Carnegie Mellon University

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards Fall Speakers Series

Initiated in 2018, the annual Fall Speaker Series brings to Carnegie Mellon's campus two nationally-recognized authors whose works reflect the goals and values of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards. The writers interact with students in classes and small group conversations and share their work in readings that are free and open to the public

Check back this summer for news about the 2020 Fall Speakers Series. 

The 2019 Fall Speakers Series was co-sponsored by the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, Dietrich College for Humanities and Social Sciences, English, Modern Languages, Student Affairs, and the Vice-Provost for Education.


Author and Carnegie Mellon alumnus Shannon Gibney (front row, fourth from left) joins students from across Carnegie Mellon's campus for a "Dietrich Dines" lunch conversation hosted by Ayana Ledford, Dietrich College's director of diversity and inclusion (sixth from left).


Shannon Gibney talks about her upbringing as a trans-racial adoptee, her writing career, and her experiences as a woman of color in academia at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards Fall Speakers Series public program on September 17, 2019.


Author and Carnegie Mellon alumnus Sarah Valentine (center) with students, faculty, and staff at a lunch conversation co-hosted by the Departments of English and Modern Languages and the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion. Read more about Sarah's talk here. 


M. Shernell Smith, Carnegie Mellon's associate director for student affairs and interim director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, with Sarah Valentine.


Sarah Valentine recalls her student days at Carnegie Mellon and her experiences as a mixed race African American in a suburban white family at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards public program on October 24, 2019.

2019 Fall Speaker Series


Shannon Gibney
Thursday, September 19, 4:30 p.m.
(enter the main doors of the Tepper School building on floor 2 and bear right through the atrium)

Shannon Gibney (DC 1997) writes and speaks extensively about the intersection of race, gender, class, family, power, and identity. Drawn from her life as a transracial adoptee, her novel See No Color was hailed by Kirkus Reviews as “an exceptionally accomplished debut.” Publishers Weekly described her widely praised second novel Dream Country as “a necessary reckoning of tensions within the African diaspora—an introduction to its brokenness and a place to start healing.” She is the co-editor (with Kao Kalia Yang) of the literary collection What God Is Honored Here: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color, which will be published in October. Shannon lives in Minneapolis, where she teaches English at Minneapolis College. She majored in creative writing and Spanish at Carnegie Mellon.

Learn more about Shannon's work at:

“Gibney blesses the reader with a marvelous literary tapestry of family, sacrifice, and dreams examining the lingering effects of slavery and racism in both the U.S. and Liberia.”
- Booklist, starred

“With riveting, lyrical prose, [Dream Country] explores universal themes of home, family, power struggles, and endurance while demonstrating the liberating power of storytelling.”
- Publishers Weekly, starred 



Sarah Valentine
Thursday, October 24, 4:30 p.m.
Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, Lower Level, Cohon University Center

Sarah Valentine, Ph.D. (DC 2000) is a widely published author and translator. Her book Into the Snow: Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi is a collection of poems translated from the Russian-language poetry of the noted Chuvash author. Her acclaimed new memoir When I Was White recounts Sarah’s upbringing in suburban Pittsburgh as a mixed race African American in a white family. Publishers Weekly calls it “fervent and heartfelt. . . a disturbing and engrossing tale of deep family secrets.” The book is based on her award-winning essay of the same name, which was first published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. A 2013 Lannan fellow, Sarah has taught literature and creative writing at Princeton, UCLA, UC-Riverside, and Northwestern. She majored in creative writing and Russian studies at Carnegie Mellon.

Learn more about Sarah's work at: 

Listen to an interview with Sarah on WESA

 Read an article from The Tartan about Sarah's talk here

“Forced to examine her docile suburban upbringing through the lens of a new racial identity, Valentine claims her power by deciding who she is and who she wants to be.”
- Essence

 “Defty written . . . A valuable contribution to the literature of race."  
- Kirkus Reviews

Previous Speaker Series Events

Read about the 2018 Fall Speaker Series

Hanif Abdurraquib
Thursday, October 4, 2018
4:30 p.m. , Baker Hall A-60G (Shadow Lounge)

Hanif Abdurraquib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain't Worth Much, was released in 2016 and was nominated for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His widely praised first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, appeared on numerous "Best Books of 2017" lists, including NPR, Esquire, and the Chicago Tribune

Learn more about Hanif's work at 

Cameron Barnett
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
4:30 p.m, Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, Cohon University Center

Cameron Barnett earned his MFA in poetry at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was poetry editor of Hot Metal Bridge literary magazine and coordinator of the Pitt Speakeasy Reading Series. His honors include the O'Donnell Award for Excellence in Poetry from Duquesne University and the Academy of American Poets Graduate Poetry Award from the University of Pittsburgh. He lives in Pittsburgh, where he works as a middle school language arts teacher and is an associate poetry editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Review. The Drowning Boy's Guide to Water is his first book. 

Learn more about Cameron's work at

From the 2018 Fall Speakers Series