National Poetry Contest for Social Workers 

The submission period for this year is open. Past 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, 2023, 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.
  • Current submissions will be accepted Nov 1st - Jan 31st.

    submit here  

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 mercedes-bern-klug@uiowa.edu or call 319-335-1265.


Annual National Poetry Contest for Social Workers
2022 Winners


First Place
Co-Pay
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

2021

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

2020

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

2019

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

2018   

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

2016     

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

2015

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

2014

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

2013

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

2012

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