LISTEN/™ Dear Cancer: Teen Essay Contest 2020

Ryan Sweeney September 27, 2019

Creative expression allows us to think in new ways, confront difficult problems, and celebrate our own uniqueness. In 2016, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities launched an initiative called LISTEN/™ – an arts-based program to provide creative opportunities to elevate our members’ voices and a platform to share their story. Read more about the LISTEN/™ Project here.

Last year Gilda’s Club Twin Cities launched the LISTEN/™ Dear Cancer– a teen creative writing/essay contest that elevates the voices of teens impacted by cancer. It was such a great tool for self-expression that we are doing it again this year! Eligible participants are middle and high school teens (ages 13-18) impacted by cancer, either through their own diagnosis or through a friend or family member. Essays must be in original voice – reflecting personal experience with cancer – insights, original thoughts, lessons learned, and individual character.

To help provide the tools for self-expression, Gilda’s Club will offer Writing Workshops in October, November and December. No previous writing experience is necessary to participate in the workshops or the essay contest. All teens between ages 13-18 are welcome even if this is your first time connecting with Gilda’s Club.

Teen Writing Workshops

Interested in submitting to our essay contest but needing some inspiration or help to get started? We are offering FREE writing workshops at Gilda’s Club Twin Cities to help you compose your essay. No judgement, no pressure, no previous writing experience necessary. All are welcome, even if this is your first time to Gilda’s Club. Simply Sign up! Come to one or all sessions. Snacks provided.

Entry Rules and Eligibility Requirements

  1. Open to teens in middle and high school aged 13-18. Must be a Minnesota resident
  2. All essays must be new and original for this contest
  3. Each teen may submit only one (1) essay. The essay must be authored by only one (1) teen
  4. Essay length must be between 500-2,000 words
  5. Not open to previous LISTEN/™ Dear Cancer contest award winners
  6. Essays must be TYPED, DOUBLE SPACED, 12 POINT FONT, and submitted in .doc or .docx format
  7. Late entries will not be accepted – deadline is midnight CST on December 31, 2019
  8. Finalists will be announced Friday, February 21, 2020
  9. Recognition ceremony for ALL entrants will be held on Monday, March 16, 2020 from 6:00-7:30m.

How will my essay be judged?

Personal Voice: Judges will look for an interesting, engaging essay told in your own words. The essay should describe your experience and an overall message about how cancer impacted your life.

Clarity and Style: Judges will look for a clear and consistent focus in your writing and a logical progression of ideas. Good grammar, accurate word choices, correct punctuation, and sentence structure is required.

Ethics Statement: No purchase or obligation necessary. Essay submissions will be evaluated in a fair an unbiased multi-round judging process. Each teen may submit a single essay, and must be authored by only one teen. Family members of a judge or Gilda’s Club staff or board members are ineligible.

How To Enter

Once you have written a 500-2,000 word essay, submit your essay by midnight on December 31, 2019.

Submit your essay here!

Plan on attending a recognition ceremony for ALL entrants on Monday, March 16, 2020 from 6-7:30pm.


A single grand prize will be awarded, judged among all submissions

Grand Prize – Laptop valued around $1,500

Middle School Prizes

  • 1st Place– iPad valued around $750
  • 2nd Place – Best Buy gift card for $250

High School Prizes

  • 1st Place– iPad valued around $750
  • 2nd Place – Best Buy gift card for $250

2020 Panel of Celebrity Judges

Sarah Ahiers
Author of two critically acclaimed young adult books; Assassin’s Heart and Thief’s Cunning.

Bryan Bliss
Author of three books, including We’ll Fly Away which was a 2018 Minnesota Book Award finalist.

Carolyn Holbrook
Writer, educator, and advocate for the healing power of the arts. 2010 MN Book Awards Kay Sexton Award winner.

Ed Bok Lee
Poet, essayist, teacher at Metropolitan University. Works with youth, communities of color and the incarcerated.

Jana Shortal
Journalist and KARE 11 co-anchor for Breaking the News. Still wants to be a part of Destiny’s Child.