In November of 2008 I was invited to speak at a conference in Amsterdam, on reading versus watching narratives. It was hosted by the Dutch Reading Foundation (Stichting Lezen), a national organization funded by the government to promote reading within The Netherlands. I was shocked, frankly, to discover that such a wonderful thing existed. Why, I wondered, was there not something similar in Canada?
Now it appears that a group of volunteers has taken this task upon themselves. Calling themselves The Reading Coalition, this group of “librarians, parent activists, authors, publishers and corporate leaders” decided to push a national reading agenda. Their first action has been to organize a conference, entitled Reading and Democracy, to open up a discussion about what a national reading policy might look like. Speakers include the award-winning novelist Thomas King, the professor of education and psychology Richard Anderson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), the acclaimed poet and novelist Dionne Brand, John Honderich the former publisher of the Toronto Star, Ana Maria Machado (winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Medal), Diane McGifford the Minister of Advanced Education and Literacy for Manitoba, and Carol Off, co-host of the popular radio show “As It Happens.” You can find the full list of speakers on their website.
This is likely to be a very interesting and influential event for those interested in helping to create a national reading policy. It is also a stunning example of how a grassroots initiative can quickly snowball into a very meaningful force.