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Jim Daniels goes beyond putting words on paper to engage with the world.

April 2014

Jim Daniels Wins Mark Gelfand Service Award for Educational Outreach

In his own work, award-winning author, poet and filmmaker Jim Daniels does not shy away from difficult subjects. Detroit born and raised, Daniels often explores the culture of working-class life and his own personal experiences.

But Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English, goes beyond just putting his own words on paper to connect and engage with the larger world. Since his arrival at Carnegie Mellon in 1981, he has been deeply involved in outreach efforts on campus, in Pittsburgh and across the state. For this commitment and his particular and remarkable work over the past 15 years with the Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Awards and his Advanced Poetry Workshop Class, Daniels is the recipient of the 2014 Mark Gelfand Service Award for Education Outreach.

Daniels’ upbringing in Detroit left him with a longstanding interest in race and class issues. In 1999, he founded the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Awards to help Pittsburgh-area students better understand King’s lasting legacy of combating racial inequality. The program has received more than 2,000 entries from high school and college students over the years – poetry and prose pieces that are reflections of the students’ personal experiences with race and discrimination.

“Everybody thinks the MLK Writing Awards program is a good thing, but those of us committed to creating a meaningful set of MLK Day activities at CMU know it to be a fabulous thing,” wrote Jared L. Cohon, CMU President Emeritus, in his nomination letter. “Jim has invested a huge amount of time and effort into this community outreach – time and effort that he could have used in many other ways. Our community and the institution are better for it.”

Daniels also incorporates service learning into his curriculum. Every spring since 2001, students in his Advanced Poetry Workshop team up and mentor literary arts majors from Pittsburgh Public Schools’ High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). The CMU students create lesson plans and teach the CAPA students, and collectively, they publish a literary journal, “Boundary Street,” and perform a joint poetry reading.

Madeleine Barnes (DC’12) enrolled at CMU because she had met Daniels as a high school student, and he invited her to attend student readings and sit in on his classes. Barnes has said that because she met Daniels at a critical time in her high school career, she deeply understood how important his work with CAPA – and later her own – were.

“Professor Daniels guided me through my first teaching experiences, taught me the happiness and excitement of collaborating on poetry projects with younger writers and motivated me to pursue writing and teaching poetry as a lifelong career,” Barnes wrote. “I felt very connected to the CAPA students I was partnered with, and to this day, I still exchange poems with them via email.”

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Contact Shilo Rea, Director of Public Relations at or (412) 268-6094.


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