Carnegie Mellon University

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards competition and celebration are paused for 2020-2021.

Submit Your Work 

Let your voice be heard. 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards invites poetry and prose submissions from all high school and undergraduate and graduate university students in western Pennsylvania and all Carnegie Mellon campuses through our online Submittable portal. (Students must be currently enrolled at the time of submission.)  

We seek personal narratives dealing with individual experiences of difference and discrimination or personal reflections on Dr. King’s legacy that rely on concrete detail. Past prize winners have addressed a wide range of related topics, such as racism; ethnic and cultural prejudice; assimilation and identity; gender/sexual orientation; religious persecution; gender bias; sexual assault; cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, and sensory differences; and stereotyping of all kinds. We encourage you to review the submission tips and the examples of prizewinning work for inspiration. 

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 Writing Awards competion and celebration will not take place in 2020-2021. 

Tips for Writing a Prizewinning Entry

A good submission should:

  • Be specific: The poem/essay should not simply state broad, general platitudes about difference, but should explore the subject through a personal narrative that incorporates rich details and acknowledges the complexities of this difficult subject. Use descriptive, sensory language to bring readers into the situation you are writing about, and try to avoid abstraction and over-simplification.
  • Be eloquent:  Since Martin Luther King, Jr. was eloquent, we hold these entries to a similarly high standard. Avoid patterns of error. Vary your sentence structure, and craft your paragraphs carefully.
  • Be reflective: Consider the effect the events you are writing about have had on you and how you now view the issues your poem or essay has raised.
  • Be engaging: Explore Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in relation to a contemporary event or story from your own life. For such a revered public figure, it is amazing how little we engage with what he says beyond his most recycled quotes. A good essay/poem will take the reader beyond "I have a dream."  Or, if you do reference his more familiar words, put them in a unique context.
  • Be risky: Martin Luther King, Jr. risked his life to protest segregation and injustice. A good submission will take stylistic and emotional risks. It will make the reader face uncomfortable truths and perspectives about difference and discrimination in our culture.

Cash prizes are awarded in each category:
$200 first prize; $100 second prize, $50 third prize

Prose submissions: limit 1 per person, 2,000 words maximum (double-spaced)
Poetry submissions: limit 2 poems per person 
Each entry must be uploaded separately.

Submit entries as Microsoft Word (.docx) attachments through the Awards' Submittable portal here. If electronic submission is impossible, contact to discuss alternative options. Please include the following information on the first page of each entry: Your Name / School / Age / Title of Work Submitted / Category of Work Submitted (prose or poetry) / Email Address / Home Address / Phone.