Five rusty American-style post boxes

American Studies Writing Competition for Schools

Letters to a President - A National competition

This spring the University of Manchester’s programme in American Studies is asking UK school students to write “Letters to a President”, to the incoming US presidential administration.

  • What issues should the new president and vice president prioritize during their first few months in office?
  • What are your hopes for the shape of our future world?

The competition will be judged by Professor Gary Younge (Sociology), Professor Angie Wilson (Politics), and Dr. Andrew Fearnley (American Studies). 

The competition deadline has now passed (30 April) and we will announce the new winners here on 28 May.  In the meantime, you can still enjoy watching our writing workshops and a series of video lectures

What would your Letter to the President have said?  

We asked academics from the University of Manchester what issues they would have flagged up to Biden and Harris:

Information for Students

What is "Letters to a President"?

We are asking students in years 9-13 to write about their hopes for this new, and historic, administration. Your letters should be brief, no more than 500-words, but longer than a Tweet. You might want to engage global issues, of racial justice, environmental policy, migration, international trade, political representation, and the pandemic.

Launched after the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, these are letters that should be written to arrive on the eve of the administration's first ‘one hundred days’ (April 30, 2021). These are letters to the future—helping to identify what you think are the most pressing issues of the moment, and crafting a language that lets us all think about those subjects.

You can choose to address your letter to President Joe Biden and/ or Vice President Kamala Harris.

Why letters?

Of course, you did not vote in the US presidential election. But the political realm has always been about more than just elections. Politics is also about determining what issues get debated, how they get framed, and what words are used to discuss—and to think—about our common political lives. Politics is ultimately about the limits of what we dare to imagine, and the creative act of composing letters—of imagining, expressing, and recognizing—has a crucial role to play in this.

And letters, including those sent by British subjects to US presidents, can after all effect significant change. That written by Manchester’s cotton-workers, who gathered at the city’s Free Trade Hall, and which was sent to President Abraham Lincoln in December 1862 is one such example. There, the workers “heartily…congratulate[d]” Lincoln on the “humane and righteous course” he had taken in confronting the Confederacy, but they also pressed him to ensure “a complete uprooting of slavery.” What issues will you identify? What message will you aim to convey to the new president and vice president?

Information for Teachers

We have compiled some ideas on how teachers can incorporate the competition into their lessons and support their students in developing their submissions:

Teachers guide - A letter from us (pdf)

Please also look at our resource section below.   

How to Enter & Prizes

Entrants must be in Year 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13 at a UK school.

What to write

All submissions must be in the form of a letter to the new US President Joe Biden, or Vice President Kamala Harris, or both. The letter should be written to arrive at the end of the administration’s one hundred days, and may wish to express the student’s hopes, ambitions, or expectations for the administration, on any issue, at that future moment.
The letter should not exceed 500 words, excluding the customary salutations of the form, must be written in English and word-processed.

How to submit your entry

Entries will be accepted only via email to AS-competition@manchester.ac.uk.

Deadline: midnight (UK time) on Friday, 30 April 2021

As entries are judged anonymously, please ensure that no identifying information such as student’s full name or school is included on the essay document itself. The essay should be submitted as an attachment in either of the following ways:

  1. Via a teacher: A teacher can submit an entry on behalf of the student, using a school/college email address. In this case, please give the following information in the email body:
    • Student’s full name
    • Student’s date of birth
    • Student’s Year Group (Y9, 10, 11, 12 or 13)
    • Student/guardian contact email address
    • Student’s school (name and address)
    • Your relation to the student (e.g. Politics teacher, careers adviser…)
  2. Directly by the student or a parent/ guardian: In this case, please also attach a signed letter from the student’s teacher OR an email from the teacher’s school email account, certifying the applicant’s status. This must include a contact email address for that teacher. The email body should include the following information:
    • Student’s full name
    • Student’s date of birth
    • Student’s Year Group (Y9, 10, 11, 12 or 13)
    • Contact email address (student or guardian/parent)
    • Student’s school (name and address)

Terms and conditions

See the full Terms and Conditions (pdf).

Prizes

One winner and one runner-up will be selected for each year group
The prizes are: First prize = £50 Blackwell's Vouchers, runner-up prize= £30 Blackwell's vouchers.

Contact

Please direct all questions about the competition to AS-competition@manchester.ac.uk