Young Southern Student Writers

Thanks for your interest in Young Southern Student Writers!

The YSSW contest was founded in 1999 by Dr. Verbie Prevost, George Connor Professor Emerita of American English at UTC, to promote and honor writing by K-12 students in Hamilton County, Tennessee’s public, private, and homeschool programs. UTC partners with the Southern Lit Alliance to engage approximately 5,000 young people each year.

We accept K-12 entries in poetry and prose (fiction or nonfiction) until January 15.


Eligibility Criteria

  • Students must be currently enrolled in a Hamilton County, Tennessee public, private, or homeschool program to be eligible for an award.
  • All submissions must be original, student writing.
  • Student work must not have been previously submitted to YSSW or any other contest, competition, or publication opportunity.
  • Entries must be written in English.

Submission Requirements

  • Only teachers and homeschool supervisors may submit entries. Students may not submit their own work.
  • Teachers from public and private schools must submit at least 5 student entries in a single category.
  • Supervising adults must submit homeschool students’ entries. We’ll group homeschool entries by grade level and genre category to determine winners.
  • Teachers and homeschool supervisors may submit work in multiple grade levels and genre categories, but individual students may only submit one work per genre category.
  • Maximum length for prose submissions is 1,000 words; maximum length for poetry submissions is 50 lines.

When you're sure you meet all contest eligibility and submission requirements, please visit our YSSW submission page for formatting guidelines and submission instructions.


Download our Short Guide to Imaginative Thinking prepared by UTC creative writing professors Richard Jackson and Sybil Baker for writing exercises to inspire creativity in your students.


UTC English Department faculty members read and enjoy every submission. We select one winner per every 15 students in each genre category and grade level based on creativity, content, and style.

Our poetry judges tend to look for an interesting image, rhythm that’s more complex than standard end rhyme, or a surprising or unexpected topic, idea, or meaning. Our prose judges often look for fiction and creative nonfiction that’s complete with a beginning, middle, and end, has an interesting character or setting, or engages with an unexpected central conflict or topic.

We love reading works that showcase the student’s unique approach to the writing task and topic.


We award medals and recognize YSSW contest winners at an awards ceremony held each April. We notify teachers and homeschool supervisors of winning entries and feature the winning work in an online publication.

If you have questions regarding YSSW, please call the Southern Lit Alliance at 423-267-1218 or email Dr. Andrew McCarthy, UTC English Department Head.