Carnegie Mellon University

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards


Honest. Daring. Eloquent young voices.

Since 1999, Carnegie Mellon University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards has provided an outlet for young people to express their personal experiences with difference and discrimination of all kinds through poetry and prose. The mission of the awards is to create a safe and creative haven for sharing difficult stories in the belief that the process of writing itself can help break down barriers of difference in our lives. The awards are open to all high school and undergraduate and graduate university students in western Pennsylvania and all Carnegie Mellon campuses. 

Regardless of how schools will be providing education, the 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards competition will take place this fall. The due date for submissions is Sunday, November 22, 2020Selected entries will be published, and students will be invited to read their work for Carnegie Mellon's annual celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Monday, January 18, 2021.) Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we will explore a variety of formats for the celebration. 

View our informational video and explore the links below for tips on writing and submitting your entries, access to twenty-one years of prizewinning work, and details on our activities. 

2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards Celebration

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Held on Monday, January 20 at Carnegie Mellon University, the 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards celebration featured readings by the top winners in high school and college poetry and prose, a special drama award presentation, and performances by Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama Musical Theater Ensemble. Honorable mentions and the top entries of each participating school were also recognized. 

Find out more about the 2020 awards celebration, including links to the video, photographs, and prize-winning works.

View media coverage of the 2020 prizewinners

Featured (left) is prizewinner Eliyah Roberts with family and friends.

“It is consoling beyond words to witness these young writers wrestling with the realities of race, and bringing solid thought and well-wrought language to bear upon that process... This is the mortar that will mend of nation's spirit. These are the minds and hearts to whom I feel safe entrusting our collective future.”
- Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States, 2017-2019

Many of our prizewinners have made writing and social justice a part of their adult lives and careers. Here is a sample of their work.

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