I read many things.
I read a newspaper.
I read the nutritional information on the pasta salad box.
I read the laundry instructions on a garment I was considering buying.
I read a recipe to make dinner.
And I read a book. Well, not exactly this one, but it was a novel.
Being able to read is something I take for granted but I shouldn't. I heard a show recently about Radio Al-Mahaba, the only women's radio station in Iraq. It was started by one brave woman and is manned by her and thirty others as a voice for women in a war-ravaged country. Their goal is to educate women about their rights and to entertain them as well. Why radio? Because 75% of women in Iraq are illiterate. The former regime kept them uneducated in order to keep them subservient and uninformed. Many of these women are staying indoors most of the time out of fear for their safety. Radio Al-Mahaba is their only community and it is in danger of closing because their transmitter was the victim of a car bombing.
Imagine if three out of every four women you knew could not read a recipe or a newspaper article or the latest New York Times bestseller. And if you can't read, you most likely can't write. You can't make out a grocery list. You can't write an excuse for your child's absence from school. You can't address a birthday card to a family member.
Before you think the problem is limited to other countries, listen to this statistic: one in seven Americans can barely read a utility bill or the classified ads in the newspaper. They are among the more than forty million functionally illiterate citizens of this country.
What can be done?
For one, if you are in the area you can attend the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing at the RWA Conference in Atlanta on July 26, 2006 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. in the Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel. Over 500 romance fiction authors will be autographing their books, which are donated by the publishers. The proceeds of the sales are distributed to literacy charities. To date RWA has raised approximately $450,000 for literacy. Let's try to hit the half-million dollar mark this year.
A list of authors in attendance can be found here. Obviously I won't be signing anything (unless someone drags out a copy of True Confessions magazine) but I'll be there, getting copies of books from favorite authors and doing my part to stamp out illiteracy in this country.
Hope to see you there.