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First Word 2022

Congratulations to the winners of the inaugural edition of First Word 2022, the Annual Essay Prize! We invite you to read the outstanding entries here:

Such Brightness Outlasts Us’ by Amna Ali Khan

A Motherlode of Memories’ by Sthitee Mohanty

Still Jam in a Still Jar’ by Harshini Dhiyaa Velsamy

Masaro Uwanziza – “I Love Babies…”

First Word 2023

The Undergraduate Writing Programme is now accepting submissions for First Word 2023!

The Undergraduate Writing Programme is thrilled to announce the second edition of ‘First Word’: the UWP essay prize for Ashokans in their first year of undergraduate studies. First Word spotlights insightful, dynamic, and provocative non-fiction writing. We invite original, non-fiction essays in English in any form–personal, argumentative, exploratory, or academic–that showcase the distinct voice of their authors, and offer creative and courageous interpretations around specified ‘prompts’.

Each winning entry will receive INR 5000. 

Click here to access the submission form. The portal will be open till 1st July 2023. 

Essay Prompt and Form

We invite submissions on any one of the four provided prompts. You can tackle a prompt directly or use it as a point of reference or departure. Additional guidance on approaching these prompts can be found in the FAQs below.

The prompts for the 2023 edition of First Word are: 

  1. Roots
  2. Swipe
  3. Cancellation
  4. AI-generated image (produced by Midjourney using the inputs “nature, tech, synthesis, urban, modern city, landscape, futuristic, natural environment, planned, photographic”)

Essay Constraints

We are looking for nonfiction essays in prose form, by solo authors. We can accept academic pieces, narrative pieces, exploratory pieces, research writing, argumentative essays but not, say, short stories, film reviews, photo essays or graphic non-fiction.  We cannot accept co-authored pieces. 


‘First Word’ is open to first-year students—those from UG 25—at Ashoka. We will make exceptions for students from other years who have taken gap years, or semesters off. If you have any doubts about whether you are eligible, feel free to write to us at uwp@ashoka.edu.in 

Word Count

The submitted entries should be between 1500–2000 words. For academic essays, subtitles, references and footnotes are encouraged, and will not be included in the specified word limit.

Selection Process

All the received entries will undergo two rounds of review. The UWP’s internal jury will provide feedback on every essay submitted, and shortlist particularly promising pieces. Our distinguished external jurors will select the prize-winning entries from the shortlist. Results will be announced in August 2023.

Prize Money

The winning entries will be awarded INR 5000 each and published on the UWP website. The awardees will also get an opportunity to interact with the external jurors on the day of the award distribution and receive feedback.

When and Where to submit

Our online submission portal is open from now until July 1st 2023. All the entries shall be submitted through this submission form. No entries submitted via any other route will be accepted. 

Submission Rules

All submissions must be uploaded as a word document (12 font, Times New Roman, double-spaced, alignment-justified, with page numbers), along with a brief biographical note (not more than 100 words, in third person). Your word document should be saved as follows: NameSurname_FirstWord. For further queries or clarifications, please write to us at uwp@ashoka.edu.in.

Plagiarism and Originality

Your submission must be an original and unpublished piece of work. It should not have been composed, either entirely or partially, with the assistance of ChatGPT or any comparable AI Program. If the work submitted is found to be plagiarized, the author will be immediately disqualified. 


For this edition of First Word, we will be accepting submissions exclusively in English. If you are an English Language Learner and feel that you will need additional language support (at the sentence level) in order to participate, do read the FAQs below and get in touch with us. 


What kind of submissions are you looking for in ‘First Word’? And why only the essay?

The essay is a highly adaptive genre well suited to our intention of fostering a community of young writers who are not only inquisitive about ideas and arguments, and responsive to particular moods and moments, but are also adept at shaping their words in a form that suits their individual styles. Through this endeavor we hope that students will submit literary non-fiction or critical essays which reflect a nuanced understanding of the world, originality in thought and elegance in expression—the founding ideals of our flagship course ‘Introduction to Critical Thinking’. 

How do I respond to the prompts provided? 

To provide further clarification, for an exploratory essay on the image-based prompt you may choose to reflect on the synthesis of the natural environment and built form, the future of environmentalism as depicted in the photograph; an argumentative piece on the same topic may be a topical inquiry of the role of AI in imagining a syncretic and sustainable city. Similarly, a narrative piece on the prompt “roots” may inspire an autobiographical story of the writer that traces their family lineage and heritage to explore the metaphorical ‘roots’ of their identity, beliefs and worldview or alternatively launch an ecological interpretation investigating the future of ecosystems. 

Why is First Word open only to first-year undergraduate students?

The Undergraduate Writing Programme works most closely with first-year students through the ‘Introduction to Critical Thinking’ courses that we teach. The competition is intended to celebrate the creative and literary coming-of-age of these young thinkers and writers. However, we are open to broadening the base in the coming years. So check in with us again next year!

Why don’t you allow entries in languages other than English?

In order to admit essays in languages other than English, we will need to develop the infrastructure needed to fairly judge such contributions. We intend to do this in future editions and widen our language pool as a result. For this year’s contest, our team is dedicated to providing additional support to English Language Learners who are enthusiastic about participating. If you are an ELL student and anticipate assistance during the final stage of your drafting process, we are pleased to offer an online session lasting between 15 and 30 minutes, as needed. To sign up for this, we request you contact us at least two weeks before the final deadline on 1st July. Please note that we can only provide one session for this form of assistance.

Currently, I am in my second year, although I took an ICT in the Monsoon 2022 semester. Am I eligible to send in my essay for this competition?

No, if you have not taken a year or semester off previously, you are not eligible to participate in this contest.

What if I have a pre-written essay, can I still submit it?

While we hope you will write something fresh for us, it is alright to refashion an older piece as long as the piece has not been published before and engages clearly with one of the prompts. (However, please remove the details of prior submissions before you send it to us!)

Do I need to stick to the genres already mentioned in the concept note?

No, you can surprise us! However, it needs to be an essay, it needs to be largely non-fiction (we say ‘largely’ because some narrative essays, among others, may weave fiction with non-fiction), it needs to be in English, and it needs to be text! 

Can I submit an original translation of someone else’s essay?

Since we wish to celebrate student composition rather than translation through this initiative, we are unable to accept translated pieces.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka