The 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards is accepting submissions from all high school and college students in western Pennsylvania and all Carnegie Mellon campuses. (You must be currently enrolled at the time of submission.) The deadline for entries is Sunday, November 24, 2019.

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/sensory differences, and stereotypes of all kinds.

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.

For further information, including links to past prize-winning entries, please go to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards website.

Selected entries will be published, and students will be invited to read their work at Carnegie Mellon University on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 20, 2020.
Cash prizes awarded:
$200 first prize; $100 second prize, $50 third prize

Prose submissions: 2,000 words maximum (double spaced)
Poetry submissions: 2 poems maximum
Each entry must be submitted separately.

Submit entries as Microsoft Word (.docx) attachments. If electronic submission is impossible, please 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.

Questions? Contact us at:

Carnegie Mellon University English Department