So when we heard about Conway’s upcoming RiverRead festival, we were more than a little bit excited. What better to celebrate than the joy of reading? And especially during National Library Week.
Credit the great idea to Conway City Councilwoman Barbara Blain-Olds, who heard the call at a state Municipal Association meeting – along with many others – to develop a festival based around a unique trait of her town. Tasked with coming up with something that represented Conway, Blain-Olds opted for reading, one of her own favorite activities.
Saturday, Blain-Olds and others will be meeting at the city’s downtown Riverwalk to hear authors read their work, swap a few books, take part in a group reading and watch a parade of storybook characters.
Importantly, the festival seeks to do more than just preach to the reading choir. Blain-Olds, whose favorite book is “The Giving Tree,” said she hopes to remind people who haven’t read in a long time of the delight it can bring. “My first thought was to refurbish in people the joy of reading,” she said.
The task is even more critical because a third of eighth graders in Horry County are reading below grade level, and the Horry County Literacy Council has estimated that 25 to 30 percent of area adults are functionally illiterate, reading below a fifth grade level.
Getting athletes and local celebrities to read on Saturday is part of Blain-Olds’ strategy for making a dent in those numbers. Her hope is that by seeing people they look up to as heroes or role models reading, children will see it as an activity to be enjoyed and treasured rather than disliked.
“I hope to instill in some child that this like the coolest thing in the world because the captain of the football team is reading,” she said.
Last week, Blain-Olds pointed to Baltimore, which has adopted the slogan of “the city that reads.” She hopes to join it. “They won’t be the only city that reads,” she said.
She has no plans to stop with just one festival, and is already planning next year’s. She’s also hoping the idea expands to other local communities, and we can only echo that goal. Why settle for one city? Let’s be the county that reads.