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Writing Center Director on Benefits of Buffalo Reading Invasion

Writing Center Director on Benefits of Buffalo Reading Invasion

Posted: June 17, 2019

On a warm June evening, Maggie Herb, Buffalo State assistant professor of English, set a blanket under a tree and began to read the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. She wasn’t alone in her literary endeavor; she was surrounded by approximately 250 adults and children who had turned out in Bidwell Parkway with their own books for the Buffalo Reading Invasion.

Now in its eighth year, the Buffalo Reading Invasion is a free summer event organized by Tapestry High School English teacher and SUNY graduate Geoff Schutte to encourage reading among the generations. And it’s gaining traction. In the last couple of years, Schutte has heard from people in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Wichita, Kansas; Tucson, Arizona; and even France about replicating the event in their communities.

The June 11 reading was the first of three one-hour events planned for Buffalo this summer. 

“It was such a lovely and simple way to celebrate reading and literacy as a community,” Herb said. “At the beginning, lots of people had brought picnics and were chatting. Kids and dogs were running around. But soon after 7:00 p.m., it got quiet throughout the park as people dug into their books.”

Schutte started the event to celebrate Buffalo’s rich literary culture and ample green space.

He plans each reading invasion in a different location and publicizes it through social media and word of mouth. He said the June event, always held in Bidwell Parkway, is the most popular.

Herb, who joined the Buffalo State faculty in 2016 and directs its Writing Center, said the event’s ongoing popularity demonstrates that reading for pleasure is still alive and well.

“An accessible, visible event like the Reading Invasion in a public park sends an important message about the value of pursuing that connection and understanding,” she said. “Not just as individuals, but as a community.”

While some doom-and-gloom news stories indicate that social media and texting have replaced book reading, especially among young people, Herb doesn’t think this represents the whole picture. She points to an article in Forbes magazine that shows that millennials are actually reading more than previous generations.

However, Schutte said, during his 12 years teaching high school English, he has seen a decline in student reading and wants to turn that around. He started with his own school early on, recommending soon that they institute a designated 20-minute reading time for students to read for pleasure.

“As technology has changed,” he said, “it is more challenging to get students engaged with books. But it’s a worthwhile fight.”

Herb pointed to the many advantages of reading for all ages.

"We know the many benefits of reading include improved cognitive, analytical, and writing skills,” she said. “Most importantly, perhaps, are the studies linking reading fiction to the development of empathy. The act of reading itself connects us and helps us to understand other people, places, and ideas.”

Photo by Beth Insalaco courtesy of Buffalo Reading Invasion.

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