Carnegie Mellon University

17th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Awards

Awards Honor Pittsburgh Students Whose Poetry and Prose Describe Personal Experiences with Racism and Discrimination

Seventeen Pittsburgh-area high school and college students were recognized for their poetry and prose at Carnegie Mellon University’s 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards Ceremony, beginning at 4 p.m., Monday, Jan. 18 in CMU’s Rangos Ballroom. The students presented their personal narratives dealing with racial prejudice and discrimination.

The writing awards program — now in its 17th year — is a highlight of CMU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration. In addition to readings, guests enjoyed a performance by the CMU School of Drama’s Gospel Ensemble and a light dinner. Throughout January and February, CMU will celebrate King’s legacy with special programming.

Associate Professor of English Rich Purcell has judged entries for three years, but this is his first year directing the MLK Writing Awards.

“Every year I am struck by the maturity and insight these high school and college students express. Each student is all too aware of the way they are either targets of or witnesses to the way racism and other forms of discrimination shape our social world,” Purcell said.

“The MLK Writing Awards remind me that art is one way for young adults to process and understand this sad but all too real element of our social world.”

Founded in 1999 by Jim Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English, the program established a safe haven where students can create an honest and open dialogue about their experiences through poetry and prose.

“Their essays give me hope because it seems like many of them are not alone in dealing with it. They have peers, family and teachers who help them deal with their personal experiences with discrimination, organize their words on the page or organize politically and collectively to try and do something about racism and discrimination,” Purcell added.

At the high school level, students from Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 took first, second and third in the poetry category.  

“Our students are interested in poetry and what poetry can do. They care about social justice and human rights issues, and how these connect to their own lives,” said Christa Romanosky (DC’06), a poetry instructor at CAPA. “They have worked hard to craft poems that speak about the truths of identity, race and ethnicity; poems that have something to say and poems that want to be heard.”

Romanosky, who holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and creative writing from CMU, first became familiar with the writing awards as an undergraduate student.

“This is always an inspiring event,” she said

The 2016 Carnegie Mellon University Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards Winners

High School Prose

First Place: “Black Tigers
Taylor Thomas, 17
Winchester Thurston, 11th grade

Second Place: “Making Sense of What Killed Me
Ciara Bailey, 16
Winchester Thurston, 11th grade

Third Place: “Proud to Be Different
Azizjon Yuldoshev, 17
Shady Side Academy, 11th grade

Honorable Mention: “We Are Normal”
Becca Stanton, 16
CAPA, 11th grade

Honorable Mention: “Talking About Cards”
Cavan Bonner, 17
CAPA, 11th grade

High School Poetry

First Place: “Wife
Hannah Geisler, 17
CAPA, 12th grade

Second Place: “Questions for a Black Mother
Suhail Gharibeh-Gonzalez, 15
CAPA, 10th grade

Third Place: “Microaggression
Irina Bucur, 16
CAPA, 11th grade

Honorable Mention: “Lost Heritage”
Brianna Kline Costa, 14
CAPA, 10th grade

Honorable Mention: “Authenticity”
David Han, 17
Fox Chapel Area High School, 10th grade

College Prose

First Place: “Acceptance
Kelly Kim
Carnegie Mellon University

Second Place: “What’s in a Name? Quite a Lot
Hyunho Yoon
Sophomore, English
Carnegie Mellon University

Third Place: “Missing Words
Giulianna Marchese
Junior, Drama
Carnegie Mellon University

Honorable Mention: “Understanding the Details”
Kordell Leshon Collins
LaRoche College

College Poetry

First Place: “Sushi at Yunioshi’s
Kevin Lee
Junior, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University

Second Place: “How I Came to Be American
Charu Sharma
Graduate Student, Human-Computer Interaction
Carnegie Mellon University

Third Place: “Florence Beggar
Emily Charleson
Senior, Chemistry
Carnegie Mellon University

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards program is sponsored by CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Department of English, the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of the President.

In addition to presenting their work on campus, winners received cash prizes.

Watch the winners read their award-winning pieces:


Video: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards