Fighting For Literacy, Through Poetry

Every season, the Poetry and Literature Center’s calendar includes one or more programs we’ve never tried before. The first such program of the spring will take place next Tuesday, with a symposium on poetry and literacy. It is the latest effort by the Library’s Literacy Awards Program, which for the two years has given three prizes, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000, to organizations. John Cole, chair of the Program, says the program as a whole “seeks to raise public awareness about the importance of literacy to all parts of our society” and adds of the symposium, “poetry can be an especially potent and enduring force in encouraging and empowering new readers and writers.”

Poetry and Literacy Symposium-Flyer FINAL

As part of our preparation for the symposium, John pointed to a chapter, “The Twin Menaces: Illiteracy and Aliteracy,” in a 49-page document published by the Joint Committee on the Library in 1984 called Books in Our Future: A Report from the Librarian of Congress to the Congress. In that chapter, then-Librarian Daniel Boorstin wrote, “We must face and defeat the twin menaces of illiteracy and aliteracy–the inability to read and lack of the will to read–if our citizens are to remain free and qualified to govern themselves.”

Best PracticesI am eager to see how the symposium documents such work, in its three panels: “Poetry and Literacy in the Schools,” “Poetry and Literacy with At-Risk Populations,” and “Addressing Aliteracy Through Poetry.” And I am proud of the organizations that our expert participants will represent. One organization, Power Poetry, was selected for the Literacy Awards “Best Practices” publication in 2014, as an example of “increasing motivation to read and write.” The other organizations taking part in the symposium are just as noteworthy–Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and the National Endowment for the Arts are here in DC, while InsideOut Literary Arts Project , the Poetry Foundation, New York Writers Coalition, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, and Writers in the Schools are coming from around the country.

The above orgs work to ensure that poetry plays an essential role in people’s lives–as a tool to express themselves and to more fully engage with the world around them. And they represent just a sample of the organizations doing such work. I know this first-hand–Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s “Where Poetry Lives” project, for instance, featured InsideOut as well as the Pongo Teen Writing Project and Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. This symposium will offer the Library the opportunity to continue the conversation within our walls, as part of our efforts to promote books and reading.

Here is the complete listing of the symposium–please help us get the word out, and we hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 3, 1:00-5:00 PM

The Poetry and Literature Center will present a series of panels exploring the connections between poetry and literacy. This event is free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the Library of Congress Literacy Awards.

Hour-long panels include the following:

1:00 PM: Poetry and Literacy in the Schools featuring Terry M. Blackhawk (InsideOut Literary Arts Project), Amy Swauger (Teachers & Writers Collaborative), and Robin Reagler (Writers in the Schools)

2:15 PM: Poetry and Literacy with At-Risk Populations featuring Roland Legiardi-Laura (Power Poetry), Tara Libert (Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop), and Aaron Zimmerman (New York Writers Coalition)

3:30 PM: Addressing Aliteracy Through Poetry featuring Joe Callahan (826 DC), Robert Polito (Poetry Foundation), and Amy Stolls (National Endowment of the Arts)

Location: LJ-119, first floor, Thomas Jefferson Building <view map>
Contact: (202) 707-5394


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