The 2014 competition is now closed.
Read the winning entries!
A huge thank you to our esteemed panel of judges.
Mark your calendars--the next contest opens in January 2016!

Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Logo
"Hook 'em with the lead. Hold 'em with laughter.
Exit with a quip they won't forget."
˜ Erma Bombeck

Capture the essence of Erma's writings and you could win $500 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop! 853 writers from 13 different countries and 48 states entered the 2014 competition.

Erma Bombeck, graduated from the University of Dayton in 1949, lived with her husband and family in Centerville, Ohio, and inspired people worldwide with her columns and books about life's trials and tribulations. Her memory lives on with the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition hosted every two years by the Washington-Centerville Public Library and the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop hosted by the University of Dayton.

Erma Competition - Important Dates Erma Competition - Get Inspired Erma Competition - Eligibility Erma Competition - Enter Erma Competition - Judging Erma Competition - Prizes & Winners Erma Competition - Writers' Workshop Erma Celebration Erma Competition - Sponsots

Important Dates

1/6/2014 (8 AM): Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Opens
2/17/2014 (8 AM): Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Closes
2/17/2014 through March: Erma Bombeck Writing Competition Judging
4/9/2014 (7 PM): Erma Celebration
4/10-4/12/2014: U.D. Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop (SOLD OUT IN 12 HOURS!)

Get Inspired!

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Eligibility & Rules

  • Entries are accepted from anywhere in the world.
  • Previous contest winners are encouraged to enter.
  • NEW! Children under 13 are NOT eligible to enter.
  • Registration to the University of Dayton's Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is NOT required to enter the writing competition.
  • Washington-Centerville Public Library employees, board members, contest judges and their families are not eligible.
  • $15 entry fee.
  • Entry must be written in English.
  • Limit one entry total (not per category) per person.
  • Personal essay must be 450 words or less (entries of more than 450 words will be disqualified).
  • NEW! Essay must be previously unpublished in its entirety or pieces thereof. Essays must not have been previously published in a blog, book, magazine, website or any other medium.
  • Essay must be written by one person; no writing teams, ghostwriters or writing partnerships.
  • Payment and entry must be submitted online using the official online entry form. PayPal link will be visible below when the contest opens.
  • Hard copy entries will not be accepted and will not be returned if submitted.
  • Entries must be submitted by 8 AM, EST, February 17, 2014.
  • All submissions are final! Corrections to and replacements for submitted essays will not be allowed.
  • By submitting your entry, you guarantee the work was written by you and expresses your original ideas.
  • Washington-Centerville Public Library reserves the non-exclusive right to publish the winning entries; however, the owner retains ownership rights for future publication.
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How to Enter
  • Choose one category for entry:
    • Humor
    • Human Interest
  • Write a personal essay of 450 words or less following the judging criteria.
    A personal essay "deals lightly, often humorously, with personal experiences, opinions, and prejudices, stressing especially the unusual or novel in attitude and having to do with the various aspects of everyday life." ˜Phillip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay.

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  • Entries in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition are judged in two rounds - first by a panel of volunteer judges from across the United States and Australia, and then by a final judge in each category.
  • Blind judging is used which means that the author's name is not on the work as it is being judged.
  • Meet our esteemed panel of judges. They will be using the following guidelines to score your entry:

    All Entries - General Criteria:
    • Does it have the voice of Erma? Erma knew how to portray the humor in the mundaneness of everyday life.
    • Is it organized? Does it stay on topic and have well-developed ideas?
    • Does it have a compelling lead? The piece should "Hook 'em with the lead. Hold 'em with laughter. Exit with a quip they won't forget."
    Humor Entries:
    • General criteria as stated above.
    • Is it funny?
    Human Interest Entries:
    • General criteria as stated above.
    • Is it true and does it evoke emotion?
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Winners & Prizes
  • 4 first place winners will be selected:
    • Humor - Global (Regional & International)
    • Humor - Local (Montgomery County/Dayton, Ohio area)
    • Human Interest - Global (Regional & International)
    • Human Interest - Local (Montgomery County/Dayton, Ohio area)
  • $500 cash prize to winners in all four categories.
  • First place winners also receive free admission ($395 value) to the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop hosted by the University of Dayton from April 10 through April 12. First place winners who have already registered and paid for the Workshop will have their registration fee refunded. Winners who are on the Workshop Waiting List or have not registered for the Workshop, will be admitted to the Workshop, if they want to attend.
  • Winning essays will be published on Washington-Centerville Public Library's website and in a local newspaper.
  • Judges will also select several essays for Honorable Mention.
  • Writers of essays selected for Honorable Mention will receive a competition certificate.
  • Decisions of the judges are final.
  • Winners will be announced in late March.
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Erma Bombeck Celebration

Featuring Mary McCarty!
Centerville Library, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 7 PM
Everyone is welcome to attend this free event! Registration is not required.
Attendance at this event is not required to enter the writing competition.

Photo of Mary McCarty
Until her recent retirement, Mary McCarty’s column for the Dayton Daily News appeared regularly on the national editorial wire and was widely syndicated through Cox News Service. In addition to column writing, she wrote in-depth features and worked on special investigative projects. McCarty still writes a Sunday column for the Dayton Daily News and serves as an adjunct professor of journalism at Miami University. Before going to the Dayton Daily News, she was a staff writer and senior editor for Cincinnati Magazine. Mary has received many state and national awards for her writing, including the H.L. Mencken Award as well as being named Writer of the Year for Cox Newspapers and Best Columnist in Ohio by the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.

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University of Dayton's Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop
  • Hosted by the University of Dayton
  • Workshop dates: April 10-12, 2014.
  • $395 Registration Fee (waived for winners of the writing competition)
  • Read about the keynote speakers, sessions, and workshop presenters on the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop website.
  • Attendance at this workshop is NOT required to enter the writing competition.


University of Dayton Washington-Centerville Public Library

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For more information, email or call 937-610-4429.