The 2015 Payton James Freeman Essay Prize


The Rumpus, along with the Freeman Family, and the Drake University Department of English, is proud to be a part of the second annual Payton James Freeman Essay Prize. Please take a look at the submission requirements below (no entry fee!) and send us your best work.

We invite you to submit outstanding unpublished non-fiction essays of up to 3500 words on the subject of “The Stupid Little Thing That Saved Me.”

Students and faculty of Drake University will read all entries and choose the finalists. The winner will be selected by final judge Emily Rapp.

The winner will be awarded $500, published in The Rumpus, and brought to Drake University in February 2016 to read from the winning essay and speak at a public event. The first annual Payton Prize was won by Tammy Delatorre, whose essay Out of the Swollen Sea was selected by Cheryl Strayed.

Payton James Freeman was a bright, loving child whose ability to move—even to smile—was stolen by a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Diagnosed as an infant, Payton was expected to live perhaps six months. Instead he fought for five and a half years as his parents worked with doctors and scientists, fundraising in hopes of a cure. SMA ultimately took his life, but his story lives on in all those who continue striving against uncountable odds, and who struggle to put life’s most complex and trying events into words.

SMA is the #1 genetic killer of children under age two. The Freeman Family would like you to learn about SMA and remember Payton as you submit your essays and as we read and celebrate the winning essay.


Submit one essay of up to 3500 words via Submittable. Deadline September 1, 2015. Winner and finalists will be announced in December of 2015.

Authors must be US citizens or permanent residents and must agree to attend and participate in the reading at Drake University in February 2016 to receive the award. Current students and employees of Drake University, The Rumpus, and/or Emily Rapp are ineligible for the award.

P.E. Garcia is an Editor-at-Large for the Rumpus and a contributor to HTMLGiant. They currently live in Philadelphia, where they were recently accidentally elected to be Judge of Elections. Find them on Twitter: @AvantGarcia. More from this author →