Princeton Writes Prize

pwrites-prizeThe Princeton Writes Prize, which was first awarded in 2015, is designed to encourage and recognize outstanding writing on the part of University staff. Administered by Princeton Writes in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Humanities Council, this initiative draws inspiration from the late William Zinsser of the Class of 1944, whose guide for writers of nonfiction, On Writing Well, has influenced generations of wordsmiths.

The Princeton Writes Prize and up to three honorable mentions will be awarded on the basis of an essay contest whose topic and winners are determined by a selection committee composed of experienced writers from across the University. The members of this committee are John Weeren, Director of Princeton Writes; Kathy Crown, Executive Director of the Humanities Council; Jamie Saxon, Arts and Humanities Writer in the Office of Communications; Adrianne DaPonte, Associate Director for Fundraising Initiatives in University Advancement; Bryant Blount, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students and Manager of Strategic Communications; Bob Bostock, Special Assistant for Communications and Research in the Office of the President; Leda Kopach, Associate Director for Communications in the Office of Alumni Affairs; Tom Dunne, Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students; and Kira O’Brien, Program Coordinator in the Pace Center for Civic Engagement.


2018-2019 Honorees

We are pleased to announce the winners of our fifth annual staff essay contest, whose outstanding essays rose to the top of a competitive pool of 70 submissions from 44 departments. Contestants were invited to introduce a part of their world – such as a community, pastime, or place – and tell why it is meaningful to them. A celebratory reception honoring all contestants will be held at Maclean House on Thursday, June 6, from 2:00-4:00 p.m.

Princeton Writes Prize: Kira O’Brien, Program Coordinator, Pace Center for Civic Engagement, for her essay “Water, Wine & Marinara.”

Honorable Mention: Anna Braverman, Psychologist, University Health Services, for her essay “Sing!

Honorable Mention: Jeff Labrecque, Marketing Writer, University Advancement, for his essay “The Undeniable Scientific Superiority of Seat F7.”

Honorable Mention: Gwen McNamara, Communications Specialist, Pace Center for Civic Engagement, for her essay “The ‘Crick’.”


Staff Essay Contest Guidelines


The topic for the 2019-2020 staff essay contest will be announced in November.


The contest is open to all regular members of the University’s academic professional, administrative, and support staffs. Unfortunately, we do not accept submissions from faculty and students or staff at affiliated institutions.

Selection Criteria

Essays will be evaluated on how clearly, creatively, and compellingly they address the designated topic. Favorable consideration will be given to submissions that are written in a lucid manner, with well-defined points and smooth transitions; that exhibit imagination in their choice of focus and use of language; and that not only inform but also move their readers in some way. A secondary emphasis will be placed on grammatical correctness. While creative nonfiction is welcome, purely fictional narratives fall outside the scope of this contest. The selection committee will judge each essay on its merits, without any identifying information as to its author.

We encourage you to read the work of previous honorees, which can be accessed below.

Submission Process

To be considered, essays must be between 750 and 1,250 words, composed in Microsoft Word using double-spaced lines and a 12-point font, and submitted to on or before February 28, 2019. Though not essential, we encourage you to create a title for your essay.

Essays should be sent as email attachments, and while the essay itself should not identify its author, the email should contain the writer’s full name, department, and telephone number. The email should also include the following statement: I, [insert name], certify that the words in this essay are exclusively my own. Staff without computer access should contact Princeton Writes at 258-8633 so that special accommodations can be made.

The selection committee will make its decision not later than May 1, 2019, with all contestants notified of the results shortly thereafter.


The winner of the Princeton Writes Prize will receive $1,000 in the form of a single, taxable lump sum payment, as well as a certificate of accomplishment and a copy of On Writing Well by the late William Zinsser ’44. Honorable mention recipients will also receive a certificate and a copy of On Writing Well. A reception in honor of the awardees and all contestants will be held in the spring, and the winning essays will be printed in booklet form and posted, along with a professionally recorded audio file, on this website for others to enjoy.


Please contact Princeton Writes at or 258-8633 with any questions you may have. We look forward to reading your essays!


Past Honorees

Princeton Writes Prize

2017-2018: Dana Sheridan, Cotsen Education and Outreach Coordinator, Princeton University Library, for her essay “She Still Hasn’t Told Me Her Name.”

2016-2017: Thomas Dunne, Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students, for his essay “Anonymous Monument.”

2015-2016: Bryant Blount, Assistant Dean, Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, for his untitled essay on his first encounter with Japan.

2014-2015: Marianna Bogucki, Conference and Event Manager, Conference and Event Services, for her essay “November Light.”

Honorable Mentions

2017-2018: Melissa Moss, Communications Strategist for the Sciences, Office of Communications, for her essay “Two Autumns.”

2017-2018: Dianne Spatafore, Director of Campus Club, Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, for her untitled essay on life in a children’s hospital.

2017-2018: Carla M. Zimowsk, Technology Services Manager, Department of History, for her essay “Arkadaş.”

2016-2017: Matthew Eaton, Information Technology Manager, Office of Admission, for his essay “A Guide to Princeton’s Wonderland.”

2016-2017: Jonathan Horowitz, Associate Director for Digital Communications, Office of Alumni Affairs, for his essay “Wired.”

2016-2017: Gwen McNamara, Communications Coordinator, Pace Center for Civic Engagement, for her essay “Trail Walk.”

2015-2016: April Armstrong, Special Collections Assistant, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, for her essay “Divided by an Invisible Distance.”

2015-2016: Violette Chamoun, Operations Manager, Forbes College, Campus Dining, for her essay “A Taste for Diversity.”

2015-2016: Brian Mondschein, First Assistant Coach, Women’s Track and Field, Athletics, for his essay “Returning to Levittown.”

2014-2015: Ruth McGuire, Senior Bibliographic Specialist, Princeton University Library, for her essay “In the Plaza.”

2014-2015: Jamie Saxon, Arts and Humanities Writer, Office of Communications, for her untitled essay on attending concerts in Richardson Auditorium.

2014-2015: Dana Sheridan, Cotsen Education and Outreach Coordinator, Princeton University Library, for her essay “5 a.m.