Creative Writing for Social Workers


27th Annual Creative Writing Seminar for Social Workers

July 20-23, 2018, Iowa City, Iowa  


Please email to be added to our waiting list for potential registration in case of a cancellation.

The annual Creative  Writing Seminar is co-ordinated by Mercedes Bern-Klug, PhD, MSW, MA.  Dr. Bern-Klug is on the faculty in the School of Social Work and is Director of  Aging & Longevity Studies Program.

Ellen Szabo, M.Ed. is primary writing instructor for the course. She is the founder of Write Now, promoting the use of creative writing for personal investigation, enrichment and social change. She earned her B.A. from Harvard College, with a concentration in English and American Literature, and her M.Ed. from Columbia University Teacher’s College, in Counseling Psychology.  She writes and teaches with focus on how innovation and creativity can illuminate, inspire and advocate compassionate transformation. The link to her new ebook

The seminar meets 6 hours daily, Friday through Monday on The University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. Each day includes a mixture of presentations from invited guests, writing instruction and practice, and peer critiques of participants’ work. Several hours are reserved for individual coaching sessions with Ellen Szabo. Registrants usually include a mixture of beginning, experienced, and sometimes published writers. Most participants have not previously attended a writing workshop. Variety of  experience, and an active interest and curiosity about the possibilities inherent in creative writing, are the essential ingredients for a fresh and exciting workshop experience.

The learning objectives are:
    — Improve creative writing skill in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, blogs etc.
    — Understand how writing can be used as a professional tool in human services work as counselors, educators, advocates, researchers and practitioners.

FINAL UPDATED AGENDA (Revised 7/15/2018)

Guest speakers will share experiences with projects related to creative writing for social change,  journaling for personal growth, and/or the written word as a tool for enhancing social justice.

Fees & Credit-The seminar fee is $290 if received by June 21st, and $375 afterwards.The fee does not include housing, transportation or food. The deadline for registration and payment is July7th and no refunds are available after that date. We reserve the right to cancel the seminar if there is insufficient enrollment. Enrollment is limited to 16 participants. 24 contact hours of continuing education credit for social workers, is offered for full participation.

For more information, contact Kate Kemp at 319-335-1250 or email

For information about hotels and B & B's

For information about parking, click here.

More about Ellen's book: Love and Apocalypse, Externalize Your Inner Apocalypse     

Writing fiction can help you feel better. This book offers instruction, inspiration and prompts for externalizing your inner apocalypse. Using creative writing, readers are encouraged to make meaning of their experiences by discovering, emphasizing and illuminating changed perspectives. Every character and every story we write is autobiographical. Our writing can transform us by offering opportunities to explore, examine, and understand outcomes from our lives, and to imagine alternatives. We can evoke a sense of justice and peace, not by changing outcomes (usually it’s too late for that), but by changing perspective. Apocalyptic stories can inspire change, and even hope.

Ebook available now on Amazon.Paperback available in July. 
Purchase on Amazon  |  link to GoodReads page


National Poetry Contest for Social Workers                                            


Any social work student, faculty member, or alumnus from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education may participate in the contest.  The deadline for submission is January 1, 2018.  Poems should speak to hopes, dreams, fears, and experiences related to social work.

The purpose of the contest is to acknowledge the creative talent of social workers and to draw attention to social work as a profession. “Hosting the national poetry contest here in Iowa City is a natural extension of what the School of Social Work has been doing for decades," says faculty member Mercedes Bern-Klug, a founder of the poetry contest. "We have a 25 year track record of offering a Creative Writing Seminar for social workers and the University of Iowa is known as the 'writing university'. Iowa City is a UNESCO City of Literature. Writing is in the air."

There is no cost to enter the contest. One submission per social worker is allowed. Entries will be judged by a panel of social workers, writers, and poets. The top three submissions will be awarded cash prizes and all submissions that meet the requirements will be published in an electronic chapbook on the UI School of Social Work website.

Rules for submission

  1. Only students, faculty or alumni from United States CSWE accredited social work programs may participate in the contest.
  2. There is no cost to enter.
  3. Only one submission is allowed per person.
  4. All entries will be judged by a panel consisting of social workers, writers, and poets.
  5. The deadline for submissions is January 1st, 2018 by 5:00 pm.
  6. The poem must be no more than 15 lines (not including the title) and can be either an existing work or new. To fit on the page of the chapbook, lines should be no more than 60 characters each, in size 12pt in Calibri font. Spaces between words don't count. To be included in the chapbook, your poem must fit within a 7.5" w x 8.5" h space. 
  7. An excerpt from a longer poem will be considered if it can stand alone.
  8. Poems will be judged on quality of writing but also for accessibility and suitability for public display before a general audience.
  9. If reprint permissions are required, please get permission prior to submitting your work.
  10. Poems must be submitted online. No paper or email submissions please.


The top three submissions will be awarded cash prizes and will be published in The New Social Worker magazine. All of the submissions that meet the contest criteria will be published in an electronic book posted on The University of Iowa School of Social Work website.

First Prize: $300 and half-price admission to the annual Creative Writing Seminar in Iowa City.
Second Prize: $100
Third Prize: $50

Questions? Write to or call 319-335-3750.

Tips for Writing Poetry  
New York Times Article-Poem Helps Broach Topic of End-of-Life Care


Congratulations to our 2018 contest winners!         

Contest Chapbook here


  • Christopher Joseph, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2008

  • Angela Chaney, Indiana University, 2012

  • Brittany Humphrey, Arizona State University, 2018

    Previous winners are: 


  • Anna Forbes, Bryn Mawr College
  • Sara Staggs, University of Houston
  • Mary Ann Getse, Washington University, St. Louis


  • Jonathan Knight Palley, University of California- Berkeley, 1975
  • Sarah Pettit Dawson, University of South Carolina, 1999
  • Catherine Crandall, University of Georgia, 2013


  • Marjorie Thomsen, The Catholic University of America, 1995
  • Nahomi Martinez, University of Texas at El Paso, 2014
  • Joel Izlar, University of Georgia, 2012


  • Sarah Trotta-University of Pennsylvania, 2013
  • Patrick Scott Feagans-George Mason University, 2017
  • Jessica Greenbaum-New York University, 2014

​ 2016     

  • Leslie Olson, University of Iowa, 2018
  • Rebecca Thieman, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2018
  • Christopher Joseph, University of Michigan, 2008