Literacy Night at the East Boston EEC is happening Wednesday, April 3, 2019 (update). I recently came across a letter on Brainpickings that illustrates the remarkable power of literacy, and thought this would be a great time to share it with my YSI readers. Please enjoy the reading below, along with images of our Young STEAM Inventors sharpening their literacy skills in the Science Makerspace.
This excerpt can be found in the article “A Velocity of Being: Illustrated Letters To Children About Why We Read by 121 of the Most Inspiring Beings In Our World”.
When asked in a famous questionnaire devised by the great French writer Marcel Proust about his idea of perfect happiness, David Bowie answered simply: “Reading.”
Growing up in communist Bulgaria, the daughter of an engineer father and a librarian mother who defected to computer software, I don’t recall being much of an early reader — a literary debt I seem to have spent the rest of my life repaying. But some of my happiest memories are of being read to — most deliciously by my grandmother. I remember her reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to me, long before I was able to appreciate the allegorical genius of this story written by a brilliant logician.
My grandmother, an engineer herself, had and still has an enormous library of classical literature, twentieth-century novels, and — my favorite as a child — various encyclopedias and atlases. But it wasn’t until I was older, when she told me about her father, that I came to understand the role of books in her life — not as mere intellectual decoration, but as a vital life force, as “meat and medicine and flame and flight and flower,” in the words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks.
My great-grandfather had been an astronomer and a mathematician who, in the thick of Bulgaria’s communist dictatorship, taught himself English by hacking into the suppressed frequency of the BBC World Service and reading smuggled copies of The Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, The Grapes of Wrath, and a whole lot of Dickens and Hemingway. This middle-aged rebel would underline words in red ink, then write their Bulgarian translations or English synonyms in the margins. By the time he was fifty, he had become fluent. When his nine grandchildren were entrusted to his care, he set about passing on his insurgent legacy by teaching them English. When the kids grew hungry during their afternoon walks in the park, he wouldn’t hand out the sandwiches until they were able to ask in proper Queen’s English.