First Novel Prize

Each year, The Writer’s Center awards $1,000 to the author of an exceptional first novel published in the previous calendar year. Conceived and funded by former board member Neal P. Gillen, the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns Prize honors three dedicated writers and members of The Writer’s Center faculty—the late Ann McLaughlin, Barbara Esstman, and Lynn Stearns—each of whom unselfishly nourish and inspire students and fellow writers.

Previous winners are: Sheila Martin for The Coney Island Book of the Dead (2017), Nadine Darling for It Came From Beyond! (2016), Bret Anthony Johnston for Remember Me Like This(2015), Raoul Wientzen for The Assembler of Parts (2014), Karen Thompson Walker for The Age of Miracles (2013), Ismet Prcic for Shards (2012) Heidi Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (2011).


1) All first novels published in print in 2018 are eligible, including those published by major and independent presses. Only American authors publishing in English are eligible. Non-eligible books include: short story collections, flash fiction, memoirs, biographies, and books published solely in electronic format.
2) Publishers (or authors) must submit three copies of their published novel along with a contact cover sheet indicating name, address, phone number, and e-mail address (no cover letter required). No galley proofs will be accepted.
3) Following the judging process, books will not be returned. Writer’s Center staff, board, and workshop leaders may not enter.


The Writer’s Center will solicit a group of 15-20 volunteer judges to serve as first and second-round judges. These volunteers will evaluate books to determine if they meet eligibility requirements, and they will read and evaluate the submissions. Submissions advancing to the third round of judging will be evaluated by a team of three final judges. The winner is chosen at the sole discretion of the final judges.

The Winner:

The winner will receive $1,000 and will be featured in The Writer’s Guide and our blog, First Person Plural. In addition, if feasible, they will be invited to read at The Writer’s Center during a reception to honor their work.

Submissions must be postmarked by March 15, 2019.

Send entries to:

The Writer’s Center
Attn: Grace Mott
Re: First Novel Prize
4508 Walsh St.
Bethesda MD 20815

Undiscovered Voices Fellowship

The Writer’s Center invites promising writers in the Washington, DC area earning less than $25,000 annually to apply. The fellowship provides up to $1,000 of complimentary writing workshops over the course of one year and is designed to help writers work on a book-length project.

Previous winners include: Julia Tagliere (2017), Carol Solomon (2016) Margaret Sessa-Hawkins (2015), Caitlin Reid (2014), Marija Stajic (2013), Rose Strode (2013), Nicole Idar (2012), Gimbiya Kettering (2011), and Lee Kaplan (2010).

The Writer’s Center believes writers of all backgrounds and experiences should have an opportunity to devote time and energy toward the perfection of their craft.


a) A work sample in a single genre:

8 pages of poetry, no more than one poem per page
10 pages of fiction, double-spaced, no more than one work or excerpt
10 pages of nonfiction (essay, memoir, etc), double-spaced, no more than one work or excerpt
15 pages of a script or screenplay;

b) contact information for two references who can speak to your creative work and promise; and

c) a signed cover letter that contains the statement: “I understand and confirm I meet all eligibility requirements of the Undiscovered Voices Fellowship.” The cover letter should include information on the impact this fellowship would have on you.

Submissions must be sent to by June 28, 2019.