Quite a few of the essay contests are geared toward high school and college students, but there are many for writers of any age.
Genres cover the gamut from poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction, to short stories and books (published and in-progress), as well as translations.
Some of these contests have geographic restrictions. Make sure to read their full contest rules.
John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Restrictions: The contest is open to United States high school students in grades nine through twelve attending public, private, parochial, or home schools; US students under the age of twenty enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program; and US citizens attending schools overseas. Genre: Essay on an act of political courage by a US elected official who served during or after 1956. Prize: The first-place winner receives $10,000 comprised of a $5,000 cash award and $5,000 from John Hancock. The second-place winner receives $1,000. Up to five finalists receive $500 each. Deadline: January 6, 2016.
Thirdspace Short Fiction Contest. Genre: Short fiction stories that center on experience(s) of medical education. Prize: First prize: $350 and publication in Thirdspace. Deadline: January 6, 2016.
Japan Center-Canon Essay Competition. The aim of the Japan Center Essay Competition is to promote awareness and understanding of Japan in the United States and to help young Americans broaden their international horizons. Genre: Essay. Contestants should write, in English, one or more aspects of Japan including art, culture, tradition, values, philosophy, history, society, politics, business, and technology in relation to their personal views, experiences, and/or future goals. (Contestants do not need to have any experience in visiting Japan or studying Japanese. Prize: Best Essay Award in the High School Division: 1st Place: $3,000 and a Canon camera, 2nd Place: $1,500 and a Canon camera, 3rd Place: $750 and a Canon camera; Best Essay Award in the College Division: $3,000 and a Canon camera; Uchida Memorial Award: $1,000 and a Canon camera; Merit Award: $200 (each) for up to five awards. Deadline: January 8, 2016.
Texas Institute of Letters Literary Awards. Restrictions: Entrants must have resided in Texas for at least 2 consecutive years, or have been born in Texas. Genre: Book (published). 11 different categories. Prize: $6,000. Deadline: January 8, 2016.
Moving Words Poetry Contest. Restrictions: People who live within the DC Metro transit area (the Northern Virginia counties Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun and the cities Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church; the District of Columbia; and the Maryland counties Montgomery and Prince George's) and who are over 18. Genre: Poetry. Prize: $250 honorarium. Deadline: January 11, 2016.
VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Genre: First novel published July–December 2015. No self-published books. Prize: $5,000. Deadline: January 14, 2016.
Andres Montoya Poetry Prize. Restrictions: US residents and citizens. Genre: Poetry. first book by a Latino/a poet. Prize: $1000 and publication at the University of Notre Dame Press. Deadline: January 15, 2016.
The Roswell Award. The Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival is initiating a new short story writing contest for adult writers over the age of 18 called THE ROSWELL AWARD. All submissions must be short stories (not plays) and must be an original work of science fiction (not fan fiction) and be no longer than 1500 words. The contest is open to U.S. writers and writers outside the U.S. Five finalists will be chosen and their stories will be read aloud by professional actors associated with iconic Sci-Fi TV shows in a special awards ceremony to be held at the festival on May 23, 2015 at 7:00 PM (Memorial Day Weekend). Prize: The winner will receive a cash prize of $1,000.00. Submissions can be made at www.sci-fest.com. Terms and conditions can be read on the website. Deadline: January 15th, 2016. Finalists will be notified by March 15th, Read submission guidelines HERE.
The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award introduces emerging writers to the New York City literary community. The prestigious award aims to provide promising writers a network for professional advancement. Since Poets & Writers began the Writers Exchange in 1984, 85 writers from 33 states and the District of Columbia have been selected to participate. Restrictions: Open to Hawaii residents. Genre: Poetry and Fiction. Prize: A $500 honorarium; A trip to New York City to meet with editors, agents, publishers, and other writers. All related travel/lodgings expenses and a per diem stipend are covered by Poets & Writers. Winners will also give a public reading of their work; and One-month residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming. Deadline: January 15, 2016. For guidelines click HERE
MASH Competition. Every three months, three random objects are selected from a randomly gathered list. Writers are invited to incorporate them into a short, sensible and convincing story. Prize: $100 for the winning story! All shortlisted stories are published on their website, and Mash Club stories are narrated by professional voice actors and broadcast in MASH podcast. Deadline: January 15, 2016. For guidelines click HERE.
The Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers was established in 2005 to honor the memory of Ellen Meloy. The Fund provides support to writers whose work reflects the spirit and passions embodied in Ellen’s writing and her commitment to a “deep map of place.” Ellen’s own map-in-progress was of the desert country she called home. Genre: Only literary or creative nonfiction proposals will be considered. No fiction or poetry proposals will be reviewed. Prize: $3,000. Deadline: January 15, 2016. For more details click HERE.
Transitions Abroad Narrative Travel Writing Contest. Professionals, freelancers, and aspiring travel writers are invited to write an article which describes how traveling in a slower manner and attempting to adapt to the space and time of locals, their culture, and their land has deepened your experience of both the people and the destination. One of the results of a slower form of immersion travel is the experience of epiphanies that change one's perceptions of the world, of others, and of oneself. We urge you to translate one or more of those moments into a narrative which will convey this view to many who still tend to see travel as a way to "do" as many countries, cities, and continents in the world as possible—as if travel was some form of competition or consumption. Prize: $500 first-place. Deadline: January 15, 2016. For more details click HERE.
French-American Foundation Translation Prizes. Genre: Book - best English translation of French in both fiction and non-fiction. Prize: $10,000. Deadline: January 15, 2016.
Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. Restrictions: Open to poets who have published no more than two books of children's poetry. Genre: Children's poetry (for children and young adults up to grade 12). A book-length single poem may be submitted. The award is for published works only. Poetry in any language may be submitted; non-English poetry must be accompanied by an English translation. Poetry copyrighted from 2013 to 2015 may be submitted. Prize: $500. Deadline: January 15, 2016.
Orwell Prize. Genre: Political writing published between 1st January and 31st January 2015. All entries must have a clear British link. Fiction and non-fiction. Prize: £3,000.00. Deadline: January 15, 2016.
Student Stowe Prize. Restrictions: High school and college students in the US. Genre: Social justice writing. Prize: $2,500.00 Deadline: January 15, 2016. See more details HERE.
Women Artists Datebook. Restrictions: Women. Genre: 4 poems. Peace and Justice. Prize: $70. Deadline: January 15, 2016. See more details HERE.
The Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize is awarded annually to a new and developing writer of distinction for a short story published in a Canadian literary publication. This award is made possible by James A. Michener’s generous donation of his Canadian royalty earnings from his novel Journey, published by McClelland & Stewart in 1988. Prize: A $10,000 prize will given to the winner and the journal that published the winning entry receives $2,000. Two finalists each receive $1,000. Deadline: January 18, 2016. Read full submission guidelines HERE.
Lex Allen Literary Festival Prizes. Restrictions: Open to college undergraduates. Genres: Poetry, short fiction. Prize: $100. Deadline: January 19, 2016.
Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest. Genre: Nonfiction, personal essays of up to 1,500 words on any topic related to the Pacific Northwest. Prize: $750. Deadline: January 20, 2016.
Bethesda Literary Festival Essay and Short Story Contest. The Bethesda Urban Partnership & Bethesda Magazine have partnered to honor local writers at the Bethesda Literary Festival held April 15-17, 2016. Genres: Essays and short stories. Restrictions: Residents of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia are eligible. Prizes: First Place: $500 and published in Bethesda Magazine. Second Place: $250. Third Place: $150. Honorable Mention: $75. Deadline: January 22, 2016. For more details click HERE.
Stop the Hate: Youth Speak Out Essay Contest Grades 11-12. Stop the Hate® is designed to create an appreciation and understanding among people of differing religions, races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. Genre: Essay, 500 words. Restrictions: Northeast Ohio 11-12th Graders. Prize: $40,000. Deadline: January 22, 2016.
Nelson Algren Literary Awards is a short story contest sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. This contest is open to residents of the United States. All entries must be: fiction, less than 8,000 words, double spaced, written in English. Prize: One grand prize winner will receive $3,500. Four finalists will each receive $1,000. Five runners-up will each receive $500. Total value of all prizes: $10,000. Deadline: Closing date January 31, 2016. How to enter: Click HERE for complete rules.
Imagine Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) seeks fictional short stories in Japanese or English for its second annual “Imagine Little Tokyo” writing contest. The setting of the story should be in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA– either past, present or future. Prize: $600. The winner of the youth division (18 or younger) will receive $400. Deadline: January 31, 2016. How to enter: Click HERE for complete rules.
Caine Prize for African Writing. Restrictions: Open to writers born in Africa, or nationals of an African country, or with a parent who is African by birth or nationality, Genre: Short fiction (published). Prize: £10,000. Deadline: January 31, 2016.
Jack London Fiction Writing Contest. Restrictions: Open to students, grades 9-12. Genre: Short fiction, essays. Prize: First place $2000.00; Second place $1000.00; Third place $500.00. Deadline: January 31, 2016.
Jerry Jazz Musician Fiction Contest. "The Jerry Jazz Musician reader has interests in music, social history, literature, politics, art, film and theater, particularly that of the counter-culture of mid-twentieth century America." Genre: previously unpublished work of short fiction. Prize: $100.00. Deadline: January 31, 2016.
Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. The annual Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize is awarded each spring to honor an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA the previous year. Genre: Published fiction or non-fiction, may include: novels, novellas, short stories, plays, poetry, biographies, essays and correspondence. Prize: $10,000. Deadline: January 31, 2016.
College Undergraduate Poetry and Florence Kahn Memorial Award. Restrictions: Undergraduates working toward a degree in an accredited U.S. college or university. Genre: Poetry. Prize: $500. Deadline: January 31, 2016.
Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant. Restrictions: Open to authors under 30 years of age who have not had a book published. Applicant must have been born in Ohio or have lived in Ohio for a minimum of five years. Genre: Short fiction and creative non fiction. Prize: $1,000. Deadline: January 31, 2016.