Dawn of the Unread!

Dawn of the Unread

We’re very proud to support a fantastic initiative to engage reluctant readers through digital storytelling, set up in Nottinghamshire by James Walker. Here, he talks about what motivated him and what Dawn of the Unread is up to.

I despise illiteracy. I would go as far as to classify it as a form of child abuse given how profoundly it can shape an entire life. England’s never had it so good when it comes to this shameful social problem. According to a major study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), England holds the unenviable title of 22nd most illiterate country out of 24 industrialised nations. The long-term economic implications of these findings were supported by the Confederation of British Industry who found, brace yourself: One-in-six pupils struggle to read when they leave primary school; one-in-10 boys aged 11 has a reading age no better than a seven-year-old; and at 14, six-in-10 white boys from the poorest backgrounds are still unable to read properly.

The National Literacy Trust suggests the reason for this depressing trend is that books are deemed a thing of the past by a ‘YouTube generation’ of readers. Consequently, the number of children reading outside of school has dropped by 25% since 2005. There’s also a strong relationship between socio-economic background and illiteracy. The digested read (for those who can read): If you’re born into poverty you’re screwed.

Dawn of the Unread was set up on National Libraries’ Day (8 Feb 2014) as a reaction to these worrying issues. Quite simply we’re a graphic novel that features a different literary figure each issue. The narrative underpinning all the comics in our serial is a books-related twist on the zombie genre: If the dead go unread, there’s gonna be trouble. Writers are returning from the grave in search of the one thing that can keep their memories alive…booooks.

Our aim in each comic is to provide snippets into the lives of incredible literary stories, from the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland who built tunnels under his ancestral home of Welbeck Abbey (the topic of Mick Jackson’s Booker shortlisted novel The Underground Man) to the exploits of Victorian bare-knuckle boxer Bendigo (the inspiration for a poem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). There’s sixteen featured literary figures in total and our authors/artists include Alison Moore, Hunt Emerson and Eddie Campbell.

I’m hoping that Dawn of the Unread will engage readers emotionally and intellectually by exploring a wide variety of styles of illustration and colour, through debate in public libraries with featured writers, by creating literary walks, games, animations, multiple narratives, digital interaction across media platforms and a creative space for readers to share their own ideas.

At Dawn of the Unread we believe the solution to the UKs reading problems is not to thrust complex and (by implication) alienating texts on young readers. This is something that comes later in life when we are more confident readers. Instead we want to create a thirst for knowledge. To tease, tantalise and inspire. To use digital technology to enable numerous routes into literature knowing that our reading paths are ultimately solitary and taken at different speeds. And if young adults go on to the library to get out books it will be because they want to learn more.

Whether we like it or not reading has changed. People have changed. Digital technology insists on active participation and readers expect to share their opinions. That’s why we have a ‘play’ element to our comics whereby readers are set tasks that will enable them to visit literary locations related to books, to upload their own stories and see them on public screens, to test their knowledge by answering questions. If the 20th century was about knowledge, the 21st century is about experience. The success of any literature project rests on bringing readers into the conversation.

To complete our ambitious aims, we need help. Which is why we’ve teamed up with First Story and the School of Arts and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University. First Story share our goals of raising aspirations and finding innovative ways of giving young people a voice. Through Nottingham Trent University we have created 100 placements for students who are writing to every school in Nottinghamshire and going out and giving talks at schools. Together, we can beat illiteracy.

James Walker is the Chair of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, a Director of Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature bid and Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. His recent commissions include In Praise of the Midlands for BBC Radio 3 The Essay and the Sillitoe Trail for The Space. http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

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