A Literal Program

The Read This! Community Literacy Program started at the University of Fort Smith in 2010 with a national novel that had a hometown hook.

True Grit was first published as a series by Arkansas-born Charles Portis and opened the door for students to participate in literature in a way previously not accessed by the university, said Erik Carlson, assistant professor of English at UAFS.

The program has grown in recent years, but it all started with this one Arkansas writer, he said. Read This! is expressly a program of campus-to-community literacy. Our communities don't just stay on college campuses, and we can use a novel to talk together about life and society in a way that respects everyones experiences and expertise in life.

The Read This! program begins at the start of the spring semester, when English composition students crack open a book they will begin to see from more viewpoints than they may have thought possible, he said.

Just as there is no one sided story, there is no one way to read a book, Carlson said. Coming together allows students to explore different sides of a story in a way that solo reading cannot do. This program is an idea that you read things together. Its sharing ideas, culture; it's sharing ideas that explain the world to us.

College senior Matthew Farrar said the Read This! program was part of his decision pursue English for his major.

The 20-year-old said he changed majors frequently, before being inspired by Read This! speaker and novelist Mark Haddon. The author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time visited Fort Smith in 2013 and worked directly with English students.

I ended up in English because all of the teachers who have inspired me in the past have been English teachers, Farrar said. But I became very involved through the Read This! program. The English majors have had the opportunity to work with the most prominent authors and professionals in the academic world.

But inspiration has not been a privilege reserved for English majors.

The Fort Smith Public Libraries and Crawford County Library System held community programming in conjunction with the book study.

The university belongs to Fort Smith, not just the students, faculty and staff, said Ann-Gee Lee, associate professor of rhetoric and writing at UAFS. I think the Read This! program is a great way to work with colleagues and students across the disciplines and network with the community. We can create ongoing conversations and collaborations.

Fort Smith book clubs have been reading The Joy Luck Club , helping extend the readership through the community, Carlson added. Weve also had people at the university get involved outside of the English department. Steven Kite had his historical interpretation students curate a display on immigrant experiences in Arkansas.

And perhaps the most popular event in this years program included an aspect of Chinese-American culture which creates a unique dynamic in Tans novel.

Students and community members took part in Mahjong tournaments, utilizing local established Mahjong clubs to help integrate students into the culture, said Carlson.

Mahjong plays such a large roll in the novel, so it was fitting that we would play the game, but it was more popular than expected, he said. I saw a student playing at a table with a first-generation immigrant and the first lady of the university. It was really cool to see this kind of collaboration.

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Posted in Home Post Date 10/03/2020






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