Shannon Heaton



Shannon Heaton sitting holding a wind instrument and a violin with another violin and cello next to her

Literature can inspire great music, and solutions to world problems. Photo courtesy of Shannon Heaton

When I was seven years old, I lived in Nsukka, Nigeria. My friend Nwando's dad, Chinua Achebe, wrote amazing books that described his nation, torn by the Bi-Afran war. As a kid, his book How the Leopard Got His Claws moved and frightened me: it's one of my earliest memories of being moved by literature. And it inspired me to bring my friends together for a concert.

So I organized a concert with my Igbo, Yoruba, Scottish, and German neighbor. I was the emcee and played the recorder and the piano. The show opened with Patrick Nwoga playing the (old) Nigerian anthem on the melodica.

Later, after my journalist father had died, my sixth-grade teacher encouraged me to write in my journal and to edit our school publication. That got me pulling people together again. We made something beautiful. We wrote about books, current events, and music. And that got me organizing and performing concerts again, which is how I make my living today.

This is my own illustration of how art, no matter the discipline, can shape a life. Through literature and writing, I was inspired to connect with people and to make and design things. Art doesn’t work its way logically into our neural pathways. It’s bigger, and more transcendent than that. No matter the discipline, getting a bigger perspective and a more metaphorical view of the world helps future parents, inventors, leaders find creative solutions to big problems. Art inspires action. Investing in the arts is a cheap way to ensure social improvement, new technologies, new approaches to disease research, higher literacy rates, more beauty, good design… and great concerts with neighbors!