Emerging Voices



[ Application period is now closed. Good luck, applicants. We will notify applicants at the end of October. ]

The Emerging Voices Fellowship is a literary mentorship that aims to provide new writers who are isolated from the literary establishment with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to launch a professional writing career.


By the end of the Emerging Voices Fellowship, a writer will leave with:

  • Seven months of guidance from a professional mentor and written notes on their current writing project.
  • An author photo and bio.
  • A logline—the short summation of the project in progress.
  • A clear action plan for finishing this project.
  • Writing life, and craft tips, from notable visiting authors.
  • An editing guide from a professional copy editor.
  • Insider knowledge of publishing from agents, publishers, and editors.
  • An individualized submission guide for literary journals, agents, residencies, and fellowships.
  • Improved reading technique from a professional voice coach.
  • Public reading experience for a variety of audiences.
  • An understanding of how to be an effective workshop participant.
  • Lifetime membership in PEN Center USA.
  • An introduction to the Los Angeles literary community.


The seven-month fellowship includes:

PROFESSIONAL MENTORSHIP: Emerging Voices Mentors are carefully chosen from PEN Center USA’s membership and from professional writers based in Los Angeles. The Mentor-Fellow relationship is expected to challenge the fellow's work and compel significant creative progress. Over the course of the fellowship, Emerging Voices Fellows and Mentors should meet three times in person, and be in contact at least once a month. In these three meetings, Mentors will offer written feedback on the Emerging Voices Fellows’ work in progress. Authors who have been mentors in the past include Ron Carlson, Harryette Mullen, Chris Abani, Ramona Ausubel, Meghan Daum, and Sherman Alexie.

CLASSES AT THE UCLA EXTENSION WRITERS’ PROGRAM: Participants will attend two free courses (a 12-week writing course and a one-day workshop) at UCLA Extension, donated by the Writers’ Program. Program Manager will assist the Emerging Voices Fellows with course selection.

AUTHOR EVENINGS: Every Monday, fellows will meet with a visiting author, editor or publisher and ask questions about craft. Fellows must read each visiting author's book before the evening. A schedule of Author Evenings is distributed at the first Emerging Voices orientation meeting. The 2016 Private Author Evening Series includes (in order of appearance):

Samantha Dunn
Douglas Kearney
Dinah Lenney
Heather Simons
Wendy C. Ortiz
Justin Torres
James Ragan
Betsy Amster
Victoria Chang
Derrick C. Brown
David Francis
Janice Lee (Entropy)
Darcy Cosper (The Offing)
Bonnie Nadell
J. Ryan Stradal
Bernard Cooper
Harryette Mullen
Julia Callahan (Rare Bird Lit)
Chris Heiser (Unnamed Press)
Dan Smetanka (Counterpoint Press)
Click here for info for the Emerging Voices Author Evening Series, which is open to the public.

MASTER CLASSES: After completing the UCLA Extension Writers' Program courses, Emerging Voices Fellows will enroll in a Master Class. The Master Class is a genre-specific workshop with a professional writer that affords fellows the opportunity to exchange feedback on their works in progress. The 2016 Master Class Instructors are Alex Espinoza (fiction and nonfiction), and F. Douglas Brown (poetry).
F. Douglas Brown of Los Angeles is the author of Zero to Three (University of Georgia Press 2014), and recipient of the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. He holds a MA in Literature and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, teaches English at Loyola High School, and is both a Cave Canem and Kundiman fellow. Mr. Brown’s poems have appeared most recently in The Virginia Quarterly (VQR), The Bat City Review, and San Pedro River Review, and he was featured in Poets and Writers Magazine as one of their Debut Poets of 2014.
Alex Espinoza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and earned an MFA from UC-Irvine’s Program in Writing. His first novel, Still Water Saints was published by Random House in 2007 and was released simultaneously in Spanish under the title Los Santos de Agua Mansa, California. Random House also published his second novel The Five Acts of Diego León in 2013. Alex has written for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Huizache, The Southern California Review, the American Book Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, and NPR’s All Things Considered.
VOLUNTEER PROJECT: All Emerging Voices Fellows are expected to complete a 25-hour volunteer project that is relevant to the literary community. The 2016 Fellows collaborated on projects with 826LA, Reading Opens Minds, A Place Called Home, and POPS the Club.

VOICE INSTRUCTION CLASS: The Fellowship will provide a one-day workshop with Dave Thomas, a professional voice actor. The Emerging Voices Fellows will read their work in a recording studio and receive instruction on reading their work publicly.

PUBLIC READINGS: Fellows will participate in three public readings, The Welcome Party, Tongue & Groove Salon, and the Final Reading. Fellows have read in various venues and events including the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Silver Lake Jubilee, Skylight Bookstore, The Standard, Downtown LA, and Hotel Café. The fellowship culminates in a Final Reading showcasing the progress each fellow has made in his or her work.

STIPEND: The fellowship includes a $1,000 stipend, given in $500 increments.


The Emerging Voices Fellowship runs from January to July. Participants need not be published, but the fellowship is directed toward poets and writers of fiction and creative nonfiction with clear ideas of what they hope to accomplish through their writing.

The application period for 2017 is now closed.

The application period for 2018 will open Spring 2017.


Current Fellows and Mentors

Marnie Goodfriend grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she’s a graphic designer, a sexual assault activist, and a media consultant. In 2014, her poetry was published in here/there:poetry magazine. Marnie is working on her first memoir titled Birth Marks.

Claire Bidwell Smith is a therapist specializing in grief and the author of two books of nonfiction: The Rules of Inheritance and After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go? both published by Penguin. The Rules of Inheritance, a coming of age memoir about grief, was a Books for a Better Life nominee, a Barnes and Noble Discover Pick, has been published in 17 countries, and is currently being adapted for film. Claire has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University, and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University. She teaches numerous workshops around the country and has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, Chicago Public Radio, The Guardian, Psychology Today, Yoga Journal, and Black Book Magazine. Claire currently works in private practice in Los Angeles. Claire is mentoring Marnie Goodfriend.

Jian Huang’s parents brought her to the United States from Shanghai, China, when she was six years old. She grew up in South Los Angeles and earned her bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Southern California. She has worked for a number of social service organizations, including the LA Conservation Corps, which provides college scholarships and job training to underserved youth. Jian is working on her first collection of essays, in which she attempts to navigate the ideas of place and belonging.

Patrick O’Neil is the author of the memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Juxtapoz, Salon, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, and Razorcake. He is a regular contributor to AfterPartyMagazine, has been nominated twice for Best of the Net, and is a contributing editor for Sensitive Skin Magazine. Patrick holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, and teaches in AULA’s Inspiration2Publication program, as well as at Los Angeles Valley College. He recently relocated from the glittery sleaze of Hollywood to live in L.A.’s monument to broken dreams, the über hip downtown district, with his girlfriend and two giant Maine Coons. For more information, please visit: patrick-oneil.com. Patrick is mentoring Jian Huang.

Wendy Labinger was raised in Southern California. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Iowa and her master’s in deaf education from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She has taught English as a second language for 20 years. Wendy's poems have been published in Potpourri and Sheila-Na-Gig. She lives in Los Angeles and is working on a collection of poems titled scatters me into the night.

Alicia Partnoy is a survivor of the secret detention camps in Argentina, where about 30,000 people were said to have “disappeared”. Best known for The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival, Partnoy also published the poetry collections Flowering Fires/Fuegos florales (recipient of the First Settlement House American Poetry Prize), and Little Low Flying/Volando bajito, both translated by Gail Wronsky. Poems from her Revenge of the Apple/Venganza de la manzana were printed on posters, and distributed by Poetry in Motion, a project of the Poetry Society of America, within the public transportation system in New York, Dallas, and Washington D.C. Alicia’s poetry has been translated into several languages, and her most recent translations are Gail Wronsky’s poetry collection So Quick Bright Things/Tan pronto las cosas, and Kate Gale’s opera libretto Río de Sangre. Partnoy edited You Can't Drown the Fire: Latin American Women Writing in Exile, and co-edited Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social. Her work has been a Pushcart Foundation Writer's Choice Selection, and a London Times bestseller. A former Vice-Chair of Amnesty International, Partnoy teaches at Loyola Marymount University. She is also a founding member of Proyecto VOS-Voices of Survivors, an organization that brings survivors of state-sponsored violence to lecture at U.S. universities. Alicia is mentoring Wendy Labinger.

Natalie Lima was born in Miami and raised in Nevada and Florida. She attended Northwestern University and received a bachelor's degree in radio/television/film and international studies. In addition to writing, she currently works in college admissions, and volunteers for Minds Matter LA, a nonprofit college prep program serving accomplished high school students from low-income families. Natalie is working on a short story collection titled Smash.

Mike Padilla is a native Californian in love with his state and its inhabitants, who inspire his stories. He is the author of the short story collection Hard Language and the novel The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina. His characters run the gamut of personalities, from cholos to movie stars, from elderly comadres, to party-seeking club rats. Padilla was born in Oakland, California, and grew up in neighboring San Leandro. He has received numerous awards, including the UC Irvine Chicano/Latino Literary Award and an Artist Fellowship from the California Arts Council. Mike is mentoring Natalie Lima.

Chelsea Sutton was raised in the suburbs of Riverside County, California. She earned her bachelor’s degree in literature from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Chelsea’s fiction has been published in Spectrum, Catalyst, Bourbon Penn, and other online publications. She was the winner of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest in 2011, and her plays have been produced and developed by Rogue Artists Ensemble, Skylight Theatre Company, and many others. Chelsea is working on a collection of short stories titled Curious Monsters.

Carmiel Banasky is the author of the novel The Suicide of Claire Bishop (Dzanc, 2015), which Publishers Weekly calls "an intellectual tour de force." Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Slice, Guernica, PEN America, The Rumpus, and NPR, among other places. She earned her MFA from Hunter College, where she also taught Creative Writing. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Ucross, Ragdale, Artist Trust, I-Park, and other foundations. After four years on the road at writing residencies, she now teaches in Los Angeles. She is from Portland, Oregon. Carmiel is mentoring Chelsea Sutton.

Photographs of Emerging Voices Fellows by Casey Curry.

2015 Fellows and Mentors

Oktavi Allison was born in 1951 in Queens, New York, and was raised in the suburbs of Long Island. Oktavi attended Farmingdale State College before migrating to Los Angeles, where she began writing in the early '90s. Her work has been published in Bum Rush the Page and Beyond the Frontier. Oktavi currently resides in Inglewood, California. She is working on a collection of poems titled Collage.

Lynne Thompson is the author of two chapbooks, Through A Window and We Arrive By Accumulation as well as two full-length collections of poetry, Start With A Small Guitar and Beg No Pardon, which won the Perugia Press Book Award as well as the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Award. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Thompson is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Summer Literary Series. Her recent work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, African American Review, Fourteen Hills, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. She is Reviews & Essays Editor of the journal, Spillway, and also serves on the Board of Trustees for Scripps College, her alma mater, as well as on the Board of ArtworxLA. Lynne is mentoring Oktavi Allison.

Kenneth D. Capers was born in Buffalo, New York, but has deep southern family roots in Savannah, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor's Degree in English from Savannah State University. He has two MAs in literature, from North Carolina A&T State University and from University of Southern California. He is currently working on his first novel, Stuck.

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of eight books, including the forthcoming novel Subprimes, Triburbia, Boy Alone, about his autistic brother Noah, Speed Tribes, Standard Deviations, and China Syndrome. A long time writer and editor for The Nation, TIME, and Sports Illustrated, Karl has also been a frequent contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek, he was the editor of TIME Asia and one of the founding editors of Sports Illustrated China.
His fiction has appeared in Harper's, Best American Short Stories, PEN/O Henry Prize Stories. The Paris Review, Ploughshares, American Short Fiction, The Missouri Review, One Story, Commentary, The Southern Review, and The Sun. Karl is mentoring Kenneth D. Capers.


Michelle Meyers is a fiction writer and playwright born and raised in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor's Degree in theatre arts and performance studies from Brown University. Michelle's fiction has been published in DOGZPLOT and jmww. She was also selected for The Wigleaf Top (Very) Short Fictions of 2014 and recently released a comedic web series about teachers called Those Who Can't Do. Michelle is currently working on a collection of short stories titled Strange L.A.

Jenny Hollowell is a writer and music producer. Her novel is Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe, and her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train and Bright Wall/Dark Room. She has been honored by Best American Short Stories and appeared on WNYC's Selected Shorts, Pop-Up Magazine, and NPR's Radiolab. Jenny is mentoring Michelle Meyers.

Erik Rodgers grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and received a Bachelor's Degree in theater and English from the University of New Mexico before moving to Los Angeles. Erik has written and directed two independent films, Disappearing in America and Carrier. His poems have appeared in Conceptions Southwest and Mountain Tales. Erik is currently working on a novel titled The Aquarians.

David Treuer is the author of five books: three novels, a book of criticism, and the nonfiction book, Rez Life. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Esquire, TriQuarterly, and Lucky Peach, among other publications. He is a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Bush Foundation, and The Guggenheim Foundation. His new novel, Prudence, was published by Riverhead Books in February of 2015. He is a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. David is mentoring Erik Rodgers.

Nancy Lynée Woo grew up in Huntington Beach, California, and earned a Bachelor's Degree in sociology from University of California, Santa Cruz. She currently lives in Long Beach, where she is co-founder and co-editor of a social justice-based literary press, Lucid Moose Lit. In 2014 she released a chapbook titled Rampant (2014) and a poetry CD, Face the Blaze (2014). She is working on her first full-length collection of poems titled The Great Divide.

Victoria Chang's third book of poems, The Boss, was published by McSweeney's in 2013. It won a PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Commonwealth Book Award. Her other books are Salvinia Molesta and Circle. Her poems have been published in various journals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, New Republic, The Nation, Best American Poetry, and others. Victoria is mentoring Nancy Lynée Woo.

Photographs of Emerging Voices Fellows by Casey Curry.


People ineligible for the Emerging Voices Fellowship:

  • Those who have an M.A., M.F.A., or Ph.D. in Creative Writing.
  • Students currently enrolled in undergraduate or graduate degree programs.
  • Those who are Professional PEN Center USA members.
  • Writers who have published one or more books through major publishing houses, university presses, or established presses.
  • Current professional magazine/newspaper feature writers or editors.
  • Writers who are widely published in top tier literary journals and/or magazines.
  • Anyone under the age of 21.

Emerging Voices is a rigorous fellowship based in Los Angeles with weekly meetings and an intense reading and writing schedule. With this in mind, participants must be willing and able to make an enthusiastic commitment to the fellowship and to their involvement as members of a group. If you are not a resident of Los Angeles and you are awarded the fellowship you will need to relocate for the seven-month period. Housing is not provided.

History of the Emerging Voices Fellowship

The Emerging Voices Fellowship originated as a mentorship project. The project grew out of PEN Center USA’s forum “Writing the Immigrant Experience,” held at the Los Angeles Central Library in March 1994, which explored the issues and challenges faced by first and second generation immigrant writers. It was evident from the forum that many of the culturally diverse communities of writers in Southern California were often isolated from the literary establishment. In the fall of 1996, PEN Center USA initiated Emerging Voices as a literary mentorship program designed to launch potential professional writers from minority, immigrant and other underrepresented communities. The program has now evolved into an seven-month writing fellowship for writers who lack access to a traditional writing education and seek financial and creative support.

Here’s a note from one of the fellowship’s supporter, Jamie Wolf, supporter of the Emerging Voices Fellowship program:

“The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation was established in 1948 by my parents, a young businessman and his fashion-editor wife, who clearly had a great deal of confidence in their eventual financial success as well as a genuine desire to contribute to the world outside themselves. As my father formulated it in the beginning, ‘Individuals fortunate enough to receive unusual benefits from a society have the distinct obligation to return meaningful, tangible support to that society—in the form of creative energy as well as funding.’ What this has meant over the years is a pattern of rewarding excellence and accomplishment by giving awards in the fields of medicine, art and literature. In the last several decades, as the younger generation has begun to have more of a say, the goal has modulated into an emphasis on more directly encouraging excellence and accomplishment—by funding programs as well as awards, thus concentrating on setting up structures for achievement, and utilizing the multiplier effect.”

Support for the Emerging Voices Fellowship

PEN Center USA is generously supported by the California Community Foundation, Herb Alpert Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Kayne Foundation, Rosenthal Family Foundation, Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and National Endowment for the Arts.


The 2017 application period is now closed. The application period for 2018 will open Spring 2017.

Frequently Asked Questions

The application period for 2018 will open Spring 2017.

Do I need to live in the Los Angeles area to apply to the Emerging Voices Fellowship?
You must be a US citizen or have the correct documentation to apply to the Emerging Voices Fellowship. All fellows must live in Los Angeles or close enough to commute to Los Angeles for the duration of the program. No funds are available for relocation.

Are there any age restrictions?
The Emerging Voices Fellowship is open to all writers over the age of 21.

Can I submit work that has been previously published?
Yes, if you feel it is the work that best represents you as a writer.

Can you help me decide what work to submit as my writing sample?
No, although we do strongly encourage you to submit writing that corresponds to your project proposal. Also, please submit work that corresponds to your genre. This allows the selection committee to gain a better understanding of your project and how you and your work could benefit from the fellowship.

How should the manuscript be formatted?
Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts should be double-spaced, 12-point font, 1-inch margins all around. You may format poetry manuscripts however you feel best represents the poetry you are submitting, as long as you do not exceed the page limit and the typed font is legible. All pages must be numbered.

What does the selection committee look for in a manuscript?
A strong writing sample. The best advice we can give is to seek the advice of other writers and instructors when preparing your manuscript.

When are applicants notified of the committee's decision?
All applicants will be notified in mid- to late October.

Can you give me feedback on my manuscript or tell me why I wasn't selected for the fellowship?
We cannot provide any comments on manuscripts or on applications submitted.

On the short answer section of the Emerging Voices application, it states you may use up to 500 words for each answer. Does this mean 500 words for each answer or 500 words for all nine questions combined?
It states each response can be up to 500 words maximum. That means each response for each individual question may be up to 500 words, not 500 words for all nine responses.
I write screenplays/graphic novels/children's books. Am I eligible?
The accepted genres for the Emerging Voices Fellowship are fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. All classes, mentors, and programming for the fellowship are based on one of these three genres. Many alumni have gone on to pursue careers in graphic novels, performance art, and screenwriting, but concentrated on either prose or poetry for the duration of the fellowship.
If offered a place in the fellowship, may I defer acceptance for another year?
You may not defer acceptance.
If not awarded the fellowship, may I reapply?
If you are not awarded a fellowship, we encourage you to reapply if interested.

For more info, please contact ev@penusa.org.

Goddard College / PEN Center USA MFA Scholarship

The Goddard/PEN Center USA Scholarship is the result of a partnership between Goddard’s MFA in Creative Writing Program and PEN Center USA, one of the largest literary organizations in the United States.

Beginning in fall of 2016, the College will award one $10,000 Goddard/PEN Center USA Scholarship to a low residency MFA applicant in Creative Writing who is a past PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. The first award is made possible by a generous $10,000 gift from faculty and friends of Goddard College.

“Several Goddard faculty members are PEN members and have been impressed by PEN Center USA’s Emerging Voices Fellowship as a unique and exemplary program of mentorship for highly talented and diverse writers from underserved backgrounds,” said Elena Georgiou, acting director of the Goddard MFA in Creative Writing Program. “We conceived the Goddard/PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Scholarship to recognize the extraordinary talent that the Emerging Voices Fellows have already demonstrated and as a means of reducing the financial barrier that prevents some fellows from continuing their education.”

PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellows who do not hold a bachelor’s degree and who otherwise do not meet the criteria for admission to the MFA program may apply for admission into the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College.

Click here to download more information.

All PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellows who are admitted to the BFA in Creative Program will receive a one-time $1,000 BFA Goddard Engaged Artist Award. PEN Center USA Fellows who are admitted to the MFA in Creative Program but who do not receive the Goddard/PEN Center USA Scholarship will receive a one-time $2,000 MFA Goddard Engaged Artist Award.

For more info, contact David De Lucca, Goddard's Senior Admissions Counselor.


Download Press Release PDF


PEN Center USA announces: The 2017 Emerging Voices Fellowship Application Is Open Until August 1, 2016.

Los Angeles, CA: PEN Center USA, a literary arts and human rights nonprofit is seeking diverse new voices for this exciting opportunity. Founded in 1996, the Emerging Voices Fellowship is a literary mentorship that aims to provide new writers who are isolated from the literary establishment with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to launch a professional writing career. Over the course of seven months, each Emerging Voices Fellow participates in a professional mentorship; hosted Author Evenings with prominent local authors, editors, publishers and agents; a series of master classes focused on genre; a voice class; courses donated by UCLA Writers’ Extension Program; three public readings; and receives a $1,000 stipend. Past mentors have included authors Ron Carlson, Harryette Mullen, Chris Abani, Aimee Bender, Meghan Daum, and Sherman Alexie.

The fellowship serves writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry with clear ideas of what they hope to accomplish through their writing. Participants need not be published. For eligibility requirements and to apply online via Submittable, go here: https://www.penusa.org/programs/emerging-voices

To date, 131 individuals have completed the Emerging Voices Fellowship. Alumni have published over 40 books and have received hundreds of anthology inclusions, awards, honors, and fellowships.

Recent Emerging Voices publications of note include:

  • Ruby (Hogwarth Press) by Cynthia Bond
  • Oh! You Pretty Things (Dutton) by Shanna Mahin
  • The Girl From the Garden (Ecco) by Parnaz Foroutan
  • Alibi Creek (Torrey House Press) by Bev Magennis
  • Grace (Counterpoint Press) by Natashia Deón
  • The Education of Margo Sanchez (Simon & Schuster) by Lilliam Rivera

For more alumni news, please visit: http://penusa.org/emerging-voices-alumni-brag-sheet.

PEN Center USA

emerging voices