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Mattie (left) and his mom share a smile.

Mattie Stepanek, poet

A life-threatening illness hasn't stopped this 11-year-old from being a best-selling author and role model

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Mattie Stepanek was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, a disease that steadily weakens one's muscles. His words, however, reach out to the world with tremendous power. Many of his poems deal with life, death and challenges he has faced. They can be found in two best-selling books, Heartsongs and Journey Through Heartsongs (vsp Books/Hyperion). Mattie is also the Muscular Dystrophy Association's 2002 National Goodwill Ambassador and his third book comes out this spring. Get the story behind a winner who just won't quit.

Mattie is a familiar face in the fight against muscular dystrophy. Here he greets First Lady Laura Bush at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
TFK: What do you like about writing?
Mattie: It's a great way of expressing yourself in a way others can understand so that they can get through the same situation if it's bad.

TFK: What do you hope people will learn from your poetry?
Mattie: Life is a gift. We have to make the best of it and do what we're meant to do. I hope they will learn to remember to play after every storm. We all have life storms and we need to celebrate that we get through them, instead of mourning and being ready to be crushed by the next one.

TFK: What do you tell kids who think poetry is too tough to understand?
Mattie: It's not, it's your inner feelings, it's your life experiences. And those who still think it's tough after that, then try this: describe a tree, using all five senses without general words, like green, leaf branch or twig, or anything like that.

TFK: Do you think you'll ever run out of things to say?
Mattie: Of course not. I'm always talking. People say that on the inside I'm calm and peaceful like a lake, and on the outside, I'm like a babbling brook, always running on about things to say.

TFK: When you're not busy writing, do you enjoy reading? If so, what do you like to read?
Mattie: I read the classics like Treasure Island. My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. Right now I'm reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm on The Two Towers right now. They're really exciting; it's like Harry Potter on a higher degree. I just think it's fascinating the way people used to believe things.

TFK: Tell us about your upcoming book.
Mattie: It's focused on hope, hope through heartsongs. Because of what just happened to our country, I hope that people will read it and get a sense of new feelings and not just cower back and have it ruin their entire life. But not face it angrily. We cannot win this war on terrorism with bombs, we have to win it with words.

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