PEN America’s $10,000 Writing for Justice Fellowships 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 catalyze 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.


The Writing for Justice Fellowship is open-genre, and proposed projects may include — but are not limited to — fictional stories; works of literary or long-form journalism; theatrical, television or film 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 $10,000, and may request up to $5,000 in additional funding for travel and research. In addition to financial support, Fellows may choose to 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.

Fellowship Timeline:

The first eight months of the Fellowship is 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 publically.

July 1, 2018: Deadline to apply
September 2018: Successful applicants notified
September-May, 2018: Fellows work on their projects, meet with mentors
October TBD, 2018: Cohort meeting #1 (NYC)
February TBD, 2019: Cohort meeting #2 (Location TBD)
April 2019: PEN World Voices Festival event featuring works in progress
May 2019: Work completed and submitted for publication
May-August, 2019: Placing work and 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. 
  • A United States resident. 
  • 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 on parole will participate through alternative means. 
  • Able to demonstrate a track record of successful projects and past project completion.

Membership in PEN America is not required. Please see FAQs below for more information.

Selection Criteria and Process

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 timeframe. Applications will be reviewed by PEN America and expert advisors through an anonymous process.

Applications close July 1, 2018. Fellows will be announced in September 2018.

How To Apply

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

All non-incarcerated applicants are asked to submit online through Submittable. There is no fee to apply to the Writing for Justice Fellowship.

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

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.

Please see FAQs on our website for further information.