Youth Essay Contest

Winner Jensen Villaflor with writer Michael Cunningham. (photo: James R. Brantley)

PEN/Faulkner’s Youth Essay Contest is open to students in Grades 8-11. Each year, students submit a personal essay inspired by a theme. Two winners receive $100 and the opportunity to read at a PEN/Faulkner event. Two runners-up receive $50 and acknowledgement on our website.

Submission Guidelines:

  • Contest is open only to students in Grades 8-11 in the District of Columbia.
  • Entries must include the youth writer’s name, current grade level, school name, and email address. (All submitted essays receive personalized feedback from our reviewing panel.)
  • Submissions must be between 500-750 words.
  • Submissions must be received by midnight on the deadline.
  • Submissions can take the theme as literally or as broadly as the writer would like.

The deadline for the next essay contest as well as the theme will be announced later this fall.


2018 Essay Contest Winners and Runners-up
Theme: Magic

Winner: Alexus White, “In the Blink of an Eye,” The SEED School of Washington, DC
Winner: Jensen Villaflor, “Massim”, Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Runner-up: Kellen Alfaro, “Beloved Bruja”, Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Runner-up: Ania Benjamin, “Sanctification”, Duke Ellington School of the Arts