TW Contests

The Talking Writing Prize is an annual contest that celebrates the diversity online of original, personally driven writing.


"Double Prayer" © Jill Slaymaker; used by permission

TW 2017 Personal Essay Contest

Winner: Sarah Birnbach

We're delighted to announce the winner of the 2017 Talking Writing Prize for Personal Essay. Sarah Birnbach will receive a cash award of $500 and publication in TW of her essay "My Father's Blessing."

Congratulations to Sarah—and thanks to all who entered this contest for essays about Writing and Faith (there were 70 entries). Two finalists—Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser and Donna Cameron—will also be published in an upcoming issue of TW.

"Why isn’t the quiet custody of one’s own beliefs enough?"

Contest readers were blind to entrants' names, including guest judge Ausma Zehanat Khan and TW Editor Martha Nichols. (Other contest readers were contributing editors Jeremiah Horrigan and Athena Kildegaard.) Of the winner and finalists, Ausma told us by email, "All the winners deserve to be congratulated for writing about topics that are not easy to reflect upon."

Sarah BirnbachStill, she singled out Sarah Birnbach's "My Father's Blessing" as a "story of remarkable depth" that "examines the role faith plays in the lives of believing women and how the tradition that empowers them can also serve to exclude." Ausma adds:

Though 'My Father’s Blessing' tells the story of an observant Jewish family, it speaks to all traditions that discourage women from participation in the rituals they find meaningful. Rich in tenderness and empathy, this story of a daughter’s love for her father examines the ethics that underlie tradition with great compassion and sensitivity. One can only be joyous at the end.

As for the two contest finalists, they took on the topic of Writing and Faith from very different angles. Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser's "Pilgrim, Mother" connects the pilgrimage tradition of the Camino de Santiago and elsewhere with motherhood. Ausma, our judge, says of this piece:

Surprising and profoundly human, 'Pilgrim, Mother' explores the sacred in the ordinary and teaches us to appreciate the inestimable value of both.

In finalist Donna Cameron's "Come-to-Jesus Meeting," strangers from different spiritual traditions butt heads while waiting at the airport for a late flight—the kind of encounter that's "common to many of us today," Ausma notes, adding:

Strangers argue over whose path is the true one. In struggling for an answer, this line struck clean and deep: 'Why isn’t the quiet custody of one’s own beliefs enough?’ If only we knew the answer.

General Contest Guidelines

Since its debut in 2010, Talking Writing has showcased personal essays and other endangered forms of literary and journalistic writing.

TW editors believe strongly in building a community that promotes literary culture all over the Web—and the world. TW features have been reprinted in Salon, Ebony, and the Huffington Post, among other online media sites. TW issues have featured interviews with Jennifer Egan, Robert Olen Butler, Terry Tempest Williams, Connie Willis, Andrew Lam, Caitlin Moran, and many others. TW also publishes poetry, fiction, and the work of visual artists and photographers.

All contest submissions are reviewed by top TW editors and considered for publication in the magazine.

Submit all entries at The $15 fee for each entry offsets administrative costs and supports ongoing publication of TW.

Enter as many pieces as you like, although each entry requires a separate submission and contest fee. Simultaneous submissions are fine, too, as long as you notify us immediately if your piece is accepted elsewhere. We'll consider unpublished works only, and all entries must be in English.

Include only the title of your piece and page numbers on the first page and in the header. Author names, bios, and cover letters will not be seen by contest readers or judges until the winners have been selected.

Prizewinners receive a cash award and publication in Talking Writing


TW Contest Winner for 2017

Talking Writing Prize for Personal Essay
Topic: Writing and Faith
Judge: Ausma Zehanat Khan
Winner: Sarah Birnbach for "My Father's Blessing"

TW Contest Winners for 2016

Talking Writing Prize for Flash Fiction
Topic: Absurd Stories
Judge: Meg Pokrass
Winner: Nyanka Joseph for To Be a Snake in Winter

Talking Writing Prize for Personal Essay
Topic: Mental Illness
Judge: Mark Vonnegut
Winner: Jane McCafferty for Unleashed

TW Contest Winner for 2015

Talking Writing Prize for Hybrid Poetry
Judge: Amy King
Winner: Elisabeth Weiss for The Anna Fragments

 TW Contest Winners for 2014

Talking Writing Prize for Flash Nonfiction
Judge: Dinty W. Moore
Winner: Stephen Brown for How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?

Talking Writing Prize for Advice Writing
Judge: Emily Toth
Winner: Ruth Carmel for Misdirection

TW Contest Winners for 2013

Talking Writing Prize for Flash Fiction
Judge: Joanne Avallon
Winner: Charlotte M. Porter for Deaf Uncle

Talking Writing Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Topic: Family Life
Judge: Lorraine Berry
Winner: Drew Ciccolo for Paige

TW Contest Winners for 2012

Talking Writing Prize for Short Fiction
Judge: David Cameron
Winner: David Meischen for Agua Dulce

Talking Writing Prize for Nature Writing
Judge: Steven Lewis
Winner: John Gredler for Glistening Scar


Small Print

By submitting a contest entry, you agree that if your piece is a prize winner or is selected for publication, Talking Writing, Inc., will acquire First North American serial rights, the right to put it or portions of it on the TW website, and the one-time, non-exclusive right to include it in a TW anthology, should there ever be one. All other rights are retained by the author.

You also warrant that your piece is an original work, is solely owned by you, and has not been previously published.

Contest image for 2017: Many thanks to Jill Slaymaker, a featured artist in TW's Spring 2017 issue, for allowing us to use her work here. Published with artist's permission only.



Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, Etc.
Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, Etc.They appear via the Public Domain Review. 


Yes, certainly, the TW contests are open to non-Americans, as long as the pieces are in English. At TW, we're looking for great online writing, and we see such writing crossing all sorts of boundaries. Thanks for asking, Lucia.

Anne, thanks so much for checking in. Occasionally, we republish blog posts in Talking Writing. For the contest, however, they would be ineligible, since we'll request First North American serial rights for winning pieces.


I would like to submit a poem (750 words) for your present contest. It is about mental illness. If it is not suitable and you only take essays would you place it in your future poetry contest.

Poetry Submissions in June

Dorsey, a poem doesn't qualify for our current essay contest. However, we will be opening up general poetry submissions during the month of June, and that would be the time to submit your poem to TW. Our poetry editor will be reviewing new poetry submissions over the summer. All the best.

Submitted my Mental Health Essay and the $15 fee...

I received a confirmation that it had gone through - but, and this was alarming, it said the results would be announced on December 2015! If that is an error, it needs to be corrected. Could you please let me know that it has been corrected, and what the real result date is? Thank you!

Mira, the results of the

Mira, the results of the spring essay contest will be announced in August 2016. Thanks for pointing out the error in the automatic submission reply, which incorrectly stated December 2016 as the date for results -- definitely a long time to wait! We have corrected the date now.

We can publish a piece under

We can publish a piece under a pseudonym, as long as we indicate in the author's bio that it is a pseudonym. However, you need to submit the work to us under your real name. One of our previous contest winners did this, and we published her winning piece using her pseudonym.

Please note that if you want us to reply to you directly, submit a query through our Submittable site. Queries are free, but we need to track everything in this way so that email responses don't get lost in the shuffle. Many thanks.

Reverse Evolution

I am not attempting to show up or shame anyone, but it seems to me that a judge of a writing contest ought to be aware of the following information: the opposite of 'evolve' is not 'devolve'. It is 'regress'. I realize we all have gaps. This one, however, struck me as particularly unprofessional both on the writer's and editor's part since it begs this question: What else might be overlooked by the publication hosting this contest or its judge?

I appreciate the careful

I appreciate the careful reading here, although the first definition Merriam-Webster gives for "devolve" is "to gradually go from an advanced state to a less advanced state." Other verbs might be more precise or elegant, but I think "devolve" gets across the meaning, especially in a conversational quote. Besides, for Flash Fiction of the Absurd, we're drawn to language that twists off-center.

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