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Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards
Application status: Closed

Penguin Random House is passionate about encouraging the next generation of readers and authors and promoting diverse voices and stories. For 27 years, Penguin Random House has supported this mission through the Creative Writing Awards, which in 2019 entered into an innovative new partnership with national advocacy organization We Need Diverse Books. Through this program, Penguin Random House will award college scholarships of up to $10,000 each to five U.S. high school seniors, nationwide.

Creative Writing Awards winners have gone on to become professional and award-winning authors. Since 1993, this program has awarded more than $2.7 million dollars to public high school students for original poetry, memoir/personal essay, fiction/drama, and spoken-word compositions. This signature program continues to empower and celebrate hundreds of young writers each year.

This program is administered by Scholarship America┬«, the nation’s largest designer and manager of scholarship, tuition assistance and other education support programs for corporations, foundations, associations, and individuals. Awards are granted without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin.

Applicants to the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards Program in Partnership with We Need Diverse Books 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 900 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.

Award Information

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 announced and posted on the Penguin Random House Creative Writing website at by June 5, 2020.

Payment of Scholarships

Scholarship America will process scholarship award payments on behalf of Penguin Random House. All awards will be paid over four(4) years, and cannot be deferred beyond one year.


Penguin Random House reserves the right to review the conditions and procedures of this scholarship program and to make changes at any time including termination of the program.

General Rules and Criteria

  1. All submissions must be typed, double-spaced with a minimum 12 point font size, and no longer than 10 pages.
  2. 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).
  3. A four-page minimum is recommended in the fiction/drama genre.
  4. All uploaded entries must be clear and legible.
  5. You may submit only one entry to the competition.
  6. 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 it 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.

Process for uploading your work for award consideration:

  • Use the “Apply Now” link at the bottom of this informational landing page
  • Register for an account on the Scholarship America Hub (new users) or log in to your Scholarship America Hub account (returning users)
  • Complete or update your Profile and navigate to the Scholarships page to find the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards program
  • Complete the application form and Upload your entry piece before submitting the application
  • You will receive an email acknowledgment of your submitted application

Penguin Random House has partnered with Scholarship America. Click the button below to be directed to the Scholarship America Student Hub!