Poetry Contest

Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry

This is an annual national poetry prize that features a first place of $1,000 cash award and invitation to the awards event in Philadelphia. Three runners up will each receive a $250 cash award. The winning and runner up poems are published in the Spring issue.

About Sandy Crimmins:
sandy crimmins philadephia stories

sandy crimmins philadephia storiesSandy Crimmins’ poem “Spring” appeared in the first issue of Philadelphia Stories and she performed at our launch party. She served on the Philadelphia Stories board from 2005 to 2007. Since Philadelphia Stories magazine premiered in 2004, Sandy’s voice and vision have fundamentally shaped Philadelphia Stories. Sandy was a poet who performed with musicians, dancers, and fire-eaters, and one of her proudest accomplishments was celebrating the work of her vibrant poetry community. The Sandy Crimmins Prize for Poetry is made possible by the generous support of her family.

Click here to read about Kari Ann Ebert, winner of the 2020 contest for her poem “Milk Sickness: A Mother Worries as Her Children Sleep.”

 About the 2020 Judge:

Pollock4.Griffiths_Crimmins2020Iain Haley Pollock has published two collections of poetry: Ghost, like a Place  (Alice James Books, 2018), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and for the Julie Suk Award, and Spit Back a Boy (University of Georgia Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Pollock serves as Chair of the English Department at Rye Country Day School in Rye, NY, and is a member of the poetry faculty at the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College. In addition, he serves as the poetry editor at Solstice Literary Magazine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Contest Submission Guidelines:


  1. Submission deadline: November 15, 2020.
  2. We will only consider work previously unpublished in print or online (including personal websites, blogs, or any other self published media).
  3. There is a $15 reading fee for every submission. [All entrants will receive a copy of the Philadelphia Stories Spring 2021 Contest issue. Submission fees are not refundable.]
  4. Simultaneous submissions are also accepted; however, we must be notified immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere.
  5. Poets currently residing in the United States are eligible.
  6. Submissions will be accepted via the website. If you have any trouble uploading to the site, please email christine@philadelphiastories.org.
  7. We will accept up to five pages of poetry. You may submit one 5-page poem, five 1-page poems, or any other combination within the five-page restriction.
  8. All submissions should use a 12 pt font and standard typeface (not Comic Sans or Impact, etc.). Author’s name should appear on each page (this will be removed for the screening process).
  9. You may enter multiple submissions of up to five pages for the additional fee of $15 per submission.


About the 2019 Judge: m-nzadi-keita-pew-fellow-2017 by Ryan Collerd HEADSHOTM. Nzadi Keita is a 2017 Pew Fellow in the Arts. Her most recent collection, Brief Evidence of Heaven, sheds light on Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s first wife.  Publications including Poet Lore and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South have featured her poems. The Leeway Foundation, Fine Arts Work Center, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts have also supported her work.  An associate professor at Ursinus College, Keita teaches creative writing, American literature, and Africana Studies.

Click here to read about Carlos Andrés Gómez, winner of the 2019 contest, for poem “Elegy for Breath”


Ahmed_photo_COLOR_medAbout the 2018 Judge: Dilruba Ahmed’s debut book, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf Press, 2011), won the Bakeless Prize.  Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, New England Review, and Poetry.  New work is recent or forthcoming in Agni, Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Copper Nickel, 32 Poems, Aquifer, and Ploughshares.  Her poems have also been anthologized in Literature: The Human Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas), and elsewhere.  Ahmed is the recipient of The Florida Review’s Editors’ Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize, and a Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  She holds BPhil and MAT degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Read more at: www.dilrubaahmed.com (PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Drzal)

Winners of the 2018 Contest

With her poem “Spear Side (Patrilineality),” Chelsea Whitton has won the prize of $1,000, publication, an invitation to submit a chapbook to be considered for publication by PS Books, and an invitation to the Lit Life Poetry Festival, co-sponsored by Philadelphia Stories and the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program. After careful consideration, Ahmed chose Whitton’s “Spear Side (Patrilineality)” for first place. About the poem, our judge writes: “[this] crown of 5 loose sonnets…[evokes] a rich and complex understanding of the gifts and burdens…passed along from father to child from generation to generation.”

In addition to the winner, Ahmed selected three runners up to receive $100 each as well as publication in the magazine. Those runners up include Lizabeth Yandel for her poem, “I Have a Father, I Have a Thousand Fathers” which, Ahmed notes, “depicts a multifaceted and sometimes contradictory portrait of fathers.” Ahmed says that Carlos Andrés Gómez’s poem Race Was Not a Factor” “weaves powerfully between showing and telling while meditating on the senseless shooting of teenager Michael Brown.” The poem “Afters,” by LaSalle University professor Elizabeth Langemak, offers “surprising metaphors and similes…[which] enact the speaker’s attempt to make sense of a post-surgery self.” Read the full press release here and all winning poems here.

About the 2017 Judge: Lamont B. Steptoe is a poet, publisher. and photographer born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  A Vietnam veteran, Steptoe is a graduate of Temple University’s School of Communications. Winner of an American Book Award and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Steptoe is the author of twelve poetry collections and editor of two collections by his late mentor South African poet, Dennis Brutus.  In 2006 Steptoe was inducted into the International Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent by the the Gwendolyn Brooks Center in Chicago. He has read his work in Nicaragua, India, Holland, France and Lithuania. His most recent poetry collections are Crowns & Halos, Oracular Rumblings & Stiltwalking and Meditations in Congo Square.

Winners of the 2017 Contest 

The winner of the 2017 Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry is Chicago-based poet Nancy L. Davis for her sprawling poem “Firestorm: Checagou.” Collaging song and poetry excerpts, Davis pits progress against exploitation in a broad, sweeping poem. Steptoe writes that the poem “resonates with origin/history/past present and future.”  

Runners up include Los Angeles poet Alejandro Escudé for his poem “Content Warning: Pantoum,” Liliana Lule of Skokie, IL for the poem “adoctrinado,” and E.A. Bagby, also of Chicago, for the poem “Extinction (I).”

About the 2016 Judge: Yolanda Wisher is a Philadelphia-based poet, bandleader, and educator. A 2015 Pew Fellow, she is the author of Monk Eats an Afro (Hanging Loose Press, 2014) and the co-editor with Sonia Sanchez of the anthology, Peace is a Haiku Song (City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, 2013). Wisher was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia and raised in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where she was named the first poet laureate in 1999. A Cave Canem graduate, she received an M.A. in Creative Writing/English from Temple University and a B.A. in English and Black Studies from Lafayette College. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including GOOD Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ploughshares, Fence, and Harriet: The Blog. As a teacher, radio host, and founder/director of the Germantown Poetry Festival (2006-2010), Wisher has utilized poetry as a conduit for community-building and youth empowerment for over fifteen years. Wisher directed the Art Education department of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program from 2010 to 2015, and is currently a Founding Cultural Agent and the Rhapsodist for Wherewithal for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.

Winners of the 2016 Contest

winners-group-pic-with-editors-previewFirst prize: Towels at Sunset by Robin Kozak; Runners up:Big Mama’s by Patrick Swaney; The Rules by Courtney Kampa; Ascension Day Planting, North Philly by Patrick Cabello; Honorable Mentions: A Point on a Map by Valerie Fox; The Weight and Dimensions of my Prayers: Honorable Mention by Irène Mathieu.

Watch the 2016 award ceremony.

About the 2015 Judge: Jeffrey Ethan Lee’s towards euphoria was the co-winner of the editor’s poetry chapbook prize from Seven Kitchens Press (2012). His dramatic poetry book, identity papers (Ghost Road Press, 2006), was a 2006 Colorado Book Award finalist. His first full-length poetry book, invisible sister (Many Mountains Moving Press, 2004), was a finalist for the first MMM Book Prize. He won the 2002 Sow’s Ear Poetry Chapbook prize for The Sylf (2003), created identity papers (audio CD with Toshi Makihara and Lori-Nan Engler) for Drimala Records, published Strangers in a Homeland (chapbook with Ashland Poetry Press, 2001), and poems, stories and essays in North American Review, Xconnect, Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Many Mountains Moving, Crosscurrents, American Poetry Review. He currently directs, edits and publishes poetry books through the Many Mountains Moving Press, which he began to serve as a volunteer after 2005. He has a Ph.D. in British Romanticism and an MFA in poetry from NYU.

Judge Jeffrey Lee Shares His Reflections on the Winning Poems

Emily Rose Cole — Winner: “Self-Portrait as Rapunzel” stood out with its excruci- atingly particular surrealist imagery and its fearlessly heartbreaking themes. There is a sureness of style and a surprising sense of familiarity about this noir-vision fairytale and “coming-of-age” (read: losing-of-youth) story in a world that could have been painted by Frida Kahlo (i.e. Frida Kahlo if she were channeling Anne Sexton).

Nadia Sheikh — Runner up: Tough Bitches. The voice of the poet is very strong in this poem, and she conveys powerful ambivalence about being female right away, which is interesting. But the theme is far more deep and troubling for the poet as she seems to see herself more androgynously but feels—even against her own will—attracted to a woman who is more feminine and beautiful, i.e. the way most of our society sees these things.

Lauren Boulton — Runner up: Childhood of Wicked Steps. In its core, this poem reminded me of Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz,” which I believe has become one of the inevitable myths of our (dysfunctional) time, and I was also reminded of many fairy tales that explore the terrors of childhood.

Kathryn Ionata — Runner up: Yield Signs Don’t Exist. This poem has a very compelling voice and a nice detached sense of dark irony and humor about itself. The style is very sharp and succinct, and the ending works intuitively very well. She captures a kind of life with great acuity.

Watch the 2015 award ceremony.


About the 2014 Judge: Daisy Fried is the author of three books of poems, Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice (Pittsburgh, 2013), My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (Pittsburgh, 2006), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and She Didn’t Mean to Do It (Pittsburgh, 2000), which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Award. She teaches in Warren Wilson College’s low-residency MFA program and lives in South Philly.

 Winners of 2014 Contest

rae pagliaruloRae Pagliarulo was chosen by this year’s judge and distinguished poet, Daisy Fried. Fried called the writing “economical and generous, leisurely and urgent.” Pagliarulo wins a cash prize of $1,000, publication, and an invitation to Rosemont College’s Day of Poetry celebration, co-sponsored by Philadelphia Stories. The celebration will feature workshops with Deb Burnham from the magazine’s poetry board and Aleysha Wise, a poet featured in Extraordinary Gifts, the new title from PS Books inspired by inspiring women from the Delaware Valley. The Sandy Crimmins winners will be recognized with a reception and reading. The event will take place at Rosemont College in Rosemont, PA on April 5, 2014.
Out of more than 240 poems received, the Philadelphia Stories board chose thirty-five finalists, from which Poetry Editor Courtney Bambrick selected fifteen to send to the judge. After careful consideration Ms. Fried chose Pagliarulo’s “Hide and Seek” for first place.
Judge Daisy Fried was taken by the depth of Pagliarulo’s piece. “This poem’s rich gestures and vivid varied detail accumulate and accumulate. When [it] concludes suddenly, it’s a wonderful surprise – a release and a deepening of complication. ‘Hide and Seek’ reminds me that there can be much better ways to get somewhere than by taking the direct route.”

sc-previewThe second place prize of $250 and publication goes to another Philadelphia native, Kayla Hilliard, for her piece, “fairytale ending.” Of Hilliard’s poem Fried said, “This short sharp lyric of danger and desire upends the fairytale paradigm in a way I haven’t seen before.” Honorable mentions go to Paul Weidknecht for “Seen (with Explanations & Digressions),” Suzanne Cleary for “Nancy,” and Liz Solms for “Small Rooms, Seven Summers.”

 About the 2013 Judge

Dorothea Lasky is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: Thunderbird (forthcoming, Wave Books, 2012), Black Life (Wave Books, 2010), and AWE (Wave Books, 2007). She is also the author of six chapbooks. Born in St. Louis, her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Columbia Poetry Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the MFA program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and also has been educated at Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, and Washington University. She has taught poetry at New York University, Wesleyan University, Columbia University, Fashion Institute of Technology, Heath Elementary School, and Munroe Center for the Arts.

Winners of 2013 Contest

First place: Debora Fries’ “Marie in America.” Debora receives a $1,000 cash award, an invitation to our happy hour PARTY LIKE A POET event April 19, 2013 at the Center for Architecture in Philadelphia, and publication in the Spring 2013 issue. Poetry Editor Courtney Bambrick calls the winning poem “an evocative and transformative piece that exemplifies a commitment to storytelling through image and momentum.”

Second place: Kelly Andrews’ “Asterism.” Kelly receives a $250 cash award and publication in the Spring 2013 issue.

Three honorable-mention winning poets receive publication in the Spring 2013 issue. These are: Debora Gossett Rivers, Amy Small-McKinney, and Nissa Lee.

Judge Dorothea Lasky’s Reflections on the Winning Poems

“It was an honor to judge The 2013 Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, read all of the amazing poetry that is being written today, and view so widely the exciting landscape for contemporary American poetry,” says judge Dorothea Lasky. “I selected the poem, ‘Marie in America’ by Deborah Fries for the first prize for its springing lyrical quality, its sharp use of imagery, and voracious momentum. As the great poet Eileen Myles famously said in her poem, ‘An American Poem, the message of Western Civilization’ is ‘I am alone.’ ‘Marie in America’ gives us this message, in beautiful verse:  as the poet puts it, ‘everything in America,’ is ‘softly glowing’ in profound loneliness. I love this poem and I can’t wait to read what Deborah Fries will write next.”

“This prize reflects the vibrancy of the Philadelphia literary community, and the serious support it provides to poets,” says winner Deborah Fries. “I am very honored to be a recipient.”

About the 2012 Judge: Major Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry: Hoops (Norton: 2006) and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia: 2002), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Hoops was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literature–Poetry. His third volume of poetry Holding Company is forthcoming from W.W. Norton. He is the Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor at University of Vermont and a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. He serves as the Poetry Editor of the Harvard Review.

Winners of the 2012 Contest

WINNER: Jeanann Verlee is a former punk rocker and author of Racing Hummingbirds, which earned the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal for poetry. Jeanann wins the first place prize of $1,000, publication, and an invitation to an awards event on May 20, 2012 at the Swedish Museum in Philadelphia.

RUNNER UP: Steven Harbold is a writer and editor living in South Jersey. He is a graduate of Rowan University. Steven wins the second place prize of $250 and publication.

HONARABLE MENTION: Alexander Long’s third book, Still Life, won the 2011 White Pine Press Poetry Prize.

The winning poems appeared in the Spring 2012 issues of Philadelphia Stories.

Philadelphia Stories received about five hundred pages of poetry, which were narrowed down to top ten poems. These were presented to judge Major Jackson, who selected the final winners. Philadelphia Stories’ poetry editor Courtney Bambrick has this to say about the winning poems:

Jeanann Verlee’s ‘Hereditary’ is a terse, taut piece that clatters with the anxiety of its speaker. I haven’t made up my mind about the connection between word and flesh, but I itch reading this piece. Verlee’s words move quickly off the page and into the body of the reader.

Steven Harbold’s ‘The Painting’ asks questions about memory and the ability of art to recreate or even reflect memory. It ends with what is probably my favorite stanza of the competition. Not only is the concept here challenging and fascinating, but the formal elements are executed beautifully.