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This past Monday, I had the privilege of attending a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration which honored several students for their achievements in promoting diversity and inclusion. The guest speaker was none other than LeVar Burton, most known for his portrayal of Kunta Kente in the drama series Roots, his role as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and producer and host of the popular PBS children’s show, Reading Rainbow. I was, quite honestly, fan-girling the entire duration of his speech. In truth, I knew very little of the extensive work Burton had done in various other TV series, movies, guest appearances, and his philanthropy work with the AIDS Research Alliance before that day, though that, and his eloquent speech upon the importance of diversity and culling of racial injustice, certainly made him all the more admirable. What pulled me out of my apartment to traverse across the frigid campus was the chance that I might hear him say, “Take a look. It’s in a book.” And friends, I was not disappointed.

What I realized about three quarters of the way through Burton’s speech was that I had simply come out to this event because I wanted to satisfy my internal child’s fanaticism. I hadn’t watched or thought about Reading Rainbow in years, yet when I heard that Burton would be visiting OU, the nostalgia of tuning in every weekday to watch him came rushing back, leaving me eager to relive that joy. As far back as I can remember existing, I have always loved books and the magic that they bring. Sitting in a crowd of people, that all encompassing flood of understanding hit me like a wave; he was the reason I fell in love with literature.

In reality, one man could not possibly have set me on the path of the proud book nerd, but I cannot help but acknowledge that LeVar Burton helped steer me in the right direction. My childhood was full of TV shows much like Reading Rainbow; Between the Lions, Sesame Street, and Clifford the Big Red Dog were among my favorites that promoted literacy and taught the building blocks of reading. In shows where the focus wasn’t explicitly on reading, they still made many mentions of getting kids access to library cards, reading for pleasure, and how a book was your ticket to exploring the world. Growing up in a house with parents who were both teachers led me to an emersion into all things educational, and reading became an activity no different than playing with my dolls. My world was filled with tons of positive support for reading and literacy.

I count myself lucky to have been raised in an environment like that, but it reminds me of the privilege I hold, having grown up in a middle class family in America, to have access to the education, resources, and support that has allowed me to now be pursuing my BA in English. What saddens me is that not all children have access to such things depending on their social class, economic standing, national education providence, and a host of other variables. From where I’m sitting, knowing how books can open our minds to ideas we could never conceive alone, comfort us at our most depressed, and literally save lives, I hope for a world where literacy is made available to everyone, no matter the class, race, gender, or religion; and most especially the children. It’s during those early stages of life when we absorb the most and lay the foundation for our full potential. I have no doubt in my mind that without a concerned mother and father bringing books home for me to read, or a writing club at my middle school, or a Reading Rainbow for me to sit down and watch with wonder, I wouldn’t be a writer today.

Literacy matters. Not just because it’s a technical skill that allows people to obtain information at their own will, and make informed choices with that information, or even that books are mystical pieces of treasure that should be available to everyone, but because words are the tools of the inspirational. There’s potential nested away in the minds of millions who don’t have the privilege to hone their talents simply because of lack of exposure to the written word. We leave their thoughts hibernating for decades because we allow them to be denied their rights to literacy. This is a social injustice that must be alleviated if we are to ever acquire a society in which everyone truly has a voice and a medium in which to make themselves heard.

As a lover of literature, I hope to one day be able to do as much work as LeVar Burton to advocate for the rights of literacy. The written word, by far, is the most powerful tool at our disposal, because of the traces of innovation, curiosity, and adventure it leaves in its readers. It’s what creates the platform for all of us to learn about all the world offers, in terms of career, hobbies, culture, lifestyle, passion and so much more. Books create people who are not only knowledgeable, but also more accepting, empathic, and creative in the ways they endeavor to do whatever it is they love. For every Mary Shelley, William Shakespeare, Toni Morison, J.K. Rowling, or young new writer, we have yet another pebble tipping our scales in the direction of limitless exploration. I leave you with a quote from LeVar Burton, that I hope leaves you as giddy as it left me:

“Literacy is freedom, as far as I can see.”

-Camera Martin

Me 2015

We’ve all had that moment where we open our inbox, see that bit of mail, click on it, and hold our breath. Your heart is pounding, and you tell yourself you don’t want to look but you have to because this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. As you begin to read, your balloon of happiness slowly deflates. We’re talking the rejection letter.

They all sound the same: “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your submission but…” After that it’s all downhill, and you’ve got to move four spaces back to start. After the first or second letter, you begin to wonder if it’s your writing. That’s not always the case. Remember the expression, “first impressions are everything?” The same goes when submitting your work to any journal. Here are a few things from my personal experience that might help you next time you decide to submit:

  1. The cover letter is not a query. Journals are very different from publishing companies. They usually take art, short stories, poems, and essays. This means the submission material, like your cover letter, will be different. You don’t have to worry about grabbing the editor’s attention with some clever quip. That being said, you still have to keep it professional. A bad cover letter can give the editor mixed feelings about continuing further. Keep it short and avoid irrelevant stories and information. Be careful to watch your punctuation and grammar. Do include, if it applies to you, what school you’re from and where you’ve been previously published. If you don’t know the exact name of the person reading your submissions avoid things like “Dear Editors” and stick to the good old fashioned “To whom it may concern.”
  2. Email subject and attachment titles are important. Keep the subject of your email short as well. Unless told otherwise, the subject line in your email can look something like this: Submission: “The title of my story”. When attaching your files to the email, save your attachment under the title of your work. I used to title my stories and poetry with random names that made me giggle shamelessly. That is until someone told me that the person reading it could see what I wrote. This is the best way to avoid embarrassment and unprofessionalism.
  3. Always, always, always follow the submission guidelines. Even though they’re called guidelines they’re more like rules. Submission guidelines are set for a reason. If the guidelines say no more than 1,000 words don’t send 1,002. If you’re asked to double-space your work, do it. Not following the guidelines is one of the quickest ways to get your work rejected. Editors like to know that you can comply with the rules.

No one wants to be rejected. You have to be professional yet confident. If you don’t believe in your work, then we won’t either. Give your best, and you’ll get the same in return.

– Sharnita Sanders