Incarcerated Writers Initiative

The Incarcerated Writers Initiative was started in 2016 by Heather Radke at the Columbia Journal as a way to open the student publishing platform to writers in prisons across the United States. This population has been traditionally overlooked, undervalued, and pushed to the margins. We believe the inclusion of their literary voices will enlarge and ultimately strengthen the artistic and scholarly community.

Columbia Journal’s Community Outreach Program aims to maintain and sustain space for those writers from vulnerable and at-risk communities who have traditionally been excluded from the larger literary discussion of art, taste, and scholarship.

Update: May 31, 2019

Columbia Journal is thrilled to announce that this year we received over 415 submissions from writers who are incarcerated across the nation. We want to thank everyone who submitted for sharing their work with us. Your voice and story has enlarged, strengthened, and in many cases, revived our artistic and scholarly community. We hope you will consider submitting more work to Columbia Journal when the new call for submissions opens in the fall. Please find last year’s call for submissions below. In the interim, each writer who submitted can look forward to receiving correspondence from Columbia Journal in the coming weeks.

Columbia Journal has the honor of publishing the work of two writers who are incarcerated in this year’s print issue 57. You can purchase a copy of this year’s issue to read each piece in full by clicking here. The titles and authors of the two pieces that appear in Issue 57 are below:

“Albuquerque 1, 2” by Geneva J. Phillips
Excerpts from “Disfigured Hours” by Brian Batchelor

Call for Submissions from Incarcerated Writers 2018-2019

As part of a commitment to bring underrepresented voices into the public sphere, the Columbia Journal would like to extend an invitation to incarcerated writers to submit their writing. Writers may submit work by mail at no fee.

Submissions open August 15th, 2018 and close November 15th, 2018 (postmark deadline).

We accept submissions in the following categories: Fiction (up to 5,000 words), Nonfiction (up to 5,000 words), and Poetry (up to 5 pages).

All submissions will be considered for print publication, online publication, and our Winter Contest. Contest winners are published in the print Journal, and the authors receive a cash prize. Other submissions may be published in print or online. If you wish, submissions will also be considered for Dispatches, a new Columbia University magazine, currently under development, created to feature work exclusively by incarcerated artists. Please note that published materials will either be featured in the Journal or Dispatches, and the Journal will have the first option to publish materials submitted.

Submission Guidelines

You must include a Cover Sheet for your submission, including:

  1. Your full name
  2. Genre(s)
  3. If you would like your submission to be considered for Dispatches
  4. Primary Return address and Alternative Return Address
  5. One Paragraph Introduction

If possible, please submit all work in the same envelope on standard size 8.5″ x 11” paper. All work must be previously unpublished. Please note that only one submission per genre is accepted for review. The Journal cannot return manuscripts. Do not send originals. Writers should send physical copies of their work to:

Chelsea S. Roberts – Community Outreach Manager

Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

415 Dodge Hall

Mail Code 1804

2960 Broadway

New York, NY 10027

By submitting, you give Columbia Journal permission to publish your work in print or online. Email Community Outreach Manager, Chelsea Roberts ( should you have any questions or write her a letter at the address above. All submissions will receive a response.