Category Archives: High School

Dear Alice Walker

I am not sure if you know that you saved my life.

As a middle schooler, I watched the movie of The Color Purple with my mom when it aired on television for the first time, and we sat and cried together when Nettie came home. I am sure we cried at other points of the story, too, just like we did when at a young age I watched Roots with my parents, because they didn’t want me to be racist like many of the people in my hometown were racist. I know I cried when I figured out that Celie and Shug were so in love, so filled with grace for one another.

When I was in high school, I was really unsure of a lot of things, but I was sure of the fact that I loved to read, and I loved the movie I’d watched with my mom. I was overjoyed when I found out that the movie I’d watched was based (later I found out, very loosely) on your epistolary novel The Color Purple. I borrowed a copy from the Carnegie Public Library, and I never returned it. Your book is the only book I’ve ever stolen from the library, Alice, and I wouldn’t have stolen it, but when I went to the bookstore in the mall with my gift certificate, they didn’t have, and wouldn’t order, your book. So I kept the one from the library with all of my markings and my dog-eared pages, until in the middle of a fight a now ex-girlfriend tore the pages out and threw them out the window like hellish snow.

When I stole the book, I just knew I needed it, because the love between Shug and Celie was the most real love between two people I’d ever read in a book, seen in a movie, or experienced in my own life. I wanted a love like theirs. I wanted someone to make me feel special, where I didn’t feel so special. I wanted someone to make me feel beautiful, where I didn’t feel so beautiful. I wanted someone to love me, even if they loved some other people too. I wanted what they had. I wanted to grow old on a front porch in a rocking chair. I wanted grace, instead of shame.

I think I have read your book close to fifty times, maybe more. Every time there is something new to me, something that speaks deeper to me, something that makes me think life is more beautiful than when I began your book again. There are other books that do this for me, Paradise by Toni Morrison and Mama Day by Gloria Naylor to name two of them. But there’s something about Celie and Shug that pulls me back and pushes me forward and just makes me know everything is going to be alright.

When I was in college, and I was thinking about coming out to my family, I was at a really low point, Alice. I mean a lowest of the low, low point. I thought that telling my family about my sexuality was probably one of the most overwhelming things I’d ever do. I had no idea how they’d react. In my very lowest moment, I decided to reread The Color Purple. When I made it to the scene around the dinner table where Celie announces that she’s leaving with Shug, I just sobbed. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my life could always be so much worse than it felt to me, or what I made it out to be in my head.

Basically, Alice, what I am trying to say, is that your words have saved me so many times over, I have no idea how to repay you for your grace. Through words on a page, you taught me how to move from shame to grace. You showed me the way. And I thank you.

Dear Librarians

You are the unsung heroes of intellectual development. You are the guardians of the word. You are the harbingers of hope and grace. You foster the light in a dark world.

From a very early age, when my mom would pack up the wagon with me and my brother and our bag of books and walk the nice two mile haul to the Hartford City Carnegie Public Library, I was in love with reading and books. I read everything. No, literally, I read everything the children’s section of our tiny library had to offer. From the easiest picture books through Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, I read it all. I absorbed the nonfiction like a sponge and could spout off random facts at whim, and I relished the fantastic realities I found between the covers of every mystery, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or fiction text I read. I tried without success to write poetry modeled after the poets I’d read. I escaped from whatever chore I was supposed to do, from whatever small inconvenience of real life I had to endure, and I loved every word. Even the books I thought were boring, I read with fervor, just to say I had read the whole thing. To this day, I have only ever not finished four or five books. One of those was Shades of Grey. Please tell me how that got published and became a best seller. Ashamedly, one of those is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I just can’t make it through, though I know it’s a beautiful piece of literature and a blessing to those who read it. Maybe I’ll try that one again.

I remember C G helping me each week to find books I hadn’t read. She taught me how to look at the cards to find my number to see if I had read a book and just forgotten it. I remember how she would hold back brand new books, so I could read them first, if they were ones she thought I would particularly like. Mostly, from my childhood, I remember the summer reading program. The year when we did bookworms was my favorite, because for each book I read, I got a section to add to my bookworm. By the end of the summer my bookworm was the longest in the library and I chose the colors so it made rainbow after rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. I just loved reading.

As I got older, I used books to escape the things I couldn’t tell my parents about. I read my way into dealing with grown-up things that happened too soon. I was proud the day when I walked up the stairs and asked B M to help me locate the young adult books, which were reserved for students 13 years old and older. I was little (I still am) and I looked younger than I was (I still do), so she called downstairs to see if I had approval to read those books. I did. So at the age of ten, I read a highly banned book that is still one of my favorites, To Take A Dare by Crescent Dragonwagon and Paul Zindel. I lived vicariously through the protagonist, and when I, too, lost my virginity at a young age, I reread the book, giving myself hope that if a fictional character could live through all that then so could I.

At school, I was fortunate enough to have two librarians, R H and B A, who guided me and continued to nourish my love for literature. We were fortunate enough to have, as part of our language arts curriculum, education in how to use the library and research with the resources found there. I found myself spending as much time as possible hanging out in the library, sometimes even leaving class to go the bathroom, but ending up in the library reading. During high school, my first job was working at the public library where I had grown up, and I was also a media center volunteer during the few times when I had a study hall in my schedule.

Throughout college, my strong quality education in library science came in handy, as I had no problems transferring the skills I’d learned with the Dewey decimal system to the newly arranged Library of Congress system used by most college libraries. Because of my work at my small public library, I had trouble using Microfilm or Microfiche, and I had problem getting a job working for the circulation desk, where I promptly got fired for sleeping in a stairwell with my coworker. We were simply taking a little nap, which was apparently highly frowned upon. Still I remember everything about libraries in my life with a fondness that I can’t accurately capture in words.

I write to you, librarians, to let you know how important you are! Your work is perhaps some of the most important work to keep our culture thriving and filled with imagination. Sure the authors who write the texts are necessary, but I would bet that so many of them spent so much of their formative time with so many of you, that you are in fact to blame for their greatness. Libraries, and you, librarians, will save us. I am sure of it.

What is that Ray Bradbury says, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them”? Well, you are the fine folks who keep us reading, who guard our culture, who inspire us to keep pursuing knowledge.

Thanks.