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The Flyer

Literature's ability to transform lives

Ashley McCann

Opinions Editor

Photo Courtesy of Doug Mills President Barack Obama met with Michiko Kakutani to discuss the power of literature in his life.

In January, President Obama participated in an interview with the chief book critic for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani. When asked about the ample amount of reading he did during his first year of college, Obama stated, “it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.”


By the time he graduated, Obama was writing and telling stories, including writing in a journal every night after work. Many of those stories, Obama states, “had to do with older people…I think…because I was working in communities with people who were significantly older than me.” In this example, Obama incorporated the elements in his life into his stories and journal writings, and he used that writing to understand and process the world around him.


Texts of all kinds, whether that refers to an urban fantasy novel about a London underground, children’s literature about “some pig,” a sports blog on ESPN or a history classroom textbook, can help people understand the world through creating texts themselves.


While reading and writing are not always the most pleasurable activities, the important part is to seek out interesting texts that illuminate and uncover new information. In the same way Obama made recommendations to his family, particularly his daughter Malia, others should strive to seek out literature that provokes and inspires them. Many countries seem to have issues with those who are considered “outsiders.” Considering the circumstances, it can sometimes be easy to dehumanize certain groups people lack exposure too – especially when the only exposure is a distorted, ill-represented profile provided by news outlets. Literature by diverse authors about diverse people and situations are what help those who are ill-experienced develop empathy and understanding.


While literature is not the only helpful element in life, it certainly plays a large role. If individuals want to develop into responsible, better informed, world citizens, texts are a good place to start. As members of a diverse collegiate community, we owe it to each other to pursue a wide variety of knowledge and exposure. Connecting with characters, ball players or historical figures in texts teaches empathy, how to deal with different, sometimes uncommon situations, how to process emotion, among many others. Obama’s book recommendation list can still be found online, our university library has many texts available and websites such as Barnes and Noble’s are useful resources. Writing, as Obama mentioned, is also a useful tool. Through writing activities such as journaling, individuals can work to better understand their mentor texts, other people and themselves. Get reading, get writing and find what works for you.

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