The written word is, in our minds, the most amazing achievement of humankind–greater than cures for polio and smallpox and the Great Wall of China and trips to the moon. The written word has allowed us to pass down knowledge across space and time. Herodotus wrote in the fifth century B.C., and we can still read his histories today. The words written here, in the air-conditioned comfort of a home in Indianapolis, Indiana, will travel across the country and around the world today via the Internet. The Internet is still sort of incredible, especially for those of us who didn’t grow up with it. But the words, and the meaning they hold, and the fact that these stylized characters on a virtual page communicate the same message (more or less) to every person they reach–that’s kind of shocking, when you think about it.
We don’t think about it very often. Those of us who can read take it for granted.
We shouldn’t. Because writing is in trouble.
We sure do put a lot of emphasis on reading in our elementary schools today, and for good reason. Reading is a gateway–for most people, the gateway–to learning. If you can’t take in information through reading, you’re at a serious disadvantage in school, which puts you at a serious disadvantage for the rest of your life. It’ll be difficult for you to get and keep a job. Heck–it’ll be difficult for you to go grocery shopping.
So thank goodness there are programs such as Indy Reads–an adult literacy program whose mission is to improve the literacy skills of adults who read below a sixth-grade level. And thank goodness for the myriad programs in which volunteers read to kids, and for the teachers who teach reading in our schools day-in and day-out. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no more valuable skill a person can have.
But sometimes in our understandable rush to help kids improve their reading skills, writing gets lost. Creative writing, in particular is almost nonexistent in many of our schools today.
And that is a shame.
It’s a shame because creative writing can open kids’ minds to the world around them. It can spark their interest not just in literature, but in science and mathematics and medicine. And when those sparks ignite, amazing things–cures for polio, trips to the moon–happen.
And let’s not downplay the pleasures of storytelling, which began as soon as cave people could grunt their first words. If you go to the movies…if you watch television…if you’ve read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or Fifty Shades of Grey…if you listen to Bob Dylan or Wilco or Katy Perry or Beach House or Slam Stewart or Dr. Dre…you have creative writers to thank.
If we don’t inspire kids in creative writing, what will happen to all those movies and stories and songs? We have to save them. It’s up to us.
Anyway. Tonight we’re working for the future of both sides of literacy at Punchnel’s Writer Night for Second Story: our program that helps kids in the Indianapolis area form positive attitudes about creative writing and improve their skills as writers. We believe that when we give kids the opportunity to create–and not just create, but create with writing–all sorts of good things can happen.
Tonight, six most excellent Punchnel’s contributors–Jen Bingham, Carrie Gaffney, Alex Mattingly, Christopher Newgent, Lou Perry, and Jason Roemer–will be reading short selections of their work at Indy Reads Books–the new Mass Ave bookstore that supports the adult literacy programs of Indy Reads. To demonstrate what Second Story does, each writer will also read a piece written by a kid in a Second Story program.
It’s going to be a lot of fun–and it’s going to support two great causes. So brave the elements–it’ll be nice to be out in the rain, won’t it?–and come out to Writer Night. It’s free, and it starts at 7 p.m. at Indy Reads Books, 911 Mass Ave in beautiful downtown Indianapolis. Help us Save Our Stories–and the people who read them.