Today is International Literacy Day, so we’re celebrating the value of reading and writing for people around the world.
A staggering 774 million adults in the world cannot read or write — two-thirds of them women. Low literacy increases the risk of poverty, child mortality, and gender inequality. It costs governments billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost labor, and it prohibits sustainable development, peace, and democracy.
But global literacy rates are improving, especially amongst young people. To honor the day, here are two of our favorite talks that celebrate the history of literature, and how it can transform the lives of people in the toughest places.
1. A Brief and Wondrous History of the Literate Life
A distinguished literary critic and professor of English, Seth Lerer presents a hilarious and informative talk at TEDxUCSD about the history of reading and writing in all its different forms. He’ll make you get really excited about William Carlos Williams, St. Augustine, and badly-written undergraduate emails— they’re all linked in a beautiful, unintentional allegory.
2. Shakespeare in Shackles: Transforming Prisoners’ Lives
Laura Bates, an English professor at Indiana State University, has spent the past twenty-five years teaching the works of Shakespeare to prison inmates — many of them in solitary confinement. The results have been transformative: prisoners have been given the chance to experience formal education, often for the first time. And in coming to understand how Shakespeare’s depiction of violence resonates with people who have actually experienced it, Bates says she’s learned to look at his plays in a completely new way.