A light skinned woman with red curly hair speaks while two other people listen

31st Annual Creative Writing Workshop for Social Workers

July 15-18, 2022 / VIA ZOOM


About the Workshop

The University of Iowa is known nationally as "The Writing University," and our institution boasts a rich tradition of great writing and an early and enduring commitment to the creative arts. Iowa’s tradition of writing has been guided by the principle that, though writing is a solitary practice, it’s one significantly enriched by interaction with other writers. There has also been a growing focus in recent years on how writing and language are critical in so many other professions and pursuits beyond the purely literary. It's fitting, then, that we continue to offer an annual opportunity for social workers and other helping professionals to gather in a workshop space for an intensive experience to work on their writing craft and learn how it can be leveraged, both in practice and in reflective self-care. 

This workshop will be conducted in a virtual, online format. Some assignments will be completed on your own time and some will be done during live class sessions with the instructor and fellow participants.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Improve creative writing skill in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, blogs etc.
  • Understand how writing can be used as a professional tool in human services work as counselors, educators, advocates, researchers, and practitioners.

The Process

The seminar will meet online via Zoom,  over the course of 4 days. Each day includes assignments completed on your own time and interaction in real time with the instructor and fellow participants. Activities include a mixture of presentations from guest authors, writing instruction and practice, and peer critiques of participants’ work. Several hours are reserved for one-on-one coaching sessions with the lead instructor. Participants may be beginners or experienced--and sometimes even published--writers. Most participants have not previously attended a writing workshop, or even thought of themselves as writers. Diversity of experience, and an active interest and curiosity about the possibilities inherent in creative writing, are the essential ingredients for a fresh and exciting workshop experience.

Cost & CEUs

$525 / 24 CEU hours — Participants who complete the workshop are eligible to enroll in future sessions of our Master Class in Creative Writing for Social Workers.

Ellen Szabo, lead writing instructor

About the Presenter

Ellen Szabo, M.Ed., is the primary writing instructor for the course. She is the founder of Szabo Creative Consulting, promoting the use of creative writing for personal investigation, enrichment and social change. She earned her B.A. from Harvard College, with a concentration in English and American Literature, and her M.Ed. from Columbia University Teacher’s College, in Counseling Psychology. She writes and teaches with focus on how innovation and creativity can illuminate, inspire and advocate compassionate transformation. Guest speakers will share experiences with projects related to creative writing for social change, journaling for personal growth, and/or the written word as a tool for enhancing social justice.


Creative Writing Master Class for Social Workers

July 19-20, 2022 / VIA ZOOM


About the Master Class

Master Class will build upon the principles and instruction from the four-day Creative Writing for Social Work seminar. This workshop illuminates and explores various techniques for discovering and amplifying the spirit and purpose of each participant’s writing, with emphasis on how creative expression can facilitate personal transformation.

The focus is on exploration, experimentation, and discovery of each person’s unique writing voice. In a supportive, stimulating atmosphere, participants build upon their creative writing skills with additional instruction, writing prompts, and facilitated discussion of their work.

This workshop will be conducted in a virtual, online format. Some assignments will be completed on your own time and some will be done during live class sessions with the instructor and fellow participants.

Prerequisite: Completion of the four-day Creative Writing for Social Work workshop


National Poetry Contest for Social Workers 

The submission period for this year has ended. Winners are posted below.

teal blue manual typewriter on a white table with a pair of hands resting on the keys

The University of Iowa School of Social Work conducts an annual, nationwide poetry contest to acknowledge the creative talent of social workers and to draw attention to social work as a profession. “Hosting the national poetry contest here in Iowa City is a natural extension of what the School of Social Work has been doing for decades," says School of Social Work Professor and Director Mercedes Bern-Klug, one of the contest's founders. "We have been offering a Creative Writing Workshop for social workers for more than 30 years--and the University of Iowa is known as 'The Writing University.' In Iowa City — recognized internationally as a UNESCO City of Literature — writing is the air we breathe."

Rules for submission

  • Students, faculty, or alumni from United States CSWE-accredited social work programs may participate in the contest.
  • There is no cost to enter.
  • Only one submission is allowed per person.
  • The poem must be an original work by the person entering the contest.
  • All entries will be judged by a panel consisting of social workers, writers, and/or poets based on poetic technique, effectiveness, style, and creativity, as well as accessibility and suitability for public display before a general audience.
  • The deadline for submissions is January 31st, 2022, by 11:59 pm CST. 
  • The poem must be no more than 15 lines (the title does NOT count as one of the 15) and can be either an existing work or new. 
  • An excerpt from a longer poem will be considered if it can stand alone.
  • If reprint permissions are required, please get permission prior to submitting your work.
  • Poems must be submitted online. No paper or email submissions will be accepted.

The top three submissions will be awarded cash prizes and will be published on The New Social Worker website during National Poetry Month, in April. Submissions that meet the contest criteria may also be published on the University of Iowa School of Social Work website and/or social media.

First Prize: $200
Second Prize: $100
Third Prize: $50

Questions? Write to jen-knights@uiowa.edu or call 319-335-3750.

Annual National Poetry Contest for Social Workers
2022 Winners

First Place
Devin Dierks
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fulton, IL

Second Place
someday this pain will be useful to you
Honor Heindl
Washington University, George Warren Brown School of Social Work
Albuquerque, NM

Third Place
The Dead Weight
Sara Shilling
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Durham, NC

Previous winners


  • Rebecca Saenz, University of Houston, Houston, TX
  • Kadence Mitchell, Columbia University School of Social Work, Henderson NV
  • Kerriann Kelleher, Boston College, Sagamore Beach, MA


  • Sandra Braine, Dominican University
  • Lacy Cunningham, Metropolitan State University of Denver
  • Matthew Parra, Boston University School of Social Work


  • Aisha Naseem, University of Chicago
  • Kristin Bartley Lenz, Wayne State University
  • Elizabeth Weiss, University of Chicago


  • Christopher Joseph, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Angela Chaney, Indiana University
  • Brittany Humphrey, Arizona State University


  • Leslie Olson, University of Iowa
  • Rebecca Thieman, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Christopher Joseph, University of Michigan


  • Sarah Trotta, University of Pennsylvania
  • Patrick Scott Feagans, George Mason University
  • Jessica Greenbaum, New York University


  • Marjorie Thomsen, The Catholic University of America
  • Nahomi Martinez, University of Texas at El Paso
  • Joel Izlar, University of Georgia


  • Jonathan Knight Palley, University of California—Berkeley
  • Sarah Pettit Dawson, University of South Carolina
  • Catherine Crandall, University of Georgia


  • Anna Forbes, Bryn Mawr College
  • Sara Staggs, University of Houston
  • Mary Ann Getse, Washington University, St. Louis