Carnegie Mellon University
January 10, 2012

Press Release: CMU Announces Winners of 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards

Awards Program Encourages High School and College Students To Personally Examine Issues of Race

Contact: Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 /

PITTSBURGH—Thirteen years ago, Carnegie Mellon University English Professor Jim Daniels started a writing contest — the Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards — to bring students together to talk about race. Each year, the contest encourages Pittsburgh-area high school students and CMU students to explore their personal experiences with race and discrimination through poetry and prose.

"The awards prompt students to think about Martin Luther King, Jr. and race in the context of their everyday lives," said Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English who directed this year's awards program. "It brings people of all races together and gets them to tell their stories. And, it's hard to hide in a good poem, or a good essay."

For the 2012 awards, Daniels made a concerted effort to reach out to more local high schools, both public and private, and reinstated the college prose category for CMU students. He received well over 200 entries — a record number for the contest — from nine high schools.

Kristin Kovacic, a teacher at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, has had her literary artist students participate in the awards since they began. "This contest is unique in that it doesn't ask the usual questions about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy," she said. "Rather, the CMU contest asks our students to reflect on encounters with race and difference in their own lives, and this, we find, is much more challenging psychological work. And, the writing that emerges from this work is naturally concrete and emotionally fresh."

Katherine Wilkins Bienkowski wanted her students at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School to take part in the awards to promote creative writing. "There's not much time for creative or personal writing in the curriculum," she said. "I didn't have class time to devote to writing the entries, so I encouraged them to write at home. The challenging part was to convince the students to do something that is not an official assignment."

The winners will read their pieces as part of the university's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at 1:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 16 in the University Center, Rangos 3.

CMU's Department of English, within the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, sponsors the awards along with the Office of the President and Division of Student Affairs. Cash awards will be presented to winners in poetry and prose.

The complete list of the 2012 winners is below, with links to each winning piece. Videos of the students reading their award-winning entries are available where noted.

Prose: College
First Place

"On Being Black" by Jordan Stephenson, junior English creative writing and professional writing major
Second Place
"Dusty Memories" by Lauren Hirata, senior creative writing and professional writing major, minor in film and media studies  
Third Place
"Building a Brave New World" by Coleman Lamb, senior creative writing major
Honorable Mention
"Untitled" by Kachun Mao, freshman, Mellon College of Science

Poetry: High School
First Place

"Squint" by Claire Matway, 12th grade, Pittsburgh CAPA (Watch a video.)
Second Place  
"Blasian" by Taylor Johnson, 9th grade, Pittsburgh CAPA (Watch a video.)
"Skin" by Lynell Tomlin, 9th grade, The Neighborhood Academy
Third Place
"Back to Black" by Teireik William, 12th grade, Pittsburgh CAPA
Honorable Mentions  
"My Brothers" by Madeline Smith, 9th grade Pittsburgh CAPA
"Not My Brother" by Antwaunai Gurley, age 15, Langley High School
"Captain" by Jilliam Root, 9th grade, The Neighborhood Academy (Watch a video.)
"Coloring Paper" by Shanquae Parker, 10th grade, Pittsburgh CAPA

Prose: High School
First Place
"Fighting a Forbidden Battle: How I Stopped Covering Up for a Hidden Wrong" by Jesse Lieberfeld, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
"Anomalies: My Struggle for an Identity" by Erika Drain, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
Second Place
"Untitled" by Chelsea Humphries, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
Third Place
"Buddies" by Rosalie Daniels, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
Honorable Mentions
(View these entries online in this pdf.)
"Amreeka (America)" by Amrita Singh, age 15, Winchester Thurston
"My Friend" by Paige Malezi, Seton-LaSalle Catholic High School
"Unlike Me" by Noa Wolff-Fineout, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
"Untitled" by Justin Hill, age 16, Carrick High School
"Parallel" by Olivia Belitsky, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
"My Life Revolves Around Stereotypes" by Rachelle Conner, age 15, Brashear High School
"A Dream Approaching" by Erica Lange, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston
"A Letter from My Bedroom" by Michael Curry, 12th grade, Winchester Thurston
"Maybe What You Heard Was Not What They Meant" by MinJoon So, age 17, Kiski School
"True Acceptance" by Anna Petek, 11th grade, Winchester Thurston