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Saturday, May 4, 2019

PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship 2019

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PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship will commission six writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate.

The PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship aims to harness the power of writers and writing in bearing witness to the societal consequences of mass incarceration by capturing and sharing the stories of incarcerated individuals, their families, communities, and the wider impact of the criminal justice system. Our goal is to ignite a broad, sustained conversation about the dangers of over-incarceration and the imperative to mobilize behind rational and humane policies. As an organization of writers dedicated to promoting free expression and informed discourse, PEN America is honored to have been entrusted by the Art for Justice Fund to engage the literary community in addressing this pressing societal issue.

Applications Open: April 1, 2019
Deadline to apply: May 15, 2019


Please read the following closely, as our application requirements have changed.

The Writing for Justice Fellowship is open-genre, and proposed writing projects, which must be authored by the applicant, may include—but are not limited to—fictional stories; works of literary or long-form journalism; theatrical scripts; memoirs; poetry collections; or multimedia projects. The most competitive applications will demonstrate how the proposed project will engage issues of reform, fuel public debate, crystallize concepts of reform, and facilitate the possibility of societal change. As part of our mission to stimulate discussion, emphasis will be placed on proposed projects that show strong promise for publication. Fellows must commit to contribute actively to bringing attention to their work and that of other Fellows. The Fellowship is open to writers at any stage of their career. Currently and formerly incarcerated writers are highly encouraged to apply, and special provisions will be made for incarcerated writers to participate through alternative methods.

Fellows will receive an honorarium of between $5,000-$10,000, based on scope of project. Modest expense budget requests up to $2,500 will be additionally considered. Fellows will be paired with a mentor to serve as a source of guidance for the project, and the cohort will convene in person twice during the course of the Fellowship. PEN America will draw on the Writing for Justice Advisory Committee, as well as its network of agents, editors, publishers, partner organizations and outlets in order to assist efforts for publication and dissemination of the work of the Fellows. Opportunities for sharing the created work through public forums will be organized in New York City at the PEN World Voices Festival, in the Fellow’s home community, and possibly additional locations.


The first eight months of the Fellowship are designed for Fellows to research, create, and connect with mentors and the cohort, working toward submission of a polished final product that is ready for publication. The final four months of the Fellowship will focus on placing the works for public dissemination and opportunities for Fellows to present their work publicly.

April 1, 2019: Application opens
May 15, 2019: Deadline to apply
Late September 2019: Applicants notified of final application status
September–May 2019: Fellows work on their projects, meet with mentors
October TBD 2019: Cohort meeting #1 (NYC)
February, TBD 2020: Cohort meeting #2 (Location TBD)
Early May 2020: PEN World Voices Festival event featuring works in progress
Late May 2020 Work completed and submitted for publication
May–August 2020: Placing work and local public presentations


To be eligible for this Fellowship, the applicant must be

  • 21 years of age or older.
  • An individual writer. Collaborative projects are acceptable, but only one project lead may apply and participate in the Fellowship’s activities. 
  • Residing in the United States during the Fellowship duration.
  • Available to participate actively in all dimensions of Fellowship programming, including mandatory gatherings and public programs. (The Fellowship will cover costs associated with these events, separately from the Fellowship honorarium and travel/research budget.) Currently incarcerated writers and formerly incarcerated writers restricted by parole will participate through alternative means.
  • Able to demonstrate a track record of successful projects brought to completion on time.
  • Membership in PEN America is not required. 


Given the highly competitive nature of this Fellowship, we advise using discretion in your project application. As a literary Fellowship, awarded projects must center writing as a critical mode of expression in the work, rather than a secondary or supporting aspect of the project. Applicants should be the main writer/creator (rather than editor or compiler) of the work. Fellows will be selected on artistic merit, the project’s approach and potential for impact, and the feasibility of project to be fully completed and in polished, publishable form within the given time frame. Applications will be reviewed by PEN America and expert advisers through an anonymous process.

Applications close May 15, 2019. Fellows will be announced in fall 2019.


Closely review all required materials listed below. Please be mindful of the specific application requests. Failure to follow instructions carefully may result in disqualification. Late applications will not be accepted. We suggest you submit early to avoid technical issues. Applicants may only submit one project proposal to the Fellowship.

There is no fee to apply to the Writing for Justice Fellowship.

All non-incarcerated applicants are required to submit online through Submittable.

Currently incarcerated writers can submit by sending application materials (preferably typed, but clean, legible handwritten applications will also be accepted) to the address below:

Writing For Justice Fellowship
588 Broadway, Suite 303
New York, NY 10012


Please login to the application system in advance of submitting, to become familiar with the format materials are requested in.

Typed materials should be:

11 or 12 pt standard font (Times New Roman, Arial)
Spaced at 1 or 1.15
One-inch margins
Currently incarcerated writers should follow formatting to the best of their ability and estimate word count as closely as possible. We will not disqualify applications for being reasonably over count.

1. Cover Page:

Include name, address, telephone number, email address, and title of the proposed project. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form.

2. Project Title and Brief Description (maximum of 100 words):

Please do not include your name or any other identifying information on any part of the Project Title and Brief Description. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form.

3. Project Proposal (maximum of 750 words):

Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form. Do not include your name or any other identifying information on any part of the Project Proposal. Please respond to the following questions:

Describe the project, including genre, relevance to the topic of mass incarceration, and the geographic regions your project addresses.
Share what is new and significant about your project’s approach and why it matters. What inspired your choices and interest?
Where are you in the timeline of your project? What work do you hope to accomplish during the eight-month creation portion of the Fellowship? What resources would be most helpful in this process? What form of mentorship would your project most benefit from? (E.g., a writer in your genre, an editor, an expert in an aspect of criminal justice/mass incarceration, etc.)
What impact do you hope your project will have? What audiences/communities are you writing toward? How do you imagine your project might be used to catalyze conversations on mass incarceration? What change might it spur? Please provide specific examples.
Where do you imagine this project living or being featured? Share any ideas/connections to publications or other relevant venues that might be a good fit for your work.
4. Work sample: 7–10 pages of your written work, or 5 files of multimedia (video, audio, visual). You may submit a combination of both, adding up to the maximum (2 files and 8 pages of writing, for example.) Media files that require watching or listening should be under fifteen minutes in length in total. If you are applying with a project that is already in motion, the work sample content should reflect this. Please do not include your name on any part of the Work Sample, including the file name. Typed work samples should be submitted in the same single file (.doc, .docx or PDF) and formatted with one inch margins and 1.15 or 1.5 spacing. Online applicants will submit as an attachment.

5. Expense budget up to $2,500.

Budgets may reflect costs associated with research travel, a self-directed residency, resources associated with the project’s completion, and/or supplies. Funding is subject to the Fellowship committee’s discretion. Please do not submit an expense budget unless there is a strong case for the impact of this financial support on your project’s completion. This budget is in addition to the project honorarium, which you do not submit a budget for. Online applicants will submit as an attachment.

6. Biographical Context (maximum of 500 words): Briefly introduce yourself as a creator. This might be an artist/career biography to express past accomplishments, a statement of philosophy and approach, or an overview of your current practice and/or creative mission. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form.

7. Optional CV (maximum of 2 pages): Encouraged, but not required. Applicants who do not include a CV will not be penalized. Online applicants will fill submit as an attachment.

8. References: Submit three reference names and contact information that can speak to applicant’s track record of success and completion of past projects. These are not letters of reference. This is required for non-incarcerated writers. Incarcerated writers are not required to supply references, but encouraged to do so if possible. Online applicants will fill this information out in the Submittable form. References will only be contacted for Fellowship finalists.

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