Carnegie Mellon University

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards Competition and Celebration Paused for 2020-2021

Professor Jim Daniels, who founded Carnegie Mellon University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards and led them for most of the last two decades, is retiring at the end of this academic year and is stepping down from running the awards.

Please know that the university is fully committed to continuing this awards program. But, like so many other traditions, the ability to host the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards in person in January 2021 appears unlikely. As such, the university has decided to take a pause this year and resume the program next year. Submissions to the competition are not being accepted at this time.

This pause, combined with the need to identify new leadership for the program, gives the university an opportunity to take a step back and develop a plan for its future. Later this semester the university will convene a committee to review the mission of the program and to make recommendations as to how it should resume it moving forward. The committee will have a diverse membership representing the various stakeholders of the program. Working together, we are confident that we can chart a path forward in which we can all take pride.

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. Selected entries are published, and prizewinners are invited to read their work for Carnegie Mellon's annual celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and a transition in program leadership, the awards competition and celebration will not take place in 2020-2021.

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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