Creative Writing for Social Workers

 creative writing annual workshop for social workers

29th Annual Creative Writing Seminar for Social Workers

July 17-20, 2020


Date / Time / Location
July 17-20, 2020 -- ONLINE -- Some elements of the course will be asynchronous (completed on your own time) and some parts will be in real time, together. A full schedule/syllabus will be shared with registrants.

About the Workshop
The University of Iowa is known nationally as "The Writing University," and our institution boasts a rich tradition of great writing and an early and enduring commitment to the creative arts. Iowa’s tradition of writing has been guided by the principle that, though writing is a solitary practice, it’s one significantly enriched by interaction with other writers. There has also been a growing focus in recent years on how writing and language are critical in so many other professions and pursuits beyond the purely literary. It's fitting, then, that we continue to offer an annual opportunity for social workers and other helping professionals to gather in a workshop space for an intensive experience to work on their writing craft and learn how it can be leveraged, both in practice and in reflective self-care. While this year's "workshop space" will be virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipate an equally rich and connective experience for participants in these unprecedented times!

Learning Objectives
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.

The Process
The seminar will meet online over the course of 4 days. Each day includes asynchronous elements (assignments completed on your own time) and interaction in real time with the instructor and fellow participants. Activities include 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 the lead instructor. Participants may be beginners or experienced--and sometimes even published--writers. Most participants have not previously attended a writing workshop, or even thought of themselves as writers. Diversity 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.

Cost & CEUs
$495 / 24 CEU hours / Participants who complete the workshop are eligible to enroll in future sessions of our Master Class in Creative Writing for Social Workers.

About the Presenter
Ellen Szabo, M.Ed. is the 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. 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.


Creative Writing Master Class for Social Workers

July 21-22, 2020


Master Class will build upon the principles and instruction from the four-day Creative Writing for Social Work seminar. This workshop will illuminate and explore various techniques for discovering and amplifying the spirit and purpose of each participant’s writing, with emphasis on how creative expression can facilitate personal transformation.

The focus will be on exploration, experimentation and discovery of each person’s unique writing voice. In a supportive, stimulating atmosphere, participants will have an opportunity to build upon their creative writing skills with additional instruction, writing prompts and facilitated discussion of participant work.

Prerequisite: Completion of the four day Creative Writing for Social Work workshop



National Poetry Contest for Social Workers                                            

The submission period has ended for this year's contest. We will begin taking submissions for the 2021 contest in October 2020.

The University of Iowa School of Social Work conducts an annual, nationwide poetry contest 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, one of the contest's founders. "We have a 28-year track record of offering a Creative Writing Seminar for social workers--and the University of Iowa is known as "The Writing University." In Iowa City--recognized internationally as a UNESCO City of Literature--writing is the air we breathe."

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. A poem in its entirety must be an original work by the person entering the contest.

  5. All entries will be judged by a panel consisting of social workers, writers, and poets based on poetic technique, effectiveness, style, and creativity, as well as accessibility and suitability for public display before a general audience.

  6. The deadline for submissions is January 31st, 2020, by 11:59 pm CST. 

  7. The poem must be no more than 15 lines (the title does NOT count as one of the 15) and can be either an existing work or new. 

  8. An excerpt from a longer poem will be considered if it can stand alone.

  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 will be accepted.


The top three submissions will be awarded cash prizes and will be published in The New Social Worker magazine. Submissions that meet the contest criteria may be published on the University of Iowa School of Social Work website and/or social media.

First Prize: $100 and FREE tuition to attend the annual Creative Writing Seminar at the University of Iowa School of Social Work in Iowa City
Second Prize: $100
Third Prize: $50

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

Congratulations to our 2020 contest winners!         


First Prize:

“I Tell Secrets” by Sandra Braine, River Forest, IL 

Graduate of Dominican University


Second Prize:

“to the people we've made” by Lacy Cunningham, Boulder, CO, 

MSW Student at Metropolitan State University of Denver


Third Prize:

“Selfish Dawn” by Matthew Parra, Dorchester, MA

Graduate of Boston University School of Social Work


Previous winners: 


  • Aisha Naseem, University of Chicago
  • Kristin Bartley Lenz, Wayne State University
  • Elizabeth Weiss,  University of Chicago


  • Christopher Joseph, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Angela Chaney, Indiana University
  • Brittany Humphrey, Arizona State University


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


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


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


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


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