Matt de la Peña, wrote a short, beautiful essay for NPR’s Code Switch blog on the hope and perspective reading and writing can give struggling teens and adults from difficult backgrounds like macho working-class or street gangs:
My professor said something I will never forget when I went and talked to her the following week. Even in the harshest and ugliest of circumstances, she explained, there’s still hope. That’s what she loved most about The Color Purple.
It’s what I loved most, too, I decided.
I immediately went in search of other stories that might move me, too. I read all the novels I’d skipped in high school. I read novels by black female authors like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston. I read Ruth Forman’s first poetry collection so many times I had every line memorized. And when I discovered Hispanic writers like Sandra Cisneros and Junot Díaz and Gabriel García Márquez, it was over. I was hooked. Novels became my secret place to “feel.” My dad and uncles didn’t need to know about it. Neither did my teammates. But I could sense something happening inside of me: reading was making me whole.
What I pretend shaped my teenage years: Texas Is the Reason (and other bands like them. Sunny Day Real Estate, The Promise Ring; Jimmy Eat World actually had a great impact.) Whenever I hear them, I’m a college freshman again, (re)discovering them, wondering where they’ve been all this time.
What actually shaped my teenage years: The Goo Goo Dolls. Whenever I hear them, I feel like a teenage boy again, on smelly hot blacktop or in a backyard pool somewhere in New Jersey.
I wonder why I haven’t seen the session before – and how long until I’ll hit that New Jersey tarmac again.