MLK Writing Awards Gives Voice To Young Adults' Stories-Faculty & Staff News - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, February 4, 2013

MLK Writing Awards Gives Voice To Young Adults' Stories

MLKJim Daniels, professor in the Department of English's Creative Writing Program, established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards in 1999. The contest guidelines specifically request personal narratives on race and discrimination.

The King Writing Awards provides a common ground for different communities. As part of the university's daylong schedule of discussions and performing arts presentations, the winners of this contest read in Rangos Ballroom.

In addition, each year, a book of award winners' work is published and distributed at the event. An archive of those books is meant to keep the discussion going by making this writing accessible to an even larger audience. Past winners and their work are available online at www.cmu.edu/hss/english/courses/writing-awards/mlk/.

Senior professional writing major Kristen Swanson, whose work is printed here, won first place for College Poetry this year.

One Shade Too Many

To all the girls who ever judged me
By: Kristen Swanson

Brown, brown, brown,
why are they always trying to pull me
down, down down?

Spanish girls thought because
we all had brown
eyes, that we share Latina pride.

My father left when I was almost two.
Maybe he went back to Mexico-
nobody knew. They thought I
was trying to act tough and bold
because I was Mexican like them.

They thought because we all had brown
hair that looked black when the light
hit just right, that the root of our hair
was longer than the square root
of any number created out of thin air.
We were sistas, homies, tighter
than the braids gripping their scalps-
immigrant children, bilingual beauties.

They thought because we all had
brown skin-they said calling
 it that is almost a sin.
"We aren't brown, girl-we're tan,"
we're the caramel light mocha that melts
in your mouth. The sun-kissed chicas
all the boys dream about. A tan that
never fades-we don't need the sun
to make our complexion a perfection.

Brown, brown, brown,
why are they always trying to pull me
down, down down?

White girls thought because
we all had brown
eyes that I grew up in the same suburban
neighborhood. They thought
I was Italian and that it was ironic
I hated pasta-I thought their attitudes
smelled like sour garlic bread.
My mom had speckled freckles around
her light green eyes-
they assumed all my brown,
brown genes came from my dad's side.

They thought because we all had brown
hair, wavy when it rains,
that the same blood ran
through our veins.
That the root of our bond
could be explored
like that math problem in third grade
we could never figure out, but found
the answer to by cheating.

They thought because we all had brown
skin, excuse me-tan, not brown-
I was cool enough to have around. Tanning-bed skin that that
wasn't just a trend, it was
a marker, a true sign of fitting in.

To all the girls who ever judged me:
I'm Mexican, I'm white, I'm brown,
I'm pale, I'm yellow,
I'm sick of being down.
I'm all the shades you
ever painted me as.
If the world was painted
using a box of crayons,
we'd run out of all the
brown, brown, browns.

Photo by Ken Andreyo

Carolyn Supinka (DC'13) and Jordan Stephenson (DC'13) glance at this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards winners. Stephenson won first place in the college prose contest last year.

By: Piper Staff