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?

Please check out the workshops and resources area below for tips and inspiration - we will run online writing workshops on 1 and 22 March and have a series of video lectures.    

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

The competition closes at midnight on April 30, 2021. 

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)
    • Teacher’s 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.

Workshops and Resources

Writing Workshops

Do you want some help flexing your creative muscles?

Attend our free creative writing workshops, which we are running in collaboration with our Centre for New Writing. The workshops will run via Zoom Webinar and a recording of the workshops will be made available here after each event.

The sessions aim to help you access your own creativity in order to:

  • enjoy creating alternative worlds and describing them emotively
  • experience the power of empathising with others and to consider your audience
  • control language and experience writing in different tones.

(Do not worry: Zoom Webinar settings mean that your camera will not be enabled - you will NOT be visible to other attendees and can not be seen in the recording. You can actively participate via the chat and q&a functions - this will also NOT show in the recording. Alternatively, you may ask to be unmuted to speak. If you choose to speak, this will be heard on the recording - but we will make sure to edit out information that may identify you prior to publishing the recording here).

  • 1 March 2021, 4-5pm: Suitable for Years 9-11. Book here
  • 22 March 2021, 5:30-6:30pm: Suitable for Years 12 & 13. Book here

Resources

We have put together a list of resource links which you can download here (pdf).

"Famous Letters" Video Lectures

In these short videos, lecturers from the University of Manchester speak about letters that have made history. We will be releasing them over the next few weeks in February/March, so please check back and/or follow us on Twitter where we will announce new releases. 

Dr Andrew Fearnley: "Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 1963"

The letter is available online here via the University of Pennsylvania's African Studies Centre.

Dr Douglas Field - James Baldwin's Letters

Links to Baldwin's letters:

Dr. Gordon Fraser - Letter petitioning for slavery reparations from Belinda Sutton (1783)

Dr. Fraser's talk explores the petition of "Belinda" to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1783), a letter in which she asks to be awarded a pension in acknowledgement of the wages she never earned during her enslavement.

Contact

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