On this date in 1890, Harvard Professor Barrett Wendell read an essay aloud to his class of 50 undergraduate English students. The essay was written by one of the students in the class, a student who would go on to become one of the most important African-American intellectuals and leaders of his generation. The essay’s author was W.E.B. Du Bois, who signed up for the class because he realized that without the ability to write well, his ideas would never be taken seriously. He explains this in his autobiography:
I realized that while style is subordinate to content, and that no real literature can be composed simply of meticulous and fastidious phrases, nevertheless that solid content with literary style carries a message further than poor grammar and muddled syntax.
Du Bois’ essay was the only one that Professor Wendell read aloud that day, and it was the essay’s conclusion that he particularly liked:
Spurred by my circumstances, I have always been given to systematically planning my future, not indeed without many mistakes and frequent alterations, but always with what I now conceive to have been a strangely early and deep appreciation of the fact that to live is a serious thing . . . . I believe, foolishly perhaps, but sincerely, that I have something to say to the world, and I have taken English 12 in order to say it well.
Du Bois went on to say many things well as an activist, a sociologist, and a historian. In 1895 he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, and in 1909 he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He worked his entire life for the cause of civil rights, and he died on August 27, 1963 — one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
Today’s Challenge: Extra-Sensory Reading
What is the value of reading out loud as a way of reading and of revising your writing? Reading words aloud or hearing your words read aloud by someone else allows you to experience them in a different way than just seeing them. Listening and speaking the words involve different senses than just reading with your eyes, allowing you to catch nuances or areas for revision that you might not catch otherwise. Exchange some of your writing with a partner. Read each other’s writing with your eyes first, highlighting the parts you particularly like. Then, take turns reading and listening to each other’s writing. (Common Core Writing 5 – Writing Process)
Quotation of the Day: Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body . . . . The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading. -Verlyn Klinkenborg