Facing the Page, For Teachers
Symphony Space’s All Write! Celebrates the Writing of Adult Literacy Students
Outside Symphony Space, on the Upper West Side, a line began stretching down the block. There was hand-shaking, back-patting, and fist-bumping as those in line welcomed new arrivals. The crowd, comprised of adult students and their tutors from basic literacy programs throughout the five boroughs, including The New York Public Library's Centers for Reading and Writing, gathered last week for Symphony Space’s annual event, All Write!
Based on Selected Shorts, All Write! celebrates the writing of students in adult literacy programs throughout New York City. Four months earlier, in the dead of winter, students had attended a reading where they heard actors read stories by famous writers. Afterward, back in their classes, they were invited to submit their own writing inspired by what they’d heard. From close to 300 submissions to All Write!, 30 stories and poems had been selected to be read on stage that night.
Inside the theater the excited crowd slowly filled the rows of velvet seats. One student pointed wide-eyed to the program, “My name is in a book!” he said. “I never saw my name in print before.”
As host Isaiah Sheffer and the three actors took the stage, taking turns reading the winning stories, the audience was rapt, laughing together at a story by one student about going down what seemed an infinite number of stairs and escalators to reach the F train; groaning at another story about a man obliviously selling pot to an undercover detective and then having his door broken in by 10 police officers. Other stories, like “An Old Lady Learns English,” moved some to tears.
After the reading, all the winning writers were invited to the stage and given a rose. The mic was opened to any students who wanted to share a few words. At first no one moved, then slowly, one by one, students came forward. “You brought my poem alive!” exclaimed one woman, from the Tompkins Square Center for Reading and Writing (CRW).
Another student, from the Seward Park CRW, who had written a short poem called, “That Makes My Day,” got right to the point: “My name is Carlos. My poem was called 'That Makes My Day.' And THIS is my day. Thank you.”
A man from West Africa made his way to the mic next, “When I came here I couldn’t read or write. Now with help from my class at the Library, I can. Thank you.”
Students exiting the stage found their teachers and classmates. One student in a Yankee shirt and cap handed his rose to his tutor. “This is for you,” he said.