UA Poetry Center Program Asked Creative Writers Who are Incarcerated: How Do You Manifest Resilience Inside Prison?


UPDATE 11/19/2021: Winners of the 2021 Poetry & Prose Challenge for Writers in Prison will be announced here on the Poetry Center website beginning with the Honorable Mentions in each category on Wednesday, Dec. 1st. Nonfiction winners will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 8th; Fiction winners will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 15th; and, finally, Poetry winners will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 22nd. Advocates for writers in prison who have submissions under consideration for the Challenge should contact Joe Watson for further details:

TUCSON, ARIZONA – October 21, 2021 – What does it take for people in prison to survive incarceration and hope for the future? How do they build community, maintain their dignity, or plan for life inside or after incarceration? How do incarcerated people celebrate themselves?

Those were the questions posed to writers locked up in prisons across the country for the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s 2021 Poetry & Prose Writing Challenge for Incarcerated Writers. The Challenge, which includes cash awards for finalists, is organized and facilitated by a dedicated group of community volunteers who participate in the Poetry Center workshop, Free Time: Building Community for Incarcerated Writers.

A curated selection of pieces that were judged by best-selling and award-winning authors Piper Kerman (Orange Is the New Black), Randall Horton ({#289-128}), and Curtis Dawkins (The Graybar Hotel) will be read in-person at the Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen St., Tucson, on Saturday, November 20, at 12:30 p.m. Winners of the Challenge, which is supported by assistance from the Art for Justice Fund and in collaboration with PEN America, will also be published on the Poetry Center website,

“This is a project that honors the humanity of people who are incarcerated and amplifies their voices to the world that exists beyond prison walls and fences,” said Joe Watson, founder of the Free Time workshop and a formerly incarcerated advocate for criminal justice reform. “As trying as the last 18 months have been for people in the ‘free world,’ we thought it would be helpful to hear from incarcerated writers on manifesting the resilience we all need to get through difficult times.”

This is the Challenge’s second consecutive year of soliciting submissions. In 2020, the theme of “protest” received about a third the number of entries received this year from writers in prisons nationwide. Winners were published online, but the pandemic forced the Poetry Center to cancel the in-person reading. This year, the Challenge received nearly 200 submissions in poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction writing. Several of this year’s submissions will be read on November 20 by people who are formerly incarcerated and Free Time volunteers.  

The reading event is free to the public. Attendees will be required to wear masks.