Terry Tempest Williams Creative Nonfiction Prize

image of Williams and trees reflected on water as background image

The Terry Tempest Williams Prize is intended to recognize the finest essay writing. We welcome all work painted with creative nonfiction’s broad brush: the lyric essay, the hermit crab essay, the braided essay, the memoir, the personal essay, literary journalism, and everything in between. Food essays, travel writing, nature essays, sports writing, and literary criticism will also be considered but should have a personal component. Williams is known for her environmental writing, but please do not feel limited to this topic. The Williams Prize welcomes previously unpublished nonfiction on any subject so long as it is well executed. The winning entry, runner-up, and any honorable mentions will be offered publication in the North American Review's fall issue. Additional finalists and semifinalists may be offered for publication.

  • Open for submission: January 1, 2023. 
  • Deadline: April 1, 2023
  • First Prize: $1,000
  • Length limit: 500 - 8,500 words
  • Current University of Northern Iowa students are not eligible to submit.
  • Friends of the guest judge and the contest coordinator are not eligible to submit.

Manuscript preparation:

  • All contact information should be entered in your cover letter. No names, addresses, or other identifying information should appear on manuscripts, please.
  • Please include title and word count for the piece on the first page of your manuscript.
  • If possible, please submit your manuscript as a Word document (preferred) or PDF.

The judging process:

  • To maintain anonymity, your piece will be assigned a log number in place of identifying information by a student worker who is not reading for the prize.
  • All submissions are read by the contest coordinator as well as by fifteen or more North American Review contest readers, most of whom are undergraduate or graduate students at UNI. They select a slate of semifinalists, then finalists, from this submission pool. All finalists are sent to the prize judge.
  • Our prize judge selects a winner and runner-up from the slate of finalists. All finalists and semifinalists will be listed in the magazine and on Open Space.
  • The contest coordinator may offer publication—in a future issue of North American Review and/or on Open Space—to notable essays.
  • Regular nonfiction submissions will be closed while our Terry Tempest Williams Prize for Creative Nonfiction is open. The CNF prize will remain open until April 1st. We are open to regular CNF submissions from April 2 to November 30 and are closed in the month of December.

Frequently asked questions:

  • You may submit as many pieces of creative nonfiction as you wish, but each essay must be accompanied by its own submission fee. All entry fees include a copy of the Fall Issue in which the winners appear.
  • Results will be announced in May.  The winner will be published in the Fall 2023 Issue. 
  • Simultaneous submission to other journals or competitions is allowed, but please withdraw your work immediately if it is accepted elsewhere.
  • You may submit memoir excerpts so long as they stand alone as a complete essay with beginning, middle, and end.
  • We accept flash nonfiction as well as longer works up to 8,500 words. That said, most of our finalists and winners have had word counts in the 2,500 - 6,500 range.
  • We love experimental nonfiction; however, if publishing your piece would require unusual formatting, please include a brief explanation of your layout preferences on the first page of your manuscript. Unusual formatting will not affect your consideration for the prize, but it may necessitate publication online rather than in print.

What we are looking for:                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

The best way to learn this is to read past issues of the magazine containing contest winners. The second-best way to is to read the nonfiction published in Open Space. That said, we like nonfiction that pushes boundaries; just because something like your essay hasn’t won the prize before doesn’t mean we’re not interested. Seeking out the work of our guest judge is also a good idea. Our only hard limit is 8,500 words.

Contest namesake:

Terry Tempest Williams is one of the great environmental writers of our time, describing crises of the natural world with compassion and ferocity, bending the arc of history toward justice. North American Review’s online home, Open Space, is named for her essay The Open Space of Democracy, which invites us to reimagine how best to care for our commons. We honor her legacy of conservation activism with a prize recognizing essay writing that is eclectic in style and restorative in practice.

2023 Contest Judge: Ira Sukrungruang

Previous judges: Alexander Chee, Dinty M. Moore, Lidia Yuknavitch, Michael Martone, Lacy Johnson