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Remembering Mattie J. T. Stepanek (July 17, 1990-June 22, 2004)

I never met Mattie Stepanek in person, but through his legs-pulling poetry. The indomitable young man was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and he lived through a 'difficult storm'. "His mom, Jeni, also has the disease, which she didn't discover until after she had four children. Mattie's three siblings all died from the diseaseóbut remarkably, Mattie recovered from a near-fatal sickness. Though he struggled with his illness, he achieved great feats: earned a junior black belt in martial arts, home- schooled at the 11th grade level, and had his poetry published".

Mattie Stepanek whose several poetry books made him a bestseller died in 2004 at the age of 13. Mattie began writing at the age of 3, apparently to cope with the death of a brother. As I can remember from reading, a Virginia publisher in 2001 issued a slim volume of his poems, called "Heartsongs". Within one week, the book reached the top of New York Times best-seller list. He wrote four other books: "Journey Through Heartsongs," "Hope Through Heartsongs," "Celebrate Through Heartsongs" and "Loving Through Heartsongs." Mattie's poems brought him admirers including TV talks show host Oprah Winfrey and former President Jimmy Carter and made him one of the best-selling poets in recent years.

Recently I was able to have my e-mail sent to his mother replied, and I felt-- so that is it? I wish I had seen this young man; I wish I had seen him. After reading the reply---from the mother of a celebrated poet---a Jimmy Carter hero---I decided I would in anyway pay tribute to him. His poems are works that would be doubted if ever written by a teenager; if ever written by a child. A Peacemaker as he was called. An Oprah Winfrey's 'angel' whose three wishes were: to get his books published, meet Jimmy Carter and talk to the world through Oprah's Show. And all this, he was granted.

I have no clue of what to write about him, but the little I know is what I am pouring out here. Still, Mattie deserves to be celebrated, even in death; the world needs to come and honour him as a hero; as an exceptional child and as one of the celebrities in the world. Mattie is still alive. His spirit lives---and he must be remembered by all and sundry.

Lately, I swapped myself with one of his poetry collections and was reveled when I read "When I Die (II)" and was touched. I would love to share it with you:

When I die, I want to be
A child in Heaven.
I want to be
A ten-year-old cherub.
I want to be
A hero in Heaven,
And a peacemaker,
Just like my goal on Earth.
I will ask God if I can
Help the people in Purgatory.
I will help them think,
About their life,
And their spirits,
About their future.
I will help them
Hear their Heartsongs again,
So they can finally
See the face of God,
So soon.
When I die,
I want to be,
Just like I want to be
Here in Earth.

I really don't have an idea of what to write, but to let the world know that this Youngman needs to be remembered and celebrated, even in death. He was a GENIUS. And because of this, I am working round the clock with some other young writers to present a world poetry bash in his name. Thank God that we would be successful with this hectic project---but then, Mattie has to be celebrated this 22 June in the US---Oprah has already started the celebration in May.

"Whatever you say about my beloved son, makes me happy"-Jeni Stepanek on my last mail to her.


Poetry by Onyeka Nwelue
Read 845 times
Written on 2006-06-18 at 10:54

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Kathy Lockhart
Thank you so much for sharing this. I have heard about him too. You have written a beautiful tribute in his memory. I know he is happy! :) kathy