30 Free Writing Contests With Cash Prizes (Up to $28,000)

There are 30 contests/prizes from 24 organizers for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in April 2021. The awards range from $75 to $28,000. The contests are very roughly divided by geography. There are also several grants, residencies, and fellowships with upcoming deadlines, in this list published recently. – S. Kalekar


Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest
This prize is for humor poetry. Submit a poem of up to 250 lines.
Value: $1,000 and a subscription to Duotrope; second prize of $500; 10 prizes of $100 each
Deadline: 1 April 2021
Open for: All poets
Details here.

Platform Presents: 2021 Playwright’s Prize
This is an open call for distinctive, dynamic plays. Submit your script of up to 10,000 words. The prize includes ongoing mentoring and producing the winning script, as well as a cash prize.
Value: £5,000, mentoring, production
Deadline: 2 April 2021
Open for: Unspecified
Details here.

Grist: Imagine 2020 – Climate fiction for future ancestors
This is a climate fiction contest; stories have to be 3,000-5,000 words. They have extensive guidelines, including: “Envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress. What will the world look like in the year 2200 — or anywhere between then and now? How will we move around the cities of the future? What will we eat, drink, wear, use, and live in? How will we hold our relationships to land, resources, and one another? What kind of a world do you, a future ancestor, want to build? … Stories should be set anywhere between the present day and the year 2200, and should show our path to a clean, green, and just future.” They will be reading for the following core elements: hope; intersectionality; resilience; a society that is radically different from the one we live in today, and how we got there; a focus on climate, with creative and clearly articulated solutions that put people and planet first. Also see guidelines for details of the inspirations and genres the contest is rooted in.
Value: $3,000; $2,000; $1,000; and honorarium of $300 each for nine finalists
Deadline: 12 April 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here and here.

Keats-Shelley Prize Memorial Association: Two prizes
These are contests of poems and essays on Romantic themes.
Keats-Shelley Essay Prize: Adult writers should respond creatively to the work of the Romantics; essays of up to 3,000 words may be on any aspect of the lives of the Romantics and their circles. There is also a poetry prize, which has an entry fee.
Young Romantics Prize: For the poetry prize, poets aged 16-18 should submit poetry on the theme of ‘Writ in Water’, of up to 30 lines. For the Young Romantics essayist prize their guidelines say, “Essay writers are asked to address this question (preceded by two quotations):
‘Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul?” — John Keats
‘The sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.’ — PB Shelley, To a Skylark
How can poetry – especially the poetry of John Keats and Percy Shelley – help us cope with adversity? … Your response can take whatever form, mood or tone you choose: literary criticism, political commentary, personal essay, opinion piece, the script for a podcast. You can agree or disagree.” Entries must be 750-1,000 words, including quotations.
Value: Total prize purse of £5,000
Deadline: 12 April 2021
Open for: All writers for the Keats-Shelley essay prize; writers and poets ages 16-18 for the Young Romantics prize
Details here and here.

descant: Four prizes
descant is an annual journal published by Texas Christian University. Each year, they offer four awards: the $500 Frank O’Connor Award for fiction (for the best short story in an issue); the $250 Gary Wilson Award (for an outstanding story in an issue); the $500 Betsy Colquitt Award for poetry (for the best poem or series of poems by a single author in an issue); the $250 Baskerville Publishers Award (for an outstanding poem or poems by a single author in an issue. There is no application process or reading fee. All published submissions are eligible for prize consideration. Their current reading period is until 15 April.
Value: Four awards: $500 and $250 each for fiction and poetry
Deadline: 15 April 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Science Me a Story
This is an international contest which aims to promote the use of short stories as a tool to communicate science to children in a fun and engaging way. The contest has two categories: work in Spanish and in English. The story, real or fictional, must be conceived from the objective of scientific dissemination to primary school children (ages 6-12 years) through the use of the narrative technique, as prose or poem. The topic should be related to science, the scientific method, the research process and scientific discovery, everyday life of a scientist, and others alike. Prose must be 400 to 1, 700 words, and poems, 170 to 1,000 words.
Value:  £200, £150, £100 for each category
Deadline: 18 April 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Ayn Rand Institute: Two contests
These are international essay contests for students centred around Ayn Rand’s works: Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. All runner-up prizes have more than one winner in each contest and category. The guidelines also say, “All entries become the property of the Ayn Rand Institute and will not be returned. Essays may be reproduced on our website and/or shared with third parties for purposes of marketing the contest.” The deadlines for the contests around Anthem (for 8th to 12th grade) and The Fountainhead (11th and 12th grade) are in April; the deadline for the contest around Atlas Shrugged (for 12th grade, undergraduate, and graduate students) is in September. Writers are to submit an essay on one of three specific topics centred around Ayn Rand’s novels, Anthem and The Fountainhead (click on ‘Topics’ under each for topics, and on ‘Rules’ for length guidelines).
Value: $2,000, $250, $100 for 8th-12th grade/Anthem; $5,000, $1,000, $500 for 11th-12th grade/The Fountainhead
Deadline: 29 April 2021
Open for: All students
Details here.

The Willie Morris Awards: Two awards

There is a poetry award for an unpublished poem (up to three pages), and a fiction award for fiction novels published in 2020 – both are for work that invokes the American South.

Value: $2,500 for poetry; $10,000 for published novels
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: Unspecified
Details here.

Queer Sci Fi: Ink
They want to see science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, or horror LGBTQIA stories of up to 300 words on the theme of Ink. Their guidelines say, “Ink is everywhere. Liquid ink the books and magazines and newspapers we read. Virtual ink in our devices. Tattoos have moved decorative body art ink into the mainstream, and our politicians and celebrities often get more ink in the press than they can handle. And ink can leave an indelible stain.
Tell us about ink (and the stain it leaves) on your characters, the culture, and the world, for better or worse.”
Value: $75, $50, $25
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Parsec Ink Short Story Contest: Still Waters, Deep Thoughts
This is a contest for a science fiction, fantasy or horror short story (up to 3,500 words) on the theme ‘Still Waters, Deep Thoughts’ – which can be used in the setting, plot, characters, or dialogue – the winning story will be one which uses the contest theme as a key element. Entrants must be non-professional writers (those who have not met eligibility requirements for Science Fiction Writers of America or equivalent: sale of a novel or sale of 3 stories to a large-circulation publication). Read the terms carefully – one of these is, “Submission to the contest implies consent for publication”. A maximum of two submissions is allowed.
Value: $200, $100, $50
Deadline: 15 April 2021
Open for: Non-professional writers (see guidelines)
Details here.
The Mike Resnick Memorial Award for Short Fiction

This award is for a science fiction short story, up to 7,499 words, by a new author – one who has not had any work published (including short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels in paper, digital or audio form) that has been paid a per-word rate of 6 cents a word or more or received a payment for any single work of fiction totaling more than $50. The prize is sponsored by Galaxy’s Edge magazine and Dragon Con.

Value: $250, $100, $50
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: New writers
Details here.

Preservation Foundation Contest: Non-fictional Animal Stories
This is an international contest for unpublished writers (see guidelines). Their upcoming deadline is for the non-fiction animal stories category: “Stories should be factual and true accounts of an encounter or encounters by the author with a wild animal or animals. These include, but are not limited to, birds, fish, butterflies, snails, lions, bears, turtles, wombats, etc., as long as it is not a pet.” Entries should be 1,000-10,000 words. They want all entries, regardless of whether or not they win, to be on their website as long as the Foundation exists (see guidelines). Also see contests in other genres, which will open for submissions later in the year.
Value: $200, $100
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: Unpublished writers
Details here.

New England Crime Bake: Al Blanchard Award
This is a short story award. Their guidelines say it must be a crime story, of up to 5,000 words, by a New England author or have a New England setting if the author is not from New England. The story may include the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, and horror. (No torture/killing of children or animals.) Apart from the cash award, the winner also gets publication in Level Best Books’ Crime Fiction anthology, and admission to the Crime Bake Conference (though conference attendance is not a requirement). Writers can send up to two stories.
Value: $100
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation: Author of Tomorrow Award
This international contest is designed to find the adventure writers of the future. Writers must enter a piece of short fiction. The work must fall within what can be defined as adventure writing (see guidelines).  There are three categories: for writers ages 16-21, 12-15, and under 11.
Value: £1,000 in the 16-21 group, £100 in the 12-15 group, £100 in the under-11 group
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: All writers ages 21 and under
Details here.

Humane Education Network: A Voice for Animals
This is an international essay contest for students in two categories: for 14-15-year-olds, and for 16-18-year-olds. The essay themes include mistreatment of one animal species, the preservation of one endangered species, and more (see guidelines). Participants must currently be attending middle or high school, or be home-schooled, and less than 19 years of age on 1 February 2021. The contest is also open for those for whom English is a second language. Entries can be essays, essays with photos, or videos. They have extensive guidelines.
Value: Total prize purse up to $5,900; individual prizes of up to $500
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: All 14 to 18 year old students
Details here.

Remastered Words Contest
This organization creates audio dramatizations of short story submissions and an audio recording. Submit a story of up to 5,000 words in any fantasy sub-genre.
Value: £75, £50, £25, and royalties
Deadline: 1 May 2021
Open for: All writers
Details here.

The Black Orchid Novella Award
They want novellas (15,000-20,000 words) that confirm to the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. They should focus on the deductive skills of the sleuth. Their guidelines also say, “We need to stress that a novella is not a padded short story. A novella needs to be as tight and fast-paced as a short story or a novel. Authors need to ensure that the story they want to tell is properly sized for whatever format they choose.” They are not looking for derivatives of the Nero Wolfe series, or the milieu. They accept mailed submissions only.
Value: $1,000 and publication in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
Deadline: 31 May 2021 (postmarked)
Open for: All writers
Details here.

(See links to grants and fellowships in the introduction for more opportunities for US-based writers)


The Great American Think-Off
This is an essay contest for US-based writers. This year the theme is, “Which is more important: To win, or play by the rules?” Their website says, “The Great American Think-Off is an exhibition of civil disagreement between powerful ideas that connect to your life at the gut level. … People of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to submit an essay of no more than 750 words for a chance to win one of four $500 cash prizes and participate in the live debate to ultimately answer the question, determined by audience vote. …  The debate is held each year on the second Saturday in June.
Writers are encouraged to ground their essays in personal experience rather than philosophical abstraction. Each year, four writers will be selected as finalists and invited to debate the question on the second Saturday in June in New York Mills, MN. Costs for winners’ travel, food, and lodging will be covered by the Cultural Center.”
Value: $500 for four writers, and other prizes – see above
Deadline: 1 April 2021
Open for: US-based writers
Details here and here.

Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships

These fellowships are for young poets who are US residents or citizens. Application includes up to 10 pages of poetry.
Deadline: 30 April 2020
Value: Fellowships of $25,800 each
Open for: US poets aged 21-31 years
Details here.

The Irene Adler Prize
The scholarship is for a woman pursuing a degree in journalism, creative writing, or literature at a recognized post-secondary institution in the US or Canada. Applications include a 500-word essay on one of these three topics:
— Which one person, place, or event best encapsulates, for you, the struggles we are all facing right now?
— What is the most important thing you learned about yourself in 2020?
— What are you doing with your writing to bring joy back into your life – or the world – in 2021?
Value: $1,000
Deadline: 30 April 2020
Open for: US or Canadian citizens
Details here (download 2021 submission guidelines).

(See the link to grants and fellowships in the introduction for more opportunities for UK-based writers)

The Orwell Society Dystopian Fiction Prize
The Orwell Society is organising its seventh annual short story competition for current students (both BA and MA) at British universities. They want dystopian narratives of up to 3,000 words. The judges will be looking for the narrative which best follows in the tradition set by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four and which Orwell is most likely to have admired.

Value: £500
Deadline: 1 April 2021
Open for: Current students (both BA and MA) at British universities
Details here.

Young Films Foundation: Skye Screenwriters’ Residency Programme
This is an opportunity for writers living in Scotland. Young Films Foundation is launching a new year-long screenwriting programme running from June 2021 to July 2022, with a week residency on the Isle of Skye in May/June 2022. Supported by major broadcasters and leading names in the UK Film and Television industry, it offers seven screenwriters the opportunity to write a script commissioned by and guided by a Broadcaster. They are accepting applications with ideas for a TV Drama Series, TV Comedy Series or Feature Film; there is one dedicated place for a Gaelic project. The Broadcasters include Channel 4 Drama, Channel 4 Comedy, BBC Drama, BBC Films, Film4, Sky TV and MG Alba/BBC Alba. The application includes a project logline, project pitch, and screenwriting sample (up to 10 pages).
Value: Industry level script fee, mentoring, residency
Deadline: 19 April 2021
Open for: Scotland-based writers
Details here.

4th Write Short Story Prize

This is an opportunity for UK-based BAME writers. Send a story of up to 6,000 words.

Value: £1,000, workshop, publication on the Guardian website
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: Black, Asian or any other minority ethnic background, resident in UK or Ireland
Details here.

ETPEP Award for Playwriting
This award, by Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwriting Trust and Finborough Theatre, is open to UK residents of any age who have not had a play professionally produced, and who have worked front of house, in administrative roles, on stage, backstage, lighting, design etc. or in a creative capacity in theatre for at least two years, either now or in the past – and who also write plays. It is intended to target and encourage those who are currently working or have worked in theatre but who are new to playwriting, and therefore, the award is not open to those who have worked in any capacity in a literary department, a literary agency, theatre critics, or those who ever have undertaken paid script reading work (see guidelines). Apart from a cash prize, the winner also gets rehearsal workshop, staged reading performance, and other opportunities.
Value: £6,000; £300 each for ten runners-up
Deadline: 30 April 2021
Open for: New UK playwrights who have worked in theatre (see guidelines)
Details here.


HarperFiction: Killing It – The Killer Reads Competition
This is an opportunity for UK-based crime writers by HarperFiction. Send them the first 10,000 words of your crime, thriller or suspense novel, and a short synopsis. There is no cash award, but three winners will receive editorial reports from HarperFiction crime editors on their full manuscripts, covering pace, characterization, pitch, and more, as well as editorial mentoring with a HarperFiction crime editor.
Deadline: 7 April 2021.
Details here.

Bio: S. Kalekar is the pseudonym of a regular contributor to this magazine. She is the author of 182 Short Fiction Publishers. She can be reached here.


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