Listen to Dr. David Sherman of Brandeis University interview Changing Lives Through Literature co-founder Dr. Robert Waxler. They talk about the relationship between literature and jail in this “Convicted Reading” Literature Lab podcast.
Brooke Joseph is a graduate student in education at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She has a bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Social Sciences with a concentration in Sociology and Elementary Education.
In a recent interview with Professor Robert P. Waxler, co-founder of the Changing Lives through Literature (CLTL) program, I focused on finding out how CLTL changes lives. Three themes emerged from this interview: Putting Yourself in the Story, Becoming Friends with Characters, and Breaking Down Stereotypes.
Putting Yourself in the Story
Reading and writing can change people’s lives by helping individuals to focus and increase their awareness through self-reflection. Waxler explained that when you are reading a good piece of literature, you often put yourself in the story and empathize with characters. Even though during the CLTL sessions everyone is reading the same story, each individual will read the story in a different manner. Therefore, when the story is discussed, the characters are seen from opposing angles and people “begin to understand that stories, like our lives, are richly textured possibilities.”
Although stories do not offer definitive solutions to people, they do “raise profound questions about our lives. And as long as we continue to ask important questions, we are doing something worthwhile with our lives.” Waxler says reading the right stories helps us to “pursue our identity as if we are on a journey through life;” by “expanding our perceptions, offering new experiences and deepening our thinking, stories move us and they make us self-reflective. They offer us questions, and then the stories give us the opportunity to pursue answers to those questions.”
Becoming Friends with Characters
Dr. Waxler also gave an example of how a particular character can change people’s lives. When people are reading they allow the characters to become a part of their lives; characters in the stories “become our friends. Their voices are embedded in our hearts.” For example, take Santiago from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea novel. Even though Santiago does not catch a fish for weeks, he continues to wake up every morning to “fight the good fight; his endurance is admirable.”