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 500-1,000 max. words.
  • Submissions must be in the personal narrative essay genre (no academic essays, please).
  • 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 essay contest theme is: TRANSFORMATION.

Submission deadline: Friday, June 19, 2020


2019 Essay Contest Winners and Runners-up
Theme: Rise Up

Winner: Queenal Ayaba, “The Lion Anger Has Resurrected,” Capital City Public Charter School
Winner: Katrina Tracy, “Sometimes You Stick Out,” Hardy Middle School

Runner-up: Sacha Gregoire, “My Greatest Fear,” Hardy Middle School
Runner-up: Alexander Suggs, “The Guardsmen,” Capital City Public Charter School

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