An Interview with Pam Allyn: Litluminate

Jan 3, 2018 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Pam, can you first tell our readers a bit about yourself, and your education and experience?

Yes! I think I may have been born with a book in my hand, as both my parents were and are avid readers, and my earliest memories are of their voices, reading to me at all hours of the day. I was a child who was marinated in stories. And from the start, that was my passion. I attended Amherst College, where I spent four years inspired by great teachers. It was all so exciting and became part of the idea I was developing about the kind of life I wanted.

I felt very strongly that the power of literature and story itself was not just in the learning of content but in the way you come to see yourself and others in the world, the “mirrors and windows” of our lives.  I received a masters degree in education at Teachers College, Columbia University and then went on to work there as an activist and leader in the field of education, through my organizations LitLife and LitWorld and as an author and public speaker.

I write and speak widely on the power of language and story to help us build the kinds of narratives that allow us to live the lives we want, and the empowered lives that all people deserve.

2) Now, what exactly is Litluminate?

Often over the years people like to ask me my opinions about books I’ve read and I have noticed that it became a bit more broad than that; they would ask about my tv shows and other things, and I realized that what people really hunger for is the power of story itself, the thread that runs through our lives to both comfort and provoke us.

I wanted to create a way to communicate with my friends and new friends to share the power of all of that. And to start a conversation in the midst of these heated times, where people are challenging what is “factual” and what is not, about the power of story itself.

Story is not about “true” or “not true” : it is about a perception of the world, and people have many different ones. We will live in a more peaceful world and leave a better world to our children in the next generation if we can find a way to love the stories of others.

3) Why do you feel it important to share information about literature and books?

For me, literature is the heartbeat of what it means to be free. In reading, we can give ourselves the powers we want, to learn, to understand, to grow. Also, as we read we come to know ourselves better too and to ponder the more courageous forms of ourselves. Reading Charlotte’s Web or Anna Karenina or a poem by Langston Hughes, or a sports article, or a blog, or a tweet, all of these things transform us, make us more whole, provoke us and help us ask: “Who am I now?” “Who do I want to become?”

I have spent so much time with children as they grow as readers and this has given me a unique lens into the true value of literacy; it’s much more than words on the page: it is a whole way to, as the great philosopher Paolo Freire said: “read the word and read the world.”

4) Do you have a specific focus? Children’s books, teens or tweens?

I am a voracious, voracious reader, so I read across all these categories. I do love books that were ostensibly written for children but adults gobble them down, books like Harry Potter, anything by E.B. White, RJ Palacio, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Naomi Nye. These authors and texts kind of transcend every form. I am a big champion of picture books and there are some that have literally changed my life. I want all ages to experience them.

5) Do you have a favorite genre?

I would say: No! I am constantly reading across many genres, as you can see in LitLuminate too! I read the news about six thousand times a day. I read a poem every morning. It is my one meditative habit. I am a connoisseur of fiction and devour that on a daily basis. Sometimes I am distracted and preoccupied by work and life and then a celebrity magazine does the trick! I am most democratic about reading. My advice to all ages is to read what feels good in that moment. Curate your reading life. (I hope LitLuminate helps with that.)

6) Do you have a web page and what would we find there?

Yes! My website is pamallyn.com and there you can find out more about me and my work. Also, please visit my work at litworld.org, my global nonprofit organization I founded to bring the power of story to communities around the world. We created a global event called World Read Aloud Day happening this year on February 1st, 2018. I would love to have your readers join in with us for this great day.

litworld.org
LitWorld empowers young people to author lives of independence, hope, and joy.

7) What have I neglected to ask?

You have asked me wonderful questions! Maybe one last one would be: What am I going to read next? And for that, stay tuned for the next issue of LitLuminate, coming in early January! :)
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