The 2021 Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Contest

The Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Contest is open for submissions!

poetry cfe 06 01
Credit: Art Songs by Karen Derrico
The Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Award was established by The Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation and The MY HERO Project in honor of Mattie Stepanek. Mattie was a poet and peace activist who encouraged everyone to sing the song in their heart in their lifetime.

“A heartsong doesn’t have to be a song. It can be your message, your feeling—some people might even call it a conscience. Even though that’s not really what it is. It’s what you feel you need to do.” - Mattie J.T. Stepanek


The Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Contest is seeking heartsongs about heroes working for peace, human rights and the environment.

This poetry contest is unique in that it is open to poets, artists, filmmakers, and spoken word artists. See below for contest requirements for the different categories.

Submissions for the 2020 contest are now open. Deadline is 5PM PST 5/1. Winners will be announced on this page in May 2021.

Best Original Poem Category


Write an original poem about a hero (for example, those working for peace, human rights, and the environment).


Poems can be of any length, but we recommend no more than three, double-spaced, 8 1/2 x 11 pages.


All contest entries will receive a certificate of participation.

Winner for Best Original Poem will receive a cash award.

Learn about other opportunities to share your work

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Instructions for Submitting Your Poem

Sign in to the MY HERO Create tool (sign up here to join the MY HERO community)

Enter your poem title under Name of Hero / Organization / Page Title.

Select a hero category from the dropdown menu (peace, human rights, environmental)

Enter your poem into the Add / Edit Paragraphs box.

Type the tag "contest" into the Suggested Tags box.

Click "Next."

The next page will ask you to add images. Do not add images. Click "Next."

Type your first and last name in the Written by box.

Type in  your city and state in the Writer Location box.

Type in your grade level (if applicable) in the Grade Level box.

Click the button to "On" in the Page Intro box, and tell us in one sentence what inspired you to write the poem.

Click Next.

You're almost done! Now click Finish.

Thank you for participating in the Mattie J.T. Stepanek poetry contest.

Best Film Category

Create a film illustrating a poem (make sure you have permission to use the poem or the poem is in the public domain).

You can create your short film in a number of ways, here are some options:

1. With VO - record a voice reading the poem and then find public domain images, or images and video of your own to illustrate the meaning of the poem.

2. Text on the screen. Write the poem into the text/title program of your video and use public domain images, or images and video of your own to illustrate the meaning of the poem.

3. Use metaphors to express a feeling, where the images and music are the poem expressing your feelings.

4. submit a link to your video or an . mp4 file here:

Once you submit, your video will be considered as well for the MY HERO International Film Festival. email for waiver code: [email protected]

If possible, please include the poem illustrated in a Word document.



Best Audio Category

Create a recording of a spoken word performance or a recitation of an original poem.

National Poetry Month Lesson Plan

See examples of films illustrating poems here.

Be sure you have the rights to the original poem that you are illustrating.

Best Artwork Category


Create an illustration to go along with an original poem or public domain poem about a hero (for example, those working for peace, human rights, and the environment). Explore the relationship between image and poetry. Consider what the image reflects about the poem and how it augments or complicates our understanding of the poem. 


The illustration can be done in any media and will be uploaded through the Create Program. 

When choosing a poem to illustrate consider the following:

  • It is a poem that you understand well by the time you begin illustrating it.  
  • It is a poem that you enjoy and that you believe speaks to you in a powerful way. 
  • It is a poem rich in imagery or ideas to explore. Please note: The best poems to illustrate are often ones filled with figurative language and concrete imagery. Think symbolically and thematically as well. 
  • Explore the poem’s metaphors and consider the poem’s tone. What kinds of images fit with the poem’s language? Try not use literal images to go with the poem.

About Mattie Stepanek

Learn more about Mattie's poetry and extraordinary life fighting a rare form of muscular dystrophy.

"For Our World" a poem by Mattie Stepanek

Child peace activist and poet, Mattie Stepanek, wrote this poem after the tragedy of September 11. Read the poem that has touched millions.

Mattie Stepanek

Produced by:Nathan Smith
A short animated tribute to poet hero Mattie Stepanek. The soundtrack features the St. Paul's Episcopal Day School choir singing a song inspired by one of Mattie's poems.

2020 Winners

Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Contest Winners

By: Shannon Luders-Manuel
The MY HERO Project hosts the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Contest in honor of poet and peace activist Mattie Stepanek. Before Mattie passed away, just before his 14th birthday, he had become a New York Times Bestselling author and a celebrated guest on Oprah, Good Morning America, and the Muscular Dystrophy Associations (MDA) Telethon. His mother, Jeni Stepanek, continues his legacy with the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation and is our judge for the poetry contest.

Our Judges

Jeni Stepanek

By: Claudia Herrera Hudson
Jeni Stepanek is an ambassador for Muscular Dystrophy who continues to spread her son Mattie's message of peace.

Organizer created on 2/3/2020 11:40:16 PM by Xenia Shin

Last edited 4/22/2021 6:32:41 PM by Shannon Luders-Manuel