MY ART STORY by

Cheyenne Wolf

Trenton
New Jersey

literature_is_everything.jpg

Painting saying "Literature is Everything"

This artwork was commissioned by Israel A. and presented as a gift to People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos. Photo courtesy of People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos

Since 1972, People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos has believed enduring literature belongs to us all, including those who have had limited opportunity to read independently. Through oral readings and seminar-style discussions of literary short stories, we invite underserved participants to new understandings of themselves, of others, and of the world. Our programs reach individuals in diverse settings, including residential treatment facilities, prisons, homeless shelters, adult education programs, libraries, and senior centers.

For nearly a decade, the National Endowment for the Arts has generously supported People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos programs. This partnership has helped us connect thousands of underserved or disadvantaged individuals with the transformative power of literature.

During a recent NEA-sponsored series, Israel A. sat next to the program coordinator, his head angled toward her in order to hear the story. For Israel, a legally blind inmate at a local correctional facility, hearing a short story read aloud let him forget about his disability. In gratitude for his experience, Israel traded valuables such as candy and toiletries with an inmate who was an artist, “commissioning” the artwork (pictured above) as a gift to People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos. At the end of the program, Israel said, “Through this program, I’ve found that literature is a very necessary thing in life. For this I am eternally grateful and forever changed. Literature has given me new eyes in which I can see the new world before me.”

People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos begins with the belief that beautiful, powerful literature belongs to everyone, not just to those of privilege. Our generous supporters have made it possible for Israel, and many others like him, to see the world with new eyes.

Sitting next to Israel were a number of other inmates, most of whom also craved the artistic outlet that People & Stories provided. At the conclusion of the series, one thing we asked the group was: What have you learned as a result of People & Stories?

“I have learned to speak up more and share my views and feelings. It also helped me learn about other people involved in the group.”

“It helped me realize I am not alone in my experiences and ways that literature connects to life.”

“How to participate to be more open with others discussing my feelings with others. It also helped me to learn others have been through things also, that's what helped.”

“I've learned that people of very diverse backgrounds and socio-economic levels can relate very quickly and more intimately through the shared experience of reading stories.”

“I've learned that literature is freedom.”