The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Mixing Poe with Spray Paint


By Rebecca Gross

The finished Edgar Allan Poe mural, created by youth at the Logan Heights branch of the San Diego Public Library. Photo by Veronica Murphy

As children, our first experience with books is typically hearing stories read out loud. Later, as cognition improves, we begin reading out loud ourselves to parents, teachers, siblings---whoever is helping us learn to make sense of the jumble of letters on the page. But once we graduate grammar school, reading largely becomes a solitary, silent act.

Working on the mural. Photo by Veronica Murphy

But in San Diego, Write Out Loud is dedicated to reintroducing audiences to the pleasures of hearing stories read aloud. From Mark Twain to Nancy Drew, the organization’s readings are meant to entertain and engage---maybe even enlighten.

As part of Write Out Loud’s youth programming, the not-for-profit is participating in The Big Read this year, focusing on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. “When you read ‘grisly, grueling, ghastly’ [out loud], it’s like music,” said Veronica Murphy, the organization’s co-founder and artistic director. Poe also seemed like he would be particularly appealing to the Big Read’s target audience of 12- to 24-year-olds. In addition to the musicality of the author’s language and syntax, “it’s got all that goth and horror,” Murphy said.

Practicing spray paint techniques on the back of the mural. Photo by Veronica Murphy

Write Out Loud’s Big Read has featured poetry workshops, readings, and films. One of the program’s more unique events was a graffiti arts workshop, which recently took place at the Logan Heights branch of the San Diego Public Library. The workshop was held in conjunction with Writerz Blok, a San Diego organization that teaches youth the art of graffiti.

Working on the mural. Photo by Veronica Murphy

Murphy said that Poe, though a 19th century writer, overlaps well with the visual elements of modern graffiti. “When you start getting kids to read Poe, and they’re coming up with images, they’re very close to the same kinds of images that appear in a lot of graffiti art---the skulls and the cemeteries and the gravestones,” Murphy said. In the Logan Heights neighborhood, which is home to a large Chicano population, Murphy noted that the cultural importance of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) found further resonance in Poe. “That crossover between the living and the dead, and the respect for the dead, and whether you’re in between the living and the dead---it’s so about much what Poe’s work is about,” she said.

San Diego youth get to work on their Edgar Allan Poe-inspired mural. Photo by Veronica Murphy

During the workshop, teachers from Writerz Blok helped local youth create a mural inspired by Poe’s poems and stories. After sketching our their ideas and practicing with spray paint on the back of the wood “canvas,” the group went on to create a collaborative mural using graffiti techniques. The final product served as the backdrop for a library event on April 25th that showcased student work.

Murphy said that Write Out Loud’s programming had so far been a big success. “We now affectionately call [it] the Gigantic Read, or the Colossal Read, because it’s kind of overtaken our lives,” she laughed. “As big as it is, and time-consuming and exhausting as it is, it is so incredibly rewarding to see young people get excited about literature.”

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