Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Nicole Plummer | Reading for life; a life of reading

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2020 | 12:00 AMNicole Plummer - Contributor
Nicole Plummer speaking about the importance of reading at Harbour View Branch Library.
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When I tell people that I do not remember learning how to read, they laugh. But I really do not recall learning to read. Reading was an activity that excited my family, and so it was no surprise that I would love reading. The love of books and reading were embedded in my genetic profile.

My love affair with reading continued from infancy to adulthood, and I am passing on that love of reading to my daughter. Though only 11 months, I get to see her face light up when I pick up her favourite books to read to her. Inculcating a love of reading early is important. The literature we introduce our children to is also important. In my youth, my collection of books consisted primarily of European fairy tales like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid.

Through these books, I learnt of forests and environments dissimilar to mine. Outside of books I read for classes in primary school, there were few if any images of black characters or the Caribbean environment to which I could relate. Now, I have a wider array of stories to introduce to my daughter. One of her favourite books is Boonoonoonous Hair! by Olive Senior, a book celebrating beautiful black hair.

Another book I recently bought her is Sulwe by Black Panther actress and dark-skinned beauty Lupita Nyong’o. Sulwe is a book that celebrates dark ebony skin. Through these books, my daughter will get a better appreciation of her hair and ammunition to counter widely used terms such as ‘pretty hair’ and ‘high colour’.

Important tool

Reading is an important tool in personal development. We identify closely with characters we read about. If we are not like them, then we certainly empathise with their experiences. Reading fostered a curious and investigative mind. Reading made me ask questions about the world today and go in search of them. In search of the answers, I studied history. History trained me how to understand my present by looking at the past.

It was through studying history that I learnt why our society held a preference for lighter complexions. It was through studying history that I refused to use terms like pretty hair to refer to hair that was straight rather than kinky. History and reading provided me with a strong footing that today, I want to pass on to my daughter.

As we embrace STEM, let us be mindful of the benefit of the arts and the humanities, of studying ourselves and understanding ourselves. In literature – one of my favourite subjects – we learn to read and write about ourselves; in cultural studies – the area in which I teach – we examine the intersection of culture and power; in linguistics, we study our languages; and in philosophy, we reflect on our purpose and reason.

Through information, communication, and media studies, we learn about analysing information; how to recognise and decipher fake news; how to sift through the motives of authors. These subjects are the humanities, and I am a scholar rooted in the humanities who fosters reading and enquiring minds.

And for those of you who love to read and ask questions, do not worry about careers. At the cusp of the 21st century, employers seek the 4 Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity, all fostered by reading and subjects that encourage you to read.

Thanks to the humanities, I find that bookshops have changed from my youth. If not filled, they now possess stories of diverse people. In addition to Boonoonoonous Hair! and Sulwe, our bookshops now have other stories such as that of Boianani: A Taino Girl’s First Adventure by Lesley Gail Atkinson – also bought for my daughter; Sandy, Tosh and The Moo Cow by Paula Ann Porter Jones, among many others.

Write their own stories

These and other stories teach our children about themselves and I hope someday that they will write their own. We need to flood the market with our stories; with our movies; with our soap operas. We need more than ever a plethora of stories about ourselves. We cannot always passively or otherwise consume stories about others or about ourselves written by others.

It is no wonder that our faculty’s most recently approved programme is the Bachelor of Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, offered by the Department of Literatures in English. It embraces all types of creative and non-creative writing with a view to publishing. In fact, it was developed in conjunction with several publishing houses.

Going forward, we must recognise the power of image and stories; the power of reading about ourselves and watching ourselves on screen; of guiding the narrative. Writing, publishing, and creativity, in general, comprises the Orange Economy, also known as the Creative Economy, defined by UNESCO as the bringing together of sectors of the economy “whose main purpose is the production or reproduction, promotion, dissemination and/or the marketing of goods, services, and activities that have cultural, artistic, or patrimonial content”.

This includes all music festivals; all soca and dancehall parties; all movies, books, and screenplays; theatre; dancing; fashion, etc. Publication is a growing area we can take advantage of. In addition to taking our share of the Orange pie, let us also be mindful that history, our stories die when no one tells it. Let us then be determined to ensure that we never die.

Nicole Plummer, PhD, is associate dean: marketing and outreach and lecturer at Institute of Caribbean Studies Faculty of Humanities and Education The University of the West Indies, Mona. Feedback: nicole.plummer02@uwimona.edu.jm.