Kisha Bwenge, Research & Development Intern
"My mother told me once that her greatest dream for me as a kid was that I would love reading, and she certainly got her wish. I remember the days I spent with my head lodged in the pages of my latest adventure. Dust never had a standing chance of collecting on my shelves, and I read all the time—every now and then taking a rebellious hour past bedtime to finish a chapter…"
This is how I opened my application essay to the Research & Development internship at LitWorld. I never imagined I’d be waxing poetic for a job application, but I decided it was appropriate considering I wanted to work for a literacy organization, and not to mention every bit of it is true! As a kid I was a total bookworm, and unabashedly so. I mourned the deaths of my favorite book characters during our lunch period at school, and would soldier through bouts of carsickness just to get through the last pages of a good novel.
What this story leaves out, though, is that my bookworm days eventually faded into the ether. An identity that had defined me for so long--a reader--gave way to other things as I entered high school and eventually college. By the time I graduated this past May, I hadn't picked up a book for leisure in years. Actual years. Reading was hard, an extracurricular activity I barely had the time or the attention span for. I had assigned readings to complete, new friendships to maintain, leadership roles to strive for, and Netflix to binge on. I felt so busy, and reading for fun wasn't a priority. Catching up on 6 episodes of Game of Thrones is almost like reading A Song of Ice and Fire for 6 hours, right?
Anyway, when I got my internship at LitWorld, I feared they would ask "what's the last non-academic book you read?" and I would be forced to confess that I’m pretty sure it was the final installment in Stephenie Meyers's Twilight Series. And let me tell you, I didn’t think I’d ever be announcing that to the world.
So you may be wondering what being an ex-bookworm has to do with my time at LitWorld? Well, lately I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve gained from this internship, and I can say it’s been an amazing experience. I feel fully invested in the LitWorld mission because I’ve seen the powerful impetus behind the work we do: valuing the story of every child. I’ve seen this inspiration become an impact, and the joy that I’ve witnessed from the kids at our LitClubs and LitCamps is so tangible. The interns have also had the opportunity to meet innovative entrepreneurs, publishers, visionaries and professionals. We’ve dived into projects that are productive to LitWorld’s goals, and this has been anything but a get-coffee-and-print-copies kind of internship.
I’ve gathered technical, research and communication skills that I know I will take with me everywhere. But as the summer comes to a close, I’m finding that what I’ve gained most over these past seven weeks is an appreciation for the power of reading. Our focus on literacy as not just the ability to read words on a page, but to help develop one’s imagination, empathy, and sense-of-self, has reminded me of my long-lost inner bookworm. I’ve realized the impact reading had on my growth, and recognized the privilege of having the resources, as well as support from my mother, to love reading.
Having this in mind, along with the discovery that I don’t get enough cell service underground to scroll through my Instagram feed, I began reading on my 14 minute commute to and from work this summer. In those quarter-hour intervals, I've seen the Spoanoke Native American reserves through the eyes of a teenage boy, the magical realism of a Sri Lankan family history, and the struggle for racial justice in America through a letter to a loved one. Each time I board the A train, I look around at other riders who have opened their iPhones, Kindles, newspapers and hard covers, and I feel I have joined the not-so-secret club of subway bibliophiles.
And for the next 14 minutes, I think I've found my bookworm.