Voices from the Table: Veronica

"Progressive Bedtime Reading" by Sean Dreilinger on flickr

Allan McDougall is a graduate student from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Allan is a staunch believer in language as social action, with a focus on reading and writing. Allan is currently writing his MA thesis on Changing Lives Through Literature, and writes about professional and academic issues on his blog: allanmcdougall.wordpress.com.

This essay is the final in a series of three posts written by Allan McDougall based on interviews he conducted with CLTL program participants.

The West Roxbury courthouse women’s CLTL program is specialized for women suffering from mental illness, drug addiction or both. Veronica, a single mother, was more reserved than my previous interview subjects, Ken and Sheila. Yet Veronica’s shyness is nothing compared to her crippling inability to communicate before taking CLTL. Veronica told me, “I would never talk to nobody before; I never got along with nobody.” She continued:


In front of the class everyone would get a chance to talk about their problems. I have never opened up to people like I did with Adita, the people in my class, and Leigh, the teacher. I got to learn a lot and become closer with people. Now I’m very open.

The opportunity to share her thoughts and feelings in a reading/writing group environment changed Veronica’s ability to communicate with others. But she also told me about some other positive benefits of CLTL, specifically benefits for her daughter:


I never used to read before, now I read, I have a library card for the first time ever. I write more, read more, talk more. Reading keeps you out of trouble. I even read more to my daughter now. She loves animal books!

Volunteers like Adita Velasquez, Veronica’s probation officer, and Leigh, the Boston English professor who facilitates Veronica’s course, used a structured program of reading and writing to effect the positive changes for students in the West Roxbury program. But, as Veronica puts it, “we’re finished but we’re still not finished.” Each year, Leigh collects and publishes the best writings from the CLTL group. As in the men’s Dorchester programs, this is the first time Veronica has ever seen her writing in print.


Voices from the Table: Sheila

Voices from the Table: Ken



10 thoughts on “Voices from the Table: Veronica

  1. One of the things I find interesting about this post (and series) is the participants’ discussion of their continued reading after CLTL. It made me ask: what hooks people about reading?

    And of course there are all kinds of answers to that. Veronica found a connection with a group, and a new activity with her daughter. I think identifying with the act of reading (and with others who read) plays a big role. But as has been said a lot of times before, it also has to do with those certain stories we come across that seem to wake us up in a particular moment and remind us of who we are and what we care about. Or stories that show us some possibility we hadn’t thought of. Or just stories that are so imaginative, vivid, and beautiful that the pleasure we get out of reading them leaves a permanent mark. In that sense, reading is addictive!

    I thought this article about “why we read” was interesting: (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/weekinreview/25rich.html )
    It addresses the apparent drop in reading. I disagree with the writer’s suggestion that we can “satisfy the hunger for narrative and richly textured characters” in tv shows, but enjoyed the commentary on what prompts people to read and keep reading.

  2. Veronica’s experience exhibits the power of reading and writing and its effects on the human spirit. She saw positive results from her program and decided to continue to improve herself. This program allowed Veronica to feel comfortable with herself and gave her a chance, something that she cherished. We all need a shared experience and our own little discourse community where we can be heard and feel safe and sometimes the safest place is with a book and a pen. We can all learn from Veronica’s experience: Communication, either oral or written, can help us in more ways than we know.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, Allan! I really appreciated how a shared experience with literature facilitated social interaction both with Veronica’s fellow CLTL participants and her daughter. I hope continued exposure to different stories will open up even more possibilities for Veronica.

  4. Thank you Allan and Veronica for sharing such a personal experience. I really enjoyed learning about the success Veronica experienced through CLTL. This story puts a face to the program, and I can now better understand the impact of CLTL. Dr. Waxler talks about how, as you read, “you often put yourself in the story and empathize with characters.” This helps so many people feel connected, and this must have helped Veronica feel as though she could understand others better.

  5. Allan and Veronica point to an essential component of CLTL: More communication. She to self, she to him, she to class, she to daughter.
    Also both point to inherent possibilities of the essential (.i.e., more communication): change of self, consequently relational change with others; but now the others is now and more open ( more to self, more to class, more to daughter, more communication ad infinitum, linear circular.
    As such what is more remarkable about Veronica (and the post) is her awareness of change (“I write more, read more, talk more”), in which change [that is the constant ever-growing relation between self and self, self and other (another I or institution: e.g. the library)] is more action, added action, thought-action, speak-action, write-action and right-action.
    And with more action comes always the most action, the generational ripple: “I even read more to my daughter now.”
    Veronica’s more is now.

  6. What I find interesting about CLTL is the concept of language as social action. From a cultural perspective, language embodies the ethos of a culture, i.e.- what is significant/important to that culture, and at the same time shapes and changes perspectives and values. This happens on a personal level as well through reading and writing. Reading and writing are powerful ways to enrich a person’s own values and understanding of themselves and others. Reading literature and writing enhance feelings of solidarity and of the universal human condition as well as broaden our perspectives about issues we may not otherwise relate with.

    In this way CLTL encourages individuals to open up and become more open themselves. While much of today’s forms of entertainment are passive, such as television, the act of reading and writing are active and encourage individuals to analyze themselves and others on a closer level. When reading and writing is shared between individuals, particularly between and parent and child, this can make a lasting impact on their lives, no matter how young or old they are. Thanks for sharing Veronica’s story!

  7. I think many of us take for granted this access, and the power that comes with, as Andrea rightly points out, the social action of discursive knowledge. Veronica’s story is a story of gaining self-esteem. It’s nice to wax poetic about the value of reading and literature for all humanity, but for CLTL literature is a powerful tool for helping disenfranchised, abused, and impoverished readers discover new ways of seeing the world. Thanks for your replies, please keep them coming, and have a look at similar posts on my blog.

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