthcoming year. The winner receives $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid week-long residency. In addition, copies of her book are distributed to the 1,000 members of the Academy of American Poets.

Deadline: Annual submission window is January 1 through May 15.

28. African Poetry Book Fund Prizes

The APBF awards three prizes annually for African Poetry. The Glenna Luschei Prize for Afican Poetry gives $5,000 for a book of original African poetry published in the prior year.

The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets gives $1,000 and a publication contract for an unpublished book-length collection of poetry by an African author.

The Brunel University African Poetry Prize is a new prize that grants £3,000 to a poet who was born in Africa, is a national of an African country or has African parents, who has not yet had a full-length book of poetry published. (U.S. citizens qualify.) To submit, you’ll need 10 poems.

Deadlines: See individual prize pages.

29. Tufts Poetry Awards

Claremont Graduate University presents two awards each year to poets they deem to be “outstanding.” The Kate Tufts Poetry Award grants $10,000 for a published first book of poetry that shows promise.

The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award grants a mammoth $100,000 for a published book of poetry by an an established or mid-career poet.

Deadline: Books published between July of the previous year and June 30 of the current year are eligible for the following year’s prize (i.e. award for 2017 was for works publishing between between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016). Deadline for 2018 awards has not yet been announced.

Writing contests with multiple categories

Some contests accept submissions in multiple categories, so you could submit a novella as well as a poem or other work.

30. Binghamton University Book Awards

Sponsored by the Binghamton Center for Writers — State University of New York, this competition offers a $1,000 prize for work published in the previous year in two separate categories. The John Gardner Fiction Book Award goes to the best novel or collection of fiction, while the Milt Kessler Poetry Book award goes to the best book of poems.

Deadline: Annually on March 1 for books published the previous year.

31. Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition

(Editor’s note: We were so excited to include this competition that we overlooked its entry fees. We’ll leave it in the post for those interested in submitting their work, but please note that this contest is not free.)

One of the longest-running writing competitions — it’s now in its 83rd year — this contest spotlights up and coming writers in a number of categories, including Memoirs/Personal Essay, Magazine Feature Article and Genre Short story.

The Grand Prize winner gets $5,000, a feature in Writer’s Digest magazine, a paid trip to a writing conference and more. Runners-up earn prizes in first through tenth places.

Deadline: Annually; May 5, 2017.  

Where to find more legitimate, free writing contests

Looking for more opportunities to submit your work to writing contests? Here are a few great sites to keep an eye on.

Winning Writers

A number of the contests found on our list came highly recommended by this site, which compiles some of the best free literary contests out there. You can sort contests by recommendation level (Highly Recommended, Recommended or Neutral), view plenty of info on requirements and even see which contests are better for beginners, intermediate writers and pros.

They also offer a handful of contests themselves, including the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (which sounds delightful).

Poets & Writers

Another fantastic source for legitimate writing contests I consulted when compiling this list, Poets & Writers vets competitions, contests, awards and grants to make sure they’re following legitimate practises and policies. It’s worth checking out regularly as it features both annual and one-time contests.

Cathy’s Comps and Calls

Writer, poet and editor Cathy Bryant sources legitimate, free-to-enter writing contests and calls for submission. She releases a new list of contests and calls each month, so check back monthly for new opportunities.

Are you planning to enter any writing contests this year? Which ones?

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

This post originally ran in February 2016. We updated it in March 2017.

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