American literature and I have had a rocky relationship, and I hope you’ll bear with me as I tell you about it. I’ll admit, I am more likely to turn to British or Russian fiction when I have the time to read for pleasure. The first Steinbeck I ever read, Of Mice and Men, I dubbed one of the worst books I had read in class and wanted nothing more to do with the man.
Then, at the beginning of high school, my mom passed away. I was in shambles, reading nothing. This is coming from a girl who insisted on learning to read at age 4 because I couldn’t handle not being able to do so. The girl that stayed up all night reading Harry Potter and read The Lord of the Rings for the first time at age 10, was no longer reading. Then, for no good reason at all, I decided to read my brother-in law’s copy of Catch-22. And for some reason, Yossarian made sense to me when everything else seemed to be falling apart. The absurdity and utter seriousness of Joseph Heller’s book had put me and American lit back on speaking terms.
From then on, I continually read as many books as I could. And while reading was not the only thing that helped lift me out of the depression I had sunk into, it played a huge role. J.D. Salinger was there to tell me that life doesn’t always have some grand design in The Catcher in the Rye, Emily Dickinson taught me about life and death and living beyond your own experience, and even John Steinbeck moved me to laughter and tears with East of Eden. Ernest Hemingway helped me figure out which way to go when I moved across the country to Chicago, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets helped me move past a messy break-up. While I still read many other things, and these days have less time for pleasure reading than I would like, I truly love reading American writers and am so grateful for everything they have given to me.
So, how do I say thank you?
I know many people share my experience of literature being a life-saving, eye-opening force of humanity. I know there are groups and book clubs and random people at libraries waiting to talk to me about these books. I know I have something to learn from them, but how do I give back to the writers who have taught me so much? To people who I can never meet, who I can never shake hands with and say “thank you,” who never knew that their writing would literally save lives?
Today is Giving Tuesday, a day of giving following the hectic shopping season surrounding Thanksgiving. And while it may not seem like much, I’ve chosen to thank my dear writing friends (who will never know me) with a small donation to the American Writers Museum. Matching grants make each gift, no matter how small, a meaningful contribution to an institution which will help to share the words of many great American writers with those who need them the most. The museum will create a place of refuge and learning for when you need to find comfort in the words of a familiar friend, or to make a new one. I hope you will consider joining me in this national celebration of writing by contributing this Giving Tuesday, and sharing your story on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with #MyGivingStory.
I wish you safe travels on your literary adventures.
Intern at the American Writers Museum