On this day in 2005, Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, published an editorial in the New York Times entitled “Why Literature Matters.”
The purpose of Gioia’s editorial was to sound the alarm concerning survey statistics showing declining interest among Americans in reading literature. Furthermore, Gioia’s purpose was to explore the consequences of declining literacy and to argue for the residual benefits that increased literacy can foster. More than just promoting the reading of literature, Gioia argues that good reading habits foster higher-order thinking skills, creativity, imagination and empathy:
Unlike the passive activities of watching television and DVDs or surfing the Web, reading is actually a highly active enterprise. Reading requires sustained and focused attention as well as active use of memory and imagination. Literary reading also enhances and enlarges our humility by helping us imagine and understand lives quite different from our own.
Gioia also argues that reading literature not only helps to form individual character but also contributes to the character of our nation:
Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel ”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” . . . . Today when people recall the Depression, the images that most come to mind are of the travails of John Steinbeck’s Joad family from ”The Grapes of Wrath.” Without a literary inheritance, the historical past is impoverished.
In essence, Gioia’s editorial argued that there are dire consequences to consider when a nation stops reading stories because, as she puts it: “Literature is a catalyst for education and culture.” There was a time when reading was our national pastime. Today, there are so many other forms of media competing for our attention; nevertheless, we should all pause to consider why literature matters (1).
Today’s Challenge: What’s The Matter
What are some examples of topics that you care about, things that you think really matter? Brainstorm a list of topics that you are passionate about. Select one topic and make your case for why it matters. For example, you might argue: Why Baseball Matters, Why Punctuation Matters, Why Voting Matters, Why Dogs Matter, or Why Singing Matters. Make sure to support your claim with specific reasoning and evidence. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. -C. S. Lewis