The mission of the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards (CWAs), in partnership with WNDB, is to distribute scholarship awards encouraging the next generation of diverse and unique voices.
About the CWAs
For nearly 30 years, the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards have recognized the diverse talent of graduating high school seniors. In 2019, Penguin Random House entered into an innovative partnership with We Need Diverse Books to expand the program nationally.
Through this program, PRH awards college scholarships of up to $10,000 each to five U.S. high school seniors nationwide. Five students receive $10,000 each in these categories: fiction / drama, the Michelle Obama Award for Memoir, the Amanda Gorman Award for Poetry, and the Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word. There is also a New York City entrant award, in recognition of the Creative Writing Awards previously being focused on the greater New York region. In addition to scholarship awardees, fifty honorable mentions receive “creativity kits,” which include a selection of Penguin Random House titles and writing resources.
The contest is open to all high school seniors attending a public high school in the United States and its territories, who are planning to attend college in the fall. Every submission is given individual consideration through a multi-level selection process. Judges from We Need Diverse Books include school librarians, authors, teachers, and poets. Penguin Random House selects its own in-house judges each year.
The CWAs aim to reach students across the United States. In 2021, 1000 students from nearly 700 high schools representing 50 states and territories of the U.S. submitted their work to the competition.
Past winners have been invited to attend a professional-development day at Penguin Random House. The program gives students the opportunity to meet publishing executives and Creative Writing Awards Alumnx, gain insights into publishing, and to receive one-on-one mentoring with editors. The CWAs have distinguished alumni who have gone on to become publishing professionals and award-winning authors.
For more information, please visit https://social-impact.penguinrandomhouse.com/our-awards/u-s-creative-writing-awards/.
How to Apply
The 2023 application submissions are now CLOSED.
Winners will be announced in June.
- Sagar Gupta for conversation starter: how is your english so good? (Amanda Gorman Award for Poetry), Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Technology, Herndon, VA
- Ife Martin for A Letter To Dr. King (Maya Angelou Award for the Spoken Word), West Bloomfield High School, West Bloomfield, MI
- Kayla T. Xu for Chasing Memories (Fiction / Drama), Scripps Ranch High School, San Diego, CA
- Eva G. Martinez for Proud (Personal Essay), Valley Stream North High School, Franklin Square, NY
- Arianna Steadman for Food for Thought (NYC Entrant), Hunter College High School, New York, NY
- Ally Guo for “Superstition” (Fiction & Drama), William Mason High School, Mason, OH
- Ajok Thon for “(Un)erasable Shade” (Personal Essay/Memoir), High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA
- Evelyn Lee for “My Mother Rejected God When She Was 19 But I Don’t Think God Ever Really Got Over It” (Poetry), Sam Houston High School, Moss Bluff, LA
- Chloe Cramutola for “Why” (Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word), Absegami High School, Stamford, NJ
- Tandika Somwaru for “How to Write the Great Guyanese Novel” (NYC Entrant), of Midwood High School, Brooklyn, NY
- Erika Whisnant for Loophole Abuse (Fiction & Drama), Burke Middle College, Morganton, NC
- Ivana Cortez for Planet: Elkhart, Indiana (Personal Essay), Galena Park High School, Galena Park, TX
- Jeffrey Liao for Museum of My Own History, Age Sixteen (Poetry), Livingston High School, Livingston, NJ
- Orlane Devesin for Evolution of the Black Woman (Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word), Hiram High School, Hiram, GA
- Maya Williams for To My Catcaller (NYC Entrant Award), Edward R. Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY
Watch the 2020 winners share their work here. Read the 2020 winning submissions here.
- Kiora Brooks for The Misinterpretation of Dark Skin (Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word), Topeka West High School, Topeka, KS
- Nora Carrier for Stories My Mother Tells Me (New York City Entrant Award), Edward R. Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY
- Siobhan Cohen for American Jew (Personal Essay), Hunter College High School, New York, NY
- Samantha Kirschman for blood moon (Fiction & Drama), Kenston High School, Chagrin Falls, OH
- Katherine Sanchez for Red-White-and-Brown Skin (Poetry), Stuyvesant High School, New York, NY
See the 2019 winners share their work here. Read the 2019 winning submissions here.
Creative Writing Awards FAQ
WNDB and Penguin Random House will announce the date that submissions for the CWAs will open in the fall of each year. Once submissions for the Creative Writing Awards are open, go here to submit your application via the Scholarship America portal.
Applicants to theCreative Writing Awards must:
- Be current high school seniors at a public high school in one of the United States of America, including the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, age 21 years and under, graduating in spring 2020
- Planning to enroll in full-time undergraduate study at an accredited two-year or four-year college, university, or vocational-technical school for the entire upcoming academic year starting in fall 2020
- Submit one original literary composition in English in one of the following genres of poetry, spoken word poem, fiction/drama or personal essay/memoir
Only the first 1000 applications will be accepted. Family members, employees of Bertelsmann, We Need Diverse Books, Penguin Random House, its subsidiaries, divisions or affiliates are ineligible to apply.
Submissions must meet the following guidelines:
- All submissions must be typed, double-spaced with a minimum 12 point font size, and no longer than 10 pages.
- All literary submissions with multiple pages must be numbered with a page number and total number of pages (Ex. 1/3, 2/3, 3/3).
- A four-page minimum is recommended in the fiction/drama genre.
- All uploaded entries must be clear and legible.
- You may submit only one entry to the competition.
- All entries must be original works. We do not accept plagiarism or copyright infringement.
Literary compositions are judged by their technical merit; however, artistic expression is our core criterion. We are looking for writing with a strong, clear voice by authors who are daring, original and unafraid to take risks.
All judging will be under the supervision of We Need Diverse Books and Penguin Random House by a specially selected panel of judges. The decision of the judges will be final. In the event there is an insufficient number of entries in any category which meet the minimum standards established by the judges, Penguin Random House reserves the right not to award any prize.
Winners agree to the use by Penguin Random House or any of its subsidiaries or divisions of their names, addresses, likenesses, photographs and entries for promotional and similar purposes without further compensation or notification. Winners are solely responsible for any applicable state, federal or other taxes. Penguin Random House and Scholarship America cannot be held responsible for lost, late or misdirected mail or e-mail communications. No entries will be returned.
Awards will be distributed as follows:
- $10,000 Maya Angelou Award for Spoken-Word Poetry
- $10,000 Poetry
- $10,000 Fiction/Drama
- $10,000 Personal Essay/Memoir
Fifty Honorable Mention recipients will receive a “Creativity Kit” gift from Penguin Random House.
In recognition of the Creative Writing Awards previously being centered on New York City and as an extension of our longtime work with local schools there, we will also offer an additional first-place prize of $10,000 to the top entrant from the NYC area.
Scholarship awards will be made by Penguin Random House to your choice of post-secondary educational institution. Awards will be payable over four years.
Winners will be posted to the Penguin Random House website in June of each year. You can also follow WNDB social media, the winners will be posted there as well. Winners will be contacted directly.