Real Leaders

Challenges to the Dream

What started as an annual writing contest encouraging students to express their personal struggles with race and discrimination is now an anthology featuring 91 pieces by 83 writers on topics ranging from racial and cultural stereotypes and school bullying to homophobia and identity questions.

Published by CMU Press, “Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Awards at Carnegie Mellon University” is a powerful selection of poetry and prose. Its purpose is to not only share especially moving pieces but also encourage and extend more conversations about racial, political, gender, cultural and other diversity issues.

“The mission of the MLK Day Writing Awards is to create a space for daring, eloquent and inventive work, in the belief that the process of writing itself can help young people explore and break down issues of difference in their lives,” said Jim Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker UniversityProfessor of English who founded and directs the awards program.

In 2014, Deborah Monti’s “The Woman, the Paradigm” won first place for high school poetry. Now, Monti is studying history with a focus on human rights and legal studies at Yale University.

“These are the voices we need to hear. Inside these words, through these emotions, observations and declarations, we get close to what we can call real news,” said Alberto Ríos, author of “A Small Story about the Sky” and poet laureate of Arizona.

Of the 83 contributors, approximately 40 are graduates of the Pittsburgh Public Schools and about 30 are CMU alumni. Jonathan deVries received his bachelor’s degree in Hispanic Studies in 2005 and tied for first place in college poetry that year for “My Father Tries to Bond with Me.”

To help educators and others use the book as a conversation starter and resource, CMU’s M. Shernell Smith and Kitty Shropshire are preparing a reading and study guide that will be unveiled at the 2018 awards ceremony.


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