Carnegie Mellon University

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards

These awards are open to all high school and college students in the Pittsburgh area and any remote CMU locations. We seek personal narratives dealing with individual experience of racial or cultural difference or personal reflections on Dr. King's legacy that rely on concrete detail. The top three winners receive cash prizes.

Jim Daniels, Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English, established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards in 1999. The program builds on Daniels’ commitment to writing about race. He edited "Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race." In 2001, the event expanded to include a separate category for Carnegie Mellon students, working on the premise that the voices of college students, and their varying experiences, could and should interact with the young voices from the Pittsburgh community.

 Submit your work here by November 23, 2018. 

Help us continue to have these important conversations on racial and cultural differences. Please consider donating to the Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Awards. Your donation will go a long way in helping us continue to reflect on Dr. King's legacy.

Make a gift today.

Media Coverage and Photo Gallery

Watch 2018 MLK Jr. Day Writing Awards Founder Jim Daniels talk about the awards and hear students Emma Steckline, Dietrich student Mariah Barnes, Carnegie Mellon University School of Music student Marina Lopez  talk about their award-winning entries on Pittsburgh Today Live.

Read Jim Daniels discuss the origins of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards and his experience in a writing class with James Baldwin in Poets & Writers.

Watch Javier Spivey's short film, based on his poem "some assembly required" which placed third in the college poetry division at the 2017 MLK Jr. Writing Awards.

Read the Mayoral Proclamation that acknowledges the special role of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards in the City of Pittsburgh.

See video of the 2018 award ceremony.


Students perform music at 2019 MLK, Jr. Day Writing Ceremony

Contest Guidelines

The contest guidelines specifically request personal narratives on race. We believe that if we learn each other's stories, the barriers begin to break down. We begin to see each other as individual human beings, struggling the way we all must, to live good lives and treat each other decently. We are all parts of different communities, and we reach out and cross over in strange, often surprising ways. The King Writing Awards provides a common ground for all these communities. As part of the University’s day-long schedule of panel discussions and performing arts presentations, the winners of this contest read in the University Center’s main lecture hall to an audience of hundreds.

In addition, each year, a book of award winners' work is published and distributed at the event. This 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 listed in the award booklets below, starting with the current year.


If you have any questions, please email us at: