WHEN READERS CROSS THE TRANSOM
Angelica Hart & Zi
According to Stephen King, "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." For some of us, meaning writers, reading has been an obsession since a young age. We'd devour every book, pamphlet, flyer, newspaper, comic book, magazine, and yes, lacking anything at hand at breakfast, would read the back of the cereal box. However, not all readers end up being a writer, what is that epiphany moment that has one crossing the transom? For every writer it is different, for both of us it has been something we simply could not avoid. It has been part of our earliest memories.
My favorite words as a child were, Once upon a time, obviously the opening of many fairy tales. Zi’s similar memory was Sunday night’s opening music to the Wonderful World of Disney. I knew when I heard those words an adventure, a fantasy, or simply magical moments would soon flash upon the reel of my imagination.
We have had the honor and privilege to read to children and I saw delineated on those young folks’ faces a reflection that reminded me of my youthful jubilance when I read those words, Once upon a time.
For Angelica, as a child, her run on of, tellmeastory said over and over until someone read her story turned into, wannahearastory until someone listened. Before she could write she'd draw pictures, and read from those pictures. As soon as she could write little stories appeared on napkins, fancy stationary, scraps of paper, anything and everything that could hold pencil, crayon or ink, including the wall, which her mother was not so happy about. Zi had a similar hunger to string words together in a coherent and logical thought pattern, writing constantly and in volume, and then those thoughts turned into stories that he couldn't put down fast enough. Every word, every image, every twist and turn within a plot became vital.
I used to carry several books around with me, imploring any reading-able body to read me a story. It didn't matter if they were young or old. It didn't matter if they had an accent or not. It didn't matter if they altered their voice for each character, although, that was indeed the preferred option. I used to say read me a story so often that it turned into a run-on chant. There was nothing grander than being read to, a story where I could travel to a different land, where taste and textures were defined with whorls of words. One moment I was a baby rabbit, another a mouse with a hole-in-the-wall house, sometimes an audacious child. I especially liked rhythms, the playful beat and measure that tapped out a story, sometimes silly, sometimes funny, and sometimes very strange. Mattered not. It was the journey, that sweet, wonderful roller coaster of sounds that created dream bubbles that I could actually see in my mind’s eye.
I’ll share one of Zi’s first memories of reading aloud. I wrote this without first asking him. It is personal but as I later explained, apt.
Zi was a child with undiagnosed dyslexia and struggled early with reading and writing. Recalling that period, he has expressed the humiliation he felt not learning the same way others were, though he never felt sorry for that boy.
At an early age he knew he wanted to read and write and valued those tools. As an adult you can easily discern that his books are respected treasures and opening the world of storytelling is a passion. It was the Woodlawn Public Library located in Union Park Gardens just off the Bancroft Parkway that provided him what I call a breakthrough.
Reading and writing was an endless series of embarrassment and humiliation where the stumbling over words, the constant juxtapostioning of words and letters, and the inability to sound out words were painful. Peers at a young age have not developed empathy or compassion and would tease.
The third floor of that library was his safe place and by some unexpected gift of divine foresight, close to his home. His mother worked and that circumstance made it the perfect after-school sanctuary.
He once recounted to me the old radiators were far too hot, occasionally whistled, and tinted the air with that odd metallic smell of water boiled in an iron pot. While there, he would grab any read-aloud style children’s book, books far beneath his age, and hide in a corner on that third floor and quietly read aloud to himself. Never minding if he stumbled over words or struggled with inflection, he just read; hour after hour. Over time the books chosen became more complex and he slowly fought to compensate for his handicap. It was in those secluded corners hidden amidst the radiator smells I believe Zi birthed a deep love for writing and reading. It was children’s books that opened a new world, free of ridicule and filled with possibilities borne from the imagination of authors. He fights and works so hard with our work to make it his gift back.
When asked why, we respond, we want to make people laugh, cry, smile, wince, fear, enjoy. We want to entertain. So, where is that line that pushes a reader into the realm of writing. That we cannot say, probably for every writer it is different, we only know it is an experience that keeps us alive. Sound dramatic? Of course it does, we're writers.
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Angelica Hart and Zi
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