Paul Engle High School Essay Contest

To continue Paul Engle’s tradition of inspiring writers and celebrating the rich culture of Iowa, the City of Literature organization annually solicits essays from Iowa high school sophomore about an “Iowa experience,” drawing on a specific memory to capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of the day. The author of the essay judged by reviewers to be the best receives one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa. A select number of runners up receive a $500 scholarship from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

The contest is based on Engle’s writings, particularly his memoir, A Lucky American Childhood.

 Winners are announced in the summer, and the winners are invited to Iowa City in the subsequent fall to read from their work and receive their prizes. To view information about  the 2020 contest, click here. The deadline is May 22, 2020.

To view the rubric used by judges to evaluate submissions, click here.


These students each were offered one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa as the top prize winner in the annual contest.

2013: Swing Tree by Emma Holmes of Iowa City

2014: The Trail Of Senses that Leads Me Home by Palen Stream of Bedford

2015: Beneath a Green Sky by Natalie Homes of Iowa City

2016: Adrift, by Jackie Olberding of Dyersville

2017: A Walk in the Woods by Lydia Hecker of Iowa City

2018: The Call of the Creek by Elizabeth Ayers

2019: The Wonders of the Willow by Natalie DeGabriele


Click here for information about Paul Engle Day and the Paul Engle Prize