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2020 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest

Each year, Split This Rock sponsors a national poetry contest which serves to raise the visibility and prestige of poetry of provocation and witness. Formerly known as Split This Rock's Annual Poetry Contest, the contest was renamed in 2017 as the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. The new name honors two poets significant to Split This Rock: Langston Hughes who penned the poem "Big Buddy" from which Split This Rock takes its name and Sonia Sanchez who opened the very first Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2008 and served as guest judge for the 2018 contest. Contest winning poems are published on Split This Rock's website and in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

The 2020 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest is now closed for submissions.

Guest Judge: Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco appears outdoors in autumn. He looks away from the camera and smiles.

$1,000 in Prizes Awarded for Poems of Provocation & Witness!

Due Date: November 1, 2019

Submissions will be accepted through Submittable.
Accessible Word version of submission instructions BELOW.

PRIZES: First place $500; 2nd and 3rd place, $250 each. Winning poems will be published on Split This Rock's website within The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. All prize winners will receive free festival registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020 and be eligible for apply for need-based travel scholarships. The 1st place recipient will be invited to read the winning poem on the main stage at the festival. All submitted poems may also receive consideration for Split This Rock’s Poem of the Week Series.

READING FEE: $20, all proceeds support Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020. For the first time, we are offering an option through Submittable to donate an additional reading fee to make contest entry accessible for someone who otherwise could not enter. To donate a contest entry fee without entering the contest yourself, please contact

THEMES: Submissions should be in the spirit of Split This Rock's work: socially engaged poems, poems that reach beyond the self to connect with the larger community or world; poems of provocation and witness. This theme can be interpreted broadly and may include but is not limited to work addressing politics, economics, government, war, leadership, issues of identity (gender, sexuality, race, indigeneity, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic class, body image, immigration, heritage, etc.), community, civic engagement, education, activism, and poems about history or cultural icons. We welcome poetry on a wide range of social justice themes and in a wide range of poetic styles. Visit Split This Rock’s website to read past winning poems.

ETHICS: Split This Rock subscribes to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Contest Code of Ethics. Read it online at our website.

ACCESSIBLE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS: If Submittable is not accessible to you, you are welcomed to submit your poem(s) using the accessible Word version of the submission instructions. After submitting your poem(s), if you have not received an email confirmation of receipt within a week's time, please contact us at or (202) 787-5210.



"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people…

            to fulfill the promise of being one people, necessary to abolish any government
            that becomes destructive of these ends, necessary to dissolve the political
            bans that keep us from speaking to each other, necessary to avow our

                   --from “Declaration of Inter-Dependence” by Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history—the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. He is the author of the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires; the poetry chapbooks Matters of the Sea, One Today, and Boston Strong; a children’s book of his inaugural poem, "One Today,” illustrated by Dav Pilkey; and Boundaries, a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler. His latest book of poems, How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019), both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. He has also authored the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey.

Blanco’s many honors include the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and two Maine Literary Awards. He has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island. He has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Fresh Air. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. Blanco has continued to write occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. He lives with his partner in Bethel, ME.

Richard Blanco has travelled many paths with Split This Rock over the years. He has been a featured poet at Sunday Kind of Love Reading & Open Mic, at Split This Rock's 5th Anniversary Celebration, and twice in our Poem of the Week Series. After the 2016 election, he offered his poem "Declaration of Inter-Dependence" to Split This Rock as part of a series of counter-inaugural poems published on January 20, 2017. His poem was the most viewed poem in The Quarry that year.

Blanco will serve as the final judge for the contest, selecting the winning poems from up to 20 finalists chosen by first readers. At the judge's discretion, he may also select additional poems to receive honorable mentions.



Submissions must be received by November 1, 2019. We encourage you to submit before the deadline so that if you encounter problems we can assist you. 

Submit up to 3 unpublished poems, no more than 6 pages total, with no more than 1 poem appearing on each page. Poems may be in any style, but must be in the spirit of Split This Rock's work (see above). Entries longer than 6 pages will not be read.

What we mean by “unpublished”: We accept only poems that have not yet been included in a publication with an ISBN number or online via a juried journal or website. If your poem is selected and is posted online or on social media, we ask that you take it down prior to our publishing contest results.

We read entries anonymously. Please do not put your name or contact information on the document you upload to Submittable or within its title or your poems will be in jeopardy of being disqualified.

Simultaneous submissions are OK, but please notify us immediately if a poem is accepted elsewhere.

Close friends, relatives, students, and former students of the judge are excluded from the contest. Likewise, the current Board of Directors, staff, Teaching Artists, and DC Youth Slam Team of Split This Rock are excluded, as are members of their immediate families. (For more detail: visit the code of ethics on our website.)

Mailed and Emailed Submissions: Except in special circumstances with advance approval or in the cases of people for whom Submittable is inaccessible, we do not accept mailed or emailed submissions. Instructions for how to submit if Submittable is inaccessible to you are available below in the "Accessible Submissions Instructions" section below.

Late entries will not be accepted.

Once decisions have been made, you will receive an email notifying you of the status of your submission. We do not send hard copy notifications or accept self-addressed stamped envelopes. Please visit this page or Split This Rock's Facebook page for updates on the contest.


ACCESSIBLE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS: If Submittable is not accessible to you, you are welcomed to submit your poem(s) using the accessible Word version or the accessible PDF version of the submission instructions. After submitting your poem(s), if you have not received an email confirmation of receipt within a week's time, please contact us at or (202) 787-5210.