Announcing the 2023 Fighting Words Poetry Contest!
How can poetry be an effective response to current events and underreported stories? How can journalism and poetry help us make connections between global issues and our local and personal contexts? Students are invited to explore these questions and make their voices heard in their entries to the Fighting Words Poetry Contest.
Para ver esta página en español, haga clic aquí.
Current K-12 students anywhere in the world may enter. Students may write in any language, and are welcome to submit multilingual poems. Judges will have reading fluency in English and Spanish.
- 1st place: $300, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
- 2nd place: $200, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
- 3rd place: $100, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
- Finalists: $75, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
Monday, May 15, 2023, 11:59pm EDT
Go to the Pulitzer Center website and select a story (see the “Suggested Stories” tab above for a curated list). Write a poem of any form and length that includes lines from the story. Include an epigraph in the following format: With lines from "STORY TITLE" by JOURNALIST NAME, a Pulitzer Center reporting project.
The form will ask for some basic information, and you will upload your poem to the form as an attachment. You may also upload an audio or video file of yourself performing your poem; this file is optional, but the text file is required.
Please note: all students must list a teacher contact for their entries. This person will be included in communications with contest-winning poets.
If you have questions about the contest or entry guidelines, please email email@example.com.
Poems will be judged by the following criteria:
1. Success of the poem on its own terms (craft, linguistic style, emotion, etc.)
- Questions to ask yourself:
- What response(s) do I want to evoke in my reader? Have I chosen the best words to evoke this response?
- Have I used poetic devices (e.g. repetition, imagery, metaphor), or chosen not to use them, to achieve a specific effect?
2. Successful inclusion of lines quoted from a Pulitzer Center story, and responsiveness to the theme(s) of the story
- Questions to ask yourself:
- Have I chosen lines that add something important to the poem?
- Are the lines integrated into the poem smoothly, so their presence feels natural?
- Have I amplified the underreported story in my poem?
3. Thoughtful choice of perspective and respectful treatment of subject matter
- Questions to ask yourself:
- What is my relationship to the story I have chosen? How can I make a personal connection?
- Why am I writing from the perspective I have chosen? What other perspectives could I choose, and how would those choices change the poem?
- If the subjects of the story I have chosen read my poem, how might they feel?
Previous contest winners:
Read the winning poems from 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018.
Support for preparing students for the contest:
Please navigate to the "Resources for Teachers and Students" tab above to find slide presentations to lead students through a preparatory workshop and graphic organizers to support the workshop and guide students as they write their poems. (Students may also use this graphic organizer independently to guide themselves in writing their poems.)
The "Suggested Stories" tab contains a curated list of stories suggested for different grade levels.
You can also schedule a free, virtual workshop facilitated by a member of the Pulitzer Center education team by filling out this request form. Visit the "Schedule a Workshop" tab above for more information about workshops, including answers to frequently asked questions.
Use These Resources to Write Your Poem or Facilitate a Workshop Independently
You can find inspiration and models by exploring poems written by past contest winners. Here are the winners and finalists from 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018!
Workshop overview: In this workshop, participants will examine the intersections of poetry and journalism. You will have the opportunity to explore underreported news stories, analyze poems that respond to those stories, and write your own poems using a pressing story of your choice. Poems produced in this workshop can be entered into the Fighting Words Poetry Contest for the chance to win cash prizes and publication.
Resources for Middle and High School Students (grades 7-12):
Resources for Elementary and Middle School Students (grades 3-7):
Resources in Spanish:
Para ver recursos en español, haga clic aquí.
Schedule a Workshop with the Pulitzer Center Education Team
Would you like to schedule an interactive virtual workshop to prepare your students for the Fighting Words Poetry Contest? We're offering free workshops in English and Spanish for classrooms, out-of-school time programs, and other groups of K-12 students between March 1 and May 15, 2023.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What should I expect during the workshop? How long will it last?
Workshops last 45-75 minutes, depending on your availability and preference. We suggest scheduling a 60-75 minute workshop, if you have the class time, for a more robust discussion.
During the workshop, the facilitator will introduce the contest mission and guidelines to students. We will also explore an excerpt of a news story together and a past contest-winning poem written in response to that news story. Time permitting, we will practice selecting lines from a news story and writing a group poem. The primary workshop goals are to get students excited about writing their poems, and to help them feel prepared and empowered to write poems that amplify both an underreported story and their own voices. Workshops are designed to be highly interactive and discussion-based. We will provide students with multiple ways to engage (verbally, in writing, in small groups, kinesthetically, etc.)
To preview the workshop presentation, visit the "Resources for Teachers and Students" tab above. Note that presentations include significantly more slides than will be used in any workshop, because presentations allow for student choice.
How should I prepare for the workshop?
The workshop is designed to introduce the contest to students. As a result, we recommend that your students participate before writing their poems, and that you devote more class time to follow-up than preparation. However, students may be more comfortable and excited participating in the workshop if they have some familiarity with the project and how it relates to class. We suggest sharing the Fighting Words web portal with students so they are familiar with the contest guidelines, and that you share information about deadlines or grading for your class with students in advance, if any.
If you want students to get a head start on the work for the contest before the workshop, we suggest sharing this video, which introduces the Pulitzer Center and the concept of underreported stories. Students can then explore the "Suggested Stories" tab above and/or www.pulitzercenter.org/stories to identify a news story they want to respond to in their poem.
All students should complete a pre-workshop survey, which will take about 2-3 minutes, as well as a post-workshop survey, which will take about 5-7 minutes. The Pulitzer Center staff member coordinating your workshop will provide you with links to these surveys.
Can workshops be customized for my class?
We have a standard presentation that your facilitator will use to guide the workshop. However, we are happy to support your learning goals for the session by emphasizing particular content and skills. For example, we can include key vocabulary related to writing or literary analysis skills you are teaching, or practice writing in response to a story about an issue or region you have been covering in class. Feel free to indicate content and skills you would especially like to emphasize in your workshop request form, and we will let you know whether we are able to do so.
The workshop request form will also ask you what accommodations your students may need. We are happy to tailor workshops to ensure a safe and accessible space for your students, with your guidance.
Is there a cost associated with these workshops?
Fighting Words poetry workshops are free to K-12 students and educators. However, we ask that teachers have all students complete two surveys (one before the workshop, one afterward), and that the teacher completes a post-workshop survey as well. These surveys help us continue offering free education programs, and provide necessary feedback to improve the experience for students and educators.
This program is made possible by our incredible community of donors and foundations. To support this work or to learn more about donating to the Pulitzer Center, click here!
What if I have multiple classes or sections?
You can request as many workshops as needed to accommodate your students. If you are able to combine multiple classes for one workshop, we welcome you to do so. We have held successful workshops with individual classes, and with whole-school assemblies.
If request volume prohibits us from accommodating your request, we will be in touch to discuss options for scheduling. Thank you for your understanding as we aim to provide many schools with the opportunity to participate in Fighting Words.
Can I request a workshop in other languages?
At this time, our staff has the capacity to facilitate workshops in English and in Spanish. You can indicate which language you prefer in the workshop request form.
Can students enter the contest without participating in a workshop?
Yes! Workshops are designed to support students in preparing for the contest, but participation in a workshop does not affect eligibility. Furthermore, the presentations used for the workshop are available to all in the "Resources for Teachers and Students" tab, along with a graphic organizer that can be used by students independently or with educator guidance to prepare for the contest and write their poems. Many educators facilitate Fighting Words workshops independently using the materials provided.
Students may write in response to any news story on the Pulitzer Center website. Here are a few suggested news stories to get you started!
Stories for Grades 3 and up
- No School, No Hair Cut: One Girl’s Journey Through One of the World’s Longest COVID Lockdowns [Photo, text]
- Disaster Aid Running Out As Pakistan Struggles To Recover From 2022 Floods [Video, text]
- Illinois Students Struggle To Find Halal Food [Photo, text]
- Saving Wildlife: Education Key to Changing Mindsets [Video, photo, text]
- San Diego Pays a Lot for Abundant Water. Tijuana Pays a Different Price for Water Scarcity. [Photo, text]
- Taking Care of Each Other: Madison Communities Respond to Food Insecurity in the Age of COVID [Text]
Stories for Grades 6 and up
- Heaven to Hell, Blue Skies to Pain: the Lament of Iraq’s Climate Migrants [Photo, text]
- The Lost Ancestors [Video]
- Cost of a KitKat: Big Brands Leave Sugar Farmers at the Mercy of Climate Extremes [Photo, text, graph]
- Thousands of Migrant Workers Died in Qatar’s Extreme Heat. The World Cup Forced a Reckoning [Video, photo, text]
- To Fully Vaccinate Population, Ghana Faces Scarcity and a Troubled History [Audio]
- Tam's Comeback: Diary of First Visit Home After Transitioning [Photo, text]
- How an Activist Group in Brooklyn Is Empowering Latina Cleaning Workers [Video, text]
- With New Unions, Argentina’s Domestic Workers Fight Their Way Out of Poverty and Insecurity [Photo, text]
- In a Small Eastern Shore Community Descended From Slavery, a Grassroots Affordable Housing Model Expands [Photo, text]
- 'The Food Insecurity Crisis Consuming New Orleans' [Video]
- No Bars, No Chains, No Locks: How Finland Is Reimagining Incarceration [Photo, text]
Stories for Grades 9 and up
- Broken by Design: A Special Report on Jackson’s Water System [Photo, text]
- Beyond the Green Wave: Dominican Afro-Feminists Fight for Reproductive Freedom [Video] *Content notes: Mention of sexual assault, censored expletives
- ‘Ticking Ecological Time Bombs’: Thousands of Sunken WWII Ships Rusting at Bottom of Pacific
- Drawn to War: A Ukraine Journal [Drawings, text]
- Across the South, Black Workers Defy Labor History [Text]
- For Ghana’s Only Openly Transgender Musician, ‘Every Day Is Dangerous’ [Text]
- The ‘Spider-Man’ of Sudan [Video] *Content notes: State violence and protest repression
- Working in Their Sleep: Labor Conditions at America’s Largest Meatpacking Company [Photo, text]
- The Talk: These Teens From Rural Utah Are Filling ‘The Gaps’ in Sex Ed [Video, photo, text] *Content notes: Mention of sexual assault
- Is the Next Misinformation Crisis Fear-Based and Local? [Text]
- Jerusalem's Town Forgotten Behind the Wall [Text, drawings]*Content notes: State violence
- After the Fire: Bronx Residents Return to Building That Burned [Text]* Content notes: Description of death in a fire
- Tracked: How Colleges Use AI To Monitor Student Protests [Photo, text, map] *Content notes: References to school shootings and suicidal thoughts
Stories in Spanish
Para ver noticias en español, haga clic aquí y visite el tabulador "Historias sugeridas."