Novelist James Runcie and broadcaster Katie Thistleton are to chair the judging panel for the BBC Short Story Award.
Submissions for the prize open at 9am on Thursday.
Four shortlisted authors for the award will each receive £600, while the winner will take home £15,000.
Runcie, chairman of the 2021 BBC National Short Story Award judging panel, said: “We need imaginative alternatives in these dark times: stories that question and surprise and open up new worlds.
“They can be short or long. They can take place in the past, present, future, or even all three at once.
“They can be set in a nutshell or in infinite space.
“But what I think we’ll be looking for is uniqueness of vision, a distinctive tone, curiosity, intrigue, surprise: an invitation to the reader’s imagination. I can’t wait to get started.”
Writers Fiona Mozley, Derek Owusu and Donal Ryan, as well as BC Radio’s books editor Di Speirs, also feature on the judging panel.
Submissions for the BBC’s Young Writers’ Award also opened on Thursday.
Thistelton, authors Louise O’Neill and Alex Wheatle, singer Arlo Parks and comedian and writer Robert Webb will be on the judging panel.
Thistelton said: “As a keen writer myself, and someone who loved entering writing competitions when I was younger, I know how important and exciting this opportunity is.
“I always love reading the submissions and gaining a perspective on what young people are thinking and feeling at the time and, I imagine, the different world we have been living in recently will be reflected in this year’s stories.
“This is certainly a unique time, so I have no doubt we’re going to discover some equally new and unique young voices.”