The Tucson Festival of Books has two distinct purposes. Number one is to promote literacy and number two is to support a love of books and reading. At my Sunday panel, the Mysterious West, both of those purposes came together in an amazing way.
The three authors had been asked to come to the panel armed with a book to give away to the winner of what was called a truth or lie contest. The authors were supposed to provide three little known facts about themselves—two of them were supposed to be the truth and one a lie. I forgot to bring the book along. (Saturday it was ninety degrees out; I wore regular flats instead of my trusty Sketchers; my back and feet were killing me. What do you expect? Of course I forgot the book!)
Nonetheless, I did have my little known facts all lined up and ready to be dropped into the conversation, except I soon realized none of them would work. For me, TFOB is like old home week. I quickly realized there were far too many people in that room who knew where all my bodies were buried and would know instantly exactly which of my “true” facts weren’t. I was going to say I was once tied to a tree and left with a clothes pin on my nose. That one may have sounded like a lie, but it wasn’t. Dan Smith, someone from my old neighborhood, was in the audience. As the younger brother of one of the ban of miscreants involved, he knew it was the gospel. I had considered claiming I was an only child, but Dan could have called me out on that one, too. I had considered saying my first paying job was working at the local newspaper, but some of the kids I BABYSAT when I was in high school (both of them now retired) were there, too, and they could have nailed me on that one. Two of the kids who were in high school when I was a librarian on the reservation were in the audience as well as someone who knew me as a teacher at Pueblo High School in 1966! The audience also included one of my life insurance clients from the mid-seventies, Susan Iazetta. Old home week indeed!
The other authors did as requested and gave their books to their personal truth or lie winner. I had a better trick up my sleeve.
You may have noticed that there’s a photo at the top of the blog—John Hudson is on the left, I’m in the middle, and Marcia Robinson is on the left. Is red a great color or what?
Regular readers of this blog have heard about Marcia before. She grew up struggling with a combination of dyslexia and English as a second language, a combination that made reading impossible. At age 58 she was illiterate and stuck in a dead end job as a jail guard where she was unable to apply for any supervisory positions due to her inability to read and write reports. That was when she finally knocked on the door of Literacy Connects and asked for help. Literacy Connects happens to be one of the primary beneficiaries of funds donated back to the community by the Tucson Festival of Books.
Marcia’s Literacy Connects reading tutor, Trish, introduced Marcia to my Joanna Brady books, and that’s how Marcia learned to read—using my Joanna books as her textbooks. Because she was drawn into the stories, she found reading was something the wanted to learn to do and has now mastered. In the years since, Marcia and I have become friends. (By the way, she’s caught up on Joanna now and is working her way through the Beaumonts—“reading every single word,” as she likes to say.) She also has a new brand new and very responsible job that takes her all over the state of Arizona.)
On the way into the Mysterious West venue on Sunday afternoon, I stopped off to chat with some of the people waiting in line, including Marcia and her new partner, Melinda. They were in the “non ticketed” line and I was afraid they wouldn’t make it inside, so we visited for a time outside. Once the doors opened, I went into the auditorium and continued chatting with some of the folks in the front few rows. That was when a Ginny White, a fan and a Festival visitor from Los Alamos, came up to me and said, “I just spent an hour standing in line with a man who, at age 61, has just read his first book ever—Judgment Call.” She pointed him out to me as the guy in the red shirt who’s sitting in the back row.
How could I NOT go talk to him? And since Marcia was a few rows in front of him, how could I NOT take her with me? And there we are together.
The above photo was taken with John’s wife’s iPhone. When Kris sent it along, she told me John’s story. He was someone who struggled with reading both in school and out. After the death of his father when John was 16, he moved out of the house and supported himself by driving a school bus. He graduated from high school and joined the Air Force. Finally, he managed to land his dream job—that of being first a mail carrier and eventually a postmaster in several small towns in southern Arizona. In all that time, although he read work-related books, he never once read a single book for pleasure.
Last year, in advance of a family trip back home to Mississippi, Kris gave him a copy of Judgment Call, one of the more recent Joanna books. Suddenly, in reading a story about all those familiar Cochise county places, John found himself HOOKED for the first time ever!!! He went back to the store and bought the entire series. He’s working his way through the Joanna books the same way Marcia did, one book at a time. I arbitrarily declared him the winner of my part of the truth or lie contest and gave him an autographed copy of Downfall to go with the rest of the series.
So there you have it, John and Marcia—one who could read but wouldn’t and one who couldn’t read and now can. As for me? I had the distinct honor of bringing the two of them together. For me it was the high point of the entire weekend.
As far as I’m concerned, what that means is this: The Tucson Festival of Books wins again!