When I was young, all I wanted to do was read and write (those two things are still pretty much at the top of my list). I was one of those kids who always had a book open—on the playground, at lunch, in line for anything. I loved writing poems and stories like I saw in my beloved books. Sometimes this caused other kids to tease me, but I could always get away by immersing myself in stories, whose characters I sometimes identified with more than the other kids in school.
My first-grade teacher, Mrs. A told me I could be a writer one day. That encouragement stayed with me and I’m proud to say, many years later, I am a published writer, newspaper reporter, freelance editor, and writing teacher. Basically, I live reading and writing every day. Not only did literacy have a profound effect on me as a young person, but it led me on my path and got me where I am today. Reading and writing have also helped me get through the toughest things I’ve faced in my life. Books always gave me a familiar place to escape to, and writing still helps me process my emotions and learn how to express what I’m feeling. As a teenager struggling with depression, there were many days I spent in bed reading and penning poems, not able to get up or do much else. Reading and writing have literally saved me.
My first book—a memoir about mental health and food–came out in December and my second book—a poetry collection of poems from the last 17 years—comes out this spring. I have also published extensively in literary journals, studied writing in both college and grad school, and now read and write every day. I have a vibrant literary community with whom I connect over our shared love of words.
I volunteer with an adult education organization and am currently working with a student who, when we first met, told me she hated reading and writing and wasn’t any good at it. I made it my mission to convince her of the value—and fun!—of reading and writing by exposing her to books, stories, essays, and poems that I thought she could connect to, having conversations about them, and encouraging her to try writing new things—short stories and poems and essays. Not quite a year later, she has transformed. She scored high on her latest reading assessment and is progressing remarkably. She’s doing very well on the assignments I give her. I’m not saying this is necessarily because of me, but perhaps in part because someone helped her find the joy of reading and writing. After I had leant her a book from which I’d assigned a story, she asked me sheepishly if she could hang on to the book. “I started reading another story in it,” she explained. I said of course, and I’d look forward to discussing the story with her when she was ready. I have watched this student grow, at least in part, because of discovering the pleasures of reading and writing.
To anyone who doesn’t feel that reading and writing are valuable, practical skills, I say that these are the foundations on which I have built my career and friendships, the best way I know to express myself, the way I make sense of things. Reading and writing have been some of the greatest gifts in my life. I love sharing my love of literacy with others and forming bonds through books, stories, essays, and poems.
Not many people can say they’re doing exactly what they wanted to do when they were seven years old. And yet, here I am, doing what I love for a living, and there is no doubt that reading and writing got me here. Reading a book or writing a poem is not just fun; it is a path to your future.
Erika Nichols-Frazer is the author of the memoir Feed Me and the forthcoming poetry collection Staring Too Closely. She is a former CLiF team member and current staff writer at her local newspaper, The Valley Reporter. See her writing at nicholsfrazer.com.