A Culture of Literacy

The Virginia Festival of the Book and Adult Learners

Books & Literature

2016 Voices of Adult Learners writer Briana Chrispin - Photo by Chip King
2016 Voices of Adult Learners writer Briana Chrispin - Photo by Chip King

by Sarah Lawson

In “Where Are You Going?” Briana Chrispin describes how, for her, attending school as a kid had little to do with learning. “[S]chool was just a place where teachers talked a lot about things I hardly understood,” she writes. “A place I enjoyed friends and absolutely looked forward to recess and lunchtime.”

Reading? Math? She didn’t know why such things mattered, although that changed. The realities of life intruded and now Chrispin, who is nineteen and lives in Albemarle County, understands that with an education “we can grow stronger and brighter. We have so many capabilities.”

Chrispin’s short essay appeared in the twentieth edition of Voices of Adult Learners, a publication of Thomas Jefferson Adult and Career Education (TJACE). Chrispin and other contributors also read their work at VFH’s Virginia Festival of the Book—the Voices of Adult Learners reading filled the auditorium at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville. TJACE and the Festival have long collaborated to celebrate writers who are working to develop basic literacy skills, including recent immigrants, adult learners, and other English-language learners associated with TJACE, which serves Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties, and the city of Charlottesville.

“Voices of Adult Learners includes everyone,” Susan Erno, the program’s regional manager, explains. “All adult education and literacy programs contribute—involving everyone from long-time Virginians to newcomers. It is a very personal reminder of the breadth of our community and the many talents people with less formal education have to share.”

“What we love about this program,” says Jane Kulow, Virginia Festival of the Book program director, “is that it really expands what we’re about as a Festival. We have Pulitzer Prize–winning authors and best-sellers. But we also give the stage over to people who are still learning to write and who are just being introduced to the kinds of freedom and opportunity that literacy can offer.”

Each year writers submit stories for the anthology, which are in turn reviewed by Erno and a team of volunteer judges. Together, they rank submissions and decide which will be collected in the anthology that is released in paperback each spring during the Festival. 2016 also marked the release of a twentieth-anniversary collection of essays.

Voices of Adult Learners, 2016 Festival of the Book – Photo by Chip King

These anthologies include unforgettable stories from the local community but also from around the world. Seica Balak’s essay “A Life Story” first appeared in the 2002 edition and is reprinted in the anniversary collection. It’s about waiting for her husband to return home from the war in Kosovo. It’s also about violence and fear.

“Seica has had a stroke and no longer speaks,” Erno says, “but her story is still here. She was in the audience and heard the overwhelming response as her daughter read on her behalf. Stories last forever.”

Resilience and community—that’s what Erno hopes will linger after reading the stories. “I hope these stories become part of our collective community consciousness,” she says. “We need to know them as much as the writers need to tell them.”

To learn more about the Virginia Festival of the Book, visit VABook.org. The 2017 Festival will take place March 22–26 in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

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Contest Rules/Call for Stories – Deadline 2/17

Buy Voices of Adult Learners 20th Anniversary Edition