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“I ‘met’ Mattie for the first time on the Oprah show. I am an 81-year old English lady,

in good health, but sometimes feel somewhat depressed that I don’t have a great many more years

ahead of me in this life. But Mattie has knocked all the feelings out of my mind altogether



 Books by Mattie Stepanek

Heartsongs / Journey Through Heartsongs / Celebrate Through Heartsongs / Loving Through Heartsongs

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Mattie Stepanek: A Tribute

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye


Every journey begins

With a small step.

And every day is a chance

For a new, small step

In the right direction.

Just follow your heartsong

—Mattie Stepanek, late American child poet.

I want people to know that in every life, there are storms. But we must remember to play after every storm and to celebrate the gift of life as we have it, or else life becomes a task, rather than a gift. We must always listen to the song in our heart, and share that song with others.

—Mattie Stepanek.


In the Summer of 2003, I publsihed an essay on Mattie Stepanek (, the then 12 year old and terminally sick poet in Rockville, whose five volumes of poetry had sold millions of copies. Indeed, three out of the five volumes had made the New York Times Best Seller List.

But, sadly, on Tuesday, June 22, 2004, at the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington, Mattie Stepanek passed on, as a result of complications related to muscular dystrophy, the disease he had battled with since he was born. He was only 13. 

Mattie’s life and story had a way of melting one’s heart each time one encountered him. He began writing poetry at the tender age of three. Although he had    this terminal illness, Mattie was able, with his very appealing poems and emotional speeches, to affect the lives of many people around the world.

Each time I read his poetry or anything written about him, my heart melted, tears came to my eyes, and I longed to hug him, pray for him, say nice things to him, and see him get well and indeed possess in full the life he loved and celebrated so much. 

It was amazing how a child so sick and dying could inspire so much confidence in others and make them see reasons to “celebrate life” despite the odds.

After watching Mattie’s appearance on OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, 81-year old Elizabeth Haestie said: “I ‘met’ Mattie for the first time on the Oprah show. I am an 81-year old English lady, in good health, but sometimes feel somewhat depressed that I don’t have a great many more years ahead of me in this life. But Mattie has knocked all the feelings out of my mind altogether, and I don’t think they will ever return. I am an ‘old soul’ too, Mattie, as you are and I shall remember you and your mother all the rest of my life.”  

Heartsongs: That’s one word  that dominates Mattie’s poetry. It forms part of all his best-selling titles. Mattie’s consistent counsel was: life may be full of stress and pains, but never allow them overwhelm you, resist despair, don’t  allow yourself to sink … listen to your ‘heartsong,’ the profound melody that rings deep down your heart… discover it, follow its rhythm, and usher sunshine into your life and others.  

In 2001, VSP Books collaborated with Hyperion books to publish Mattie’s maiden book of poems, HEARTSONGS. It was a venture that turned out an outstanding success. Mattie soon became a national bestseller and an American celebrity.

At 11, Mattie introduced himself thus: “My name is Mattie Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek. I am almost 11 years old, and I home-school, doing a high school curriculum. I began writing poetry when I was about 3 years old, and now have a collection that contains thousands of poems, dozens of illustrations. I have even bound some of my books at home, and a bound anthology of my writing was presented to the Library of Congress during the Fall of 2000. I have also won many awards for my writing, including the Melinda A. Lawrence International Book Award in 1999 for  ‘most inspirational work.’ I have a rare form of muscular dystrophy called mitochondrial myopathy, and I also have something called dysautonomia. That means that ‘my automatic’ systems, like breathing, heart rate, body temperature, oxygenation, digestion, and things like that don’t always work well on their own. So, I use extra oxygen all the time, and when I am tired or sleeping I use a ventilator that breathes for me and save energy and move my medical equipment around. My two brothers and one sister died during childhood from the same thing I have, and my mother uses a wheelchair all the time because she has the adult form of this disability.” 

In 2001, Mattie was appointed the Maryland Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. A regular face at big events where he spread the message of peace and hope, his enthusiasm and positive outlook despite his fragile state was the challenge many distressed people needed to go on living. He featured regularly at fundraising events aimed at helping the efforts to find a cure for neuromuscular diseases, and offer support to affected children and their families, to go on “celebrating life” till a cure is found. Mattie told Washington Post in 2001 that he believed a cure would be found for this disease, maybe after his life time.  

With these books, Heartsongs, Journey Through Heartsongs, Celebrate Through Heartsongs and Loving Through Heartsongs (released in 2003 by Hyperion Books), Mattie’s pride of place in American poetry was firmly established. Cheryl Barnes, who with her husband, Peter, and their company VSP Books collected Mattie’s poems which they issued in a paperback in a 2001 collection, told Washington Post that she “had a hard time believing a child could write with such wisdom…He’s bright beyond his years. He is a   truly remarkable child.” 

Former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, became Mattie’s hero due to his global peace efforts and rigorous disease-eradication campaigns. In September 2001, while Mattie was confined to a hospital bed in the intensive care unit, staff members of the hospital arranged for him a 15 minute telephone chat with Carter where Mattie raised such issues as the problems in Bosnia and Africa. Surprisingly, he did not talk about his ill-health.

Highly affected by this brief encounter with such an exceptional child, Carter decided to write the foreword to Mattie’s next book, Journey Through Heartsongs. But Mattie and Carter were to meet face-to-face when Dianne Sawyer featured both of them on her live television show, “Good Morning, America.” 

Mattie’s speech during his October 19, 2001 appearance on OPRAH TV Show dwelt on his desire to be a peacemaker in the world and his love for life and poetry. Oprah Winfrey was so moved by the passionate concern of this ailing little boy for peace in a  world that had no answer  to his health problems that she had to exclaim, after reading her favourite lines from Mattie’s poetry: “I think that’s so important, especially now, when everybody is feeling a sense of fear and having been terrorized, to look at what you have in your life and have a sense of gratitude and see the miracles in your life. And you, even though you’re hooked up to all this equipment, and we had to plug you in during the commercial break, give you more oxygen, you still see miracles everyday in your life.” 

Definitely Mattie Stepanek couldn’t have seen his first birthday were he a Nigerian boy, let alone dream about writing poetry. Where are the medical facilities in Obasanjo’s Nigeria to sustain the precious life of a boy so sick,  so tender, and yet so amazingly gifted?

And to America still horribly inebriated with unspeakable racial prejudices, Mattie has penned down the following lines:   

We are many colours

We are many languages . . .

We are many countries . . .


But we are one with the earth…

So we must live as one family. 

After my piece on Mattie in the summer of 2003, Ms. Jeni Stepanek, 47, Mattie’s Mom, sent me a very moving e-mail and said: “I was surfing the net…(and) came across …your article about Mattie, and was so touched by your words. Mattie’s reward in life, is the ability to touch others deep in their (lives) such that it makes a difference to them …Thank you, and perhaps we will meet you during August. Take care, Jeni Stepanek (“Mattie’s mom)” 

My heart goes out today to wheelchair-bound  Jeni Stepanek, who, now left alone with Mattie’s exit, sips the juice of sorrows. 

Please, Jeni, listen to your heartsong, as Mattie would counsel, and let God’s healing light into your life.  The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has lost a rare gem and great pillar of support. But they will never lose the sympathy of this writer.

I loved Mattie. His death was such a rude shock. His poetry, the product of a child’s mind…very simple lines, yet very insightful and deeply touching, and his exceptional life, have left an indelible mark on me.

Good Night, Child.

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye  writes a column (SCRUPLES) in The Independent ( every Wednesday. Email: BlOG:

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. —School Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 18 May 2012




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