Books Change Lives

Article excerpt

While The National Book Foundation is primarily known for its work in sponsoring the National Book Awards, the five-member staff spends the entire year planning and implementing its educational outreach programs. These programs promote the reading and appreciation of great American literature among audiences across the country that had previously not been sought out or supported by the literary establishment. In the 11 years since its inception, the Foundation has been sending National Book Award authors "on the road," with 150 authors now having visited 42 states. Subsequently, more than 85,000 people's lives -- including those of the programs' resident authors and those of ordinary readers of all ages -- have been touched in some way by these initiatives.

The Family Literacy Program, in partnership with New York City public schools, approaches the broad, linked concepts of "family" and "literacy" from a unique perspective -- through literature that thematically addresses the family, and the authors who have created that literature.

"The importance of such author residencies cannot be overstated. It is crucial that youngsters and young adults see words alive and well in the hearts and minds of living authors. It cannot help but make their sense of what language does more vital and practical, which is something they can carry far beyond the classroom."

-- Tim Seibles, Family Literacy Author-in-Residence, James Monroe Campus, Bronx, NY (May 22-25, 2000)

"Tim Seibles was an inspiration to me. He helped me with my poetry and was very free with his advice. Because of him, I participated in the Poetry Slam at James Monroe, and he encouraged me to apply to Simon's Rock College, which I will be attending this Fall."

-- Mamadou Diallo, 16, on Tim Seibles, Family Literacy Author-in-Residence, James Monroe Campus, Bronx, NY

The Pleasures of Reading Program brings together National Book Award authors and those often overlooked readers who reside in small cities, towns, and rural communities. Authors visit local libraries, community centers, and schools to discuss the relationship between reading and writing.

"I was very happy to be able to share my passion for writing and books with a group of kids who rarely benefit from these kinds of things. The students at Burke [High School] had never seen a visiting author before. They are unlikely to ecounter another. The school has many, many more budget demands than the funds to meet them. Your program, in a small, significant way, addresses some of the ugly inequalities in American education."

--Laurie Halse Anderson, Pleasures of Reading Author-in-Residence, Charleston, SC (April 11-12, 2000)

Windows on the Writing Life -- in the form of nationwide Reading Circles and Author Residencies -- was designed to give readers of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to explore the many ways reading shapes the writing life.

"Parrot in the Oven was somewhat reminiscent for me. Now, I've never gone through any of the situations Manny went through, but I used to listen to my uncles tell similar stories. Stories were all I was told; a story is what I read. As of late, it helps me with more inspiration for my own writing. It helps me realize that when I write down a story, I'm not telling an epic -- I'm just telling a story. It's the reader that makes it an epic. So in the end, Victor Martinez did more than write something that `sold fast and that young adults could relate to.' He created the story of an ordinary boy that inspired an ordinary boy."

-- Carlos Soto, 17, on Victor Martinez, Windows on the Writing Life Author-in-Residence, San Antonio, TX

National Book Award authors are presented to audiences of latchkey children, adults studying for their Graduate Equivalency Degree, single mothers, ESL students, and senior citizens through its Settlement House Program. …