Continuing Conversations: One Year of Changing Lives, Changing Minds

"age of conversation" by Kris Hoet on flickrJenni Baker is the communications specialist for Goodwill Industries International in Rockville, MD.  Beth  Ayer is a second-year graduate student in the Professional Writing program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and the current marketing and media advisor for  Changing Lives Through Literature.

November 5th marks the one-year anniversary of Changing Lives, Changing Minds. In honor of this landmark, founding editor Jenni Baker and current editor Beth Ayer came together to talk about the blog’s progress and where it’s headed.

Jenni: We’ve come a long way from one year ago and the blog is picking up speed. Readership and interest in CLTL has really taken off in the past few months.


Beth: Absolutely – it has been great to hear from a lot of new people. Picking up where you left off was almost deceptively simple. The blog was founded on an endlessly positive and intriguing idea: the conversation from the CLTL classroom can carry over to the Internet to spread positive change. Still, I say “deceptively simple” because we still need to maintain a concerted effort to reach out to readers.


Jenni: In the beginning, the task was to get CLTL’s core supporters on board with the blog, both by contributing essays and coming back to comment on what others had to say. These individuals formed a strong foundation to build our external readership. Now, the task is to continue to reach out to new audiences. The potential to spread information about CLTL is exponential — new readers interested in the blog may share program information to their friends, who may continue to pass the word along.


Beth: One of the major challenges has been continuing to build on the great progress we’ve already made by maintaining reader interest with new content, and by attracting new readers through the strength of the CLTL concept. But, as you say, the existing foundation has positioned the blog very well for continued growth. I think it helps to keep focused on the blog’s role and purpose within CLTL.


Jenni: Certainly. And it’s important to recognize the important role the blog does play in raising awareness about the organization. In the past, CLTL relied mostly on grassroots, word-of-mouth efforts to raise awareness about the program.  Blogs and social media have made it possible to take this grassroots movement online and get the word out to many more people. We’re seeing that more than ever recently.


Beth: Absolutely. The blog is a perfect tool for getting the information out to as many people as possible. Other social media tools, like Twitter and Facebook, will also increase awareness of CLTL and hopefully draw followers to the blog.


Jenni: It’s somewhat ironic that we’re using technology to educate people about a program that, at its heart, is about what can happen when we divorce ourselves from computers and sit down with a book. How do we justify using online tools to our supporters who say it’s out of sync with CLTL’s ultimate goal of using literature to change lives?


Beth: Well, I can see the concern. But if our ultimate aim is to spread awareness of the program (and hopefully spread the program itself) then we would be doing a massive disservice to that goal by failing to take advantage of these tools. We really have to use both literature and social media (in their own distinct ways) in tandem.


Jenni: I agree. And I think we have to see social media not as the antithesis of what we promote in the CLTL classroom, but as an extension of the conversations that happen there. Getting people talking — whether it’s around a table about a book or on the internet about the program — is at the crux of it all.


Beth: We have had a lot of lively discussions on the blog lately. When people are willing to respond, whether with differing opinions, supporting comments, or new ideas, our mission is automatically furthered. Looking back on our assortment of essays over the past year, I noticed one point in particular that stands out as the future and impetus of CLTL and the blog. In “The Experience of Democracy,” Kathy McLellan compares her experience as a juror to the CLTL classroom:


The jury would engage in focused discussion that would require them to communicate their thoughts and analyze a situation.  There would be disagreement, persuasion and a presentation of various points of view.  Hopefully, the jurors would eventually reach an agreement.

It can be easy to forget how closely CLTL is related to the idea of democracy itself. The clash and cohesion of diverse perspectives is a strength of the CLTL classroom, as well as an asset to Changing Lives, Changing Minds. I look forward to the continued growth of our blog and of Changing Lives Through Literature. More great conversations to come!


Readers, we invite and encourage you to share memorable essays and conversations from the blog over the past year in the comments section.


4 thoughts on “Continuing Conversations: One Year of Changing Lives, Changing Minds

  1. Jenni and Beth,

    Here is a clip from one of my favorite recent posts, Erin Battat’s piece, “Transformations,” which describes her experience teaching in the Dorchester Women’s program. Toward the end of her essay she gives these two annecdotes:

    “A woman in her mid-twenties came to class with a great weight on her shoulders. Her mothers drug addiction had destroyed everything in its path, and she was left to pick up the pieces. Several years before, she was faced with an impossible decision: whether to continue her college education, or to take legal custody of her younger brothers and sisters. To her, there was no choice.

    I watched this students face as the judge told her own story about dealing with an unstable parent. There was a look of astonishment tinged with a dawning hope: Even a judge can suffer a terrible childhood? Maybe I, too, can make something of myself? By the end of the semester, this student had enrolled in community college, confident that even though her mother failed her, she was not doomed to repeat the past.”

    Like your own post of these week, this incident emphasizes the truly democratic priniples that underlie CLTL.

  2. Reading books allows us to partake more fully in our lives and the world around us. Part of this world, a big part now, is technology. With Kindle, too, books take on a new shape. Even as you raise the question, the use of technology and “social media” doesn’t seem too inimical to the purpose of books and reading. These extend the reading experience and, ultimately, bring us back to the book. And thank you both for your contributions to the living word.

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