People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Antonio


Antonio’s narrative is similar to that of many of our learners. During high school, he found his classes difficult and he didn’t always understand what was going on. Academically frustrated and with real world financial issues looming, Antonio started skipping his classes. He began selling drugs and “stayed out in the streets.” He looks back on that time with regret, saying that if he could do high school all over again, he would.

Antonio eventually obtained his forklift certification and began to work in warehouses–he worked at one job for fourteen years before being laid off. He’s driven forklifts at his new place of employment for six years, but he’s always known that he wanted to do more with his life. A few years ago, Antonio figured that it was time to start working on his reading and writing so that he would be able to help his then four year old daughter with her homework.

Antonio’s wife told him about Literacy Mid-South in 2013. He reached out to the organization, and soon he was working with a tutor. The two of them started out by meeting every week, and they used audio recordings and reading passages in their sessions.

Antonio is now one of Literacy Mid-South’s most dedicated learners. He has been meeting with a Literacy Mid-South tutor consistently since he signed up in 2013. His latest tutor, Robert, meets with him as often as they can, and they spend their time reviewing vocabulary lists, using the computer, and checking reading comprehension by reading passages from the Harry Potter series of novels.

Despite the twenty plus year age difference between the two men, they get along really well.

“I was scared when I first started with him,” Antonio said, recalling their first session. He didn’t know what to expect from Robert, but he knew that he was dedicated to continuing to improve his reading and writing skills. The two of them spent their first tutoring session getting to know each other. “Robert asked me a lot of questions,” Antonio said, “but he’s cool.”

Together, Antonio and Robert are making enormous strides toward helping Antonio achieve his ultimate goal: obtaining a GED. Now, Antonio’s vocabulary has drastically improved. He feels more confident in his ability to read and understand his daughter’s homework. And those passages from Harry Potter? He can read those very well now.

“If there was anyone out here who was thinking about learning to read, I’d tell them to come and join me,” Antonio said.

“He’s making a lot of progress,” Robert said, smiling. “Every day is positive, and he’s improving little by little. He teaches me too. I’m learning patience and understanding by working with him.”


Literacy Mid-South is here to help those who want to improve their reading and writing ability. If you know of someone who needs help, they can reach us at (901) 327-6000.

If you’re interested in helping someone who wants to improve their reading and writing ability, give us a call at the number listed above or visit us online to fill out our volunteer application.  


The Mid-South Book Festival Call For Presenting Authors

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Calling all published authors!  The Mid-South Book Festival welcomes authors and publishers to submit books for consideration for the event, which will be held on September 10th, 2016 at Playhouse on the Square and Circuit Playhouse.

Who Is Eligible?

We welcome authors, publishers, and publicists to contact us regarding participation in the Mid-South Book Festival.  Authors must:

  • Have a book published within the last two years
  • Be published before the Mid-South Book Festival
  • Be published through a publishing house, independent, or university press.  Self published authors are not considered to present but may participate as a vendor in our street fair.  More information about our street fair coming soon.

Application Process

To be considered, please send or have your publisher send us the following information:

  • Two copies of the book, galley, or ARC.  Do not send manuscripts or electronic copies, as these will not be reviewed.
  • Author bio with previously published titles or articles
  • Press kit

Send these items to:

Literacy Mid-South

Attn: Mid-South Book Festival Application

PO Box 111229

Memphis, TN 38111

Information must be received by June 1, 2016 to be considered for the festival.  Literacy Mid-South and the Mid-South Book Festival do not guarantee travel reimbursement for all authors.  Please be sure to let us know if your publisher is willing to fund your trip.

Questions?  Email Knox Shelton at

Follow us on Facebook at, on Twitter at, and visit for information and updates!



Literacy’s Impact on the Workforce

Literacy Impact on the Workforce

1 out of every 10 adults in the United States is considered to have Limited English Proficiency (LEP). For these adults, English is their second, third, or fourth language. Almost all of the adults who make up this number are immigrants, or foreign born. The number of foreign-born individuals in the  United States reached a peak in the second quarter of 2015 at 42.1 million people.

Many of these adults are highly educated, but their lack of English ability has a profound impact on their economic standing. 70% of these adults with Limited English Proficiency are part of the workforce (the amount of people engaged in/available for work, either in an area or an industry) of the United States, but these adults earn 25-40% less on average that adults who are proficient in English. These factors can negatively affect the academic (and eventually economic) future of their children. Despite this, adults with Limited English Proficiency provide revenue to the country, and to our state. In Tennessee alone, the spending power of Latino immigrants numbers in the billions of dollars.

Literacy Mid South Workforce Literacy

Even with limited English proficiency, a large percentage of these adult workers are able to hold a job–albeit with moderate success. A lack of English skills holds them back from understanding crucial job-related documents and tasks, which hurts their chances of ever being recognized or promoted in their places of employment.

On the job English language proficiency training will begin to make foreign-born workers familiar with the English language. Additionally, it will allow them to:

  • Meet and make small talk with co-workers.
  • Give and receive help.
  • Call in sick or late.
  • Ask for clarification.
  • Understand instructions that are given by a supervisor.
  • Answer questions from customers (if necessary).
  • Understand safety symbols and terms.
  • Bridge the gaps between their home and work cultures.
  • Fill out forms and paperwork.
  • Read their employee handbook and other internal documents.

The number of people struggling with English, especially non-native English speakers, will continue to increase. These adults and their children are major assets towards our future, so it is up to us to give them the skills they need to find their place in this great country of ours. Together, we can continue to build a foundation of ambitious, literate, hardworking Americans.

Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Literacy Mid-South is now offering the training these workers will need to succeed in the workplace. Learn more at  Through this training, workers will gain the knowledge and self-confidence they need to excel at their jobs. Employers will benefit from the training as well, as employees with English proficiency will do better at their jobs, which will reduce turnover and allow the business to promote from within. This training will provide numerous opportunities for the workers that may have never existed before, therefore improving their morale in and out of the workplace. Higher morale leads to better performance, which leads to greater productivity!


People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Sam


I’m happy to introduce our new column, People of Literacy Mid-South! The People of Literacy Mid-South column will takes a close look at the good folks that make our organization tick. We’ll also be looking at volunteers, learners, and board members here, so stay tuned!

This week, we’re profiling Sam Mattson, Literacy Mid-South’s Collaborative Action Manager. Sam is a native Memphian and a graduate of Rhodes College, where he earned his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in History & Philosophy with a minor in African-American Studies. Sam is a relatively new face at Literacy Mid-South, but he’s already done lots of great work.

What do you do?

IMG_0151My title at Literacy Mid-South is Collaborative Action Manager, but that’s pretty confusing. Essentially I build and manage partnerships with organizations that have stake in elementary-age students. In order to manage partnerships I have to know about elementary literacy instruction and what resources are available to the community. As the point person for resources, I am the supervisor for the Literacy Mid-South VISTA project. We are an intermediary site for the AmeriCorps*VISTA program and are providing VISTAs to several organizations here in Memphis.

What brought you to (or keeps you in) Memphis?

Memphis has so much character. There is nothing quite like the variety of neighborhoods here, and each neighborhood has its own personality. You can go just about anywhere in Memphis and find people who care very deeply about their neighborhood and the city. It is truly impressive, considering the history of Memphis, the way that people persevere. This makes me want to stick around and do my part for the city.

What is one of the biggest educational challenges that Memphis faces?

I think our biggest educational challenge in our classrooms is lack of school readiness. So many kids come into school and are performing at levels far behind their peers. It is hard for teachers to prepare adequate lessons for kids when they are all starting from different places.

However, I think one of the biggest challenges for the system is that we lose sight of the students. The conversation shouldn’t be about survival and self-preservation, but about helping the kids. They are ultimately the future and we need to prepare them effectively to learn and grow.

How do you think we as a community can work to create lifelong learners?

CollaborationCollaboration. One effort with one specific focus will never be able to accomplish anything on its own. For instance, increasing third grade reading is an effort that requires more than just improving reading instruction. There are several issues that need to be addressed, including school attendance issues, physical/social/emotional health barriers, and a lack of financial resources. If the community can come together, offer what they have available, and provide support for the needs of everyone, then we will create a community full of lifelong learners.

How does your work help Literacy Mid-South to create a community engaged in continuous learning?

For many years, Literacy Mid-South had the sole priority of serving the needs of adults struggling to read. However, it became increasingly clear that instead of catching people (adults) on the back end, Literacy Mid-South also needed to try and aid the efforts at the beginning of the process (elementary students). Literacy Mid-South was uniquely situated as the literacy organization to start this work. That being said, Literacy Mid-South was not looking to become a school, but rather provide organizations already doing the work with the resources, partnerships, and knowledge necessary to get over the hump.

What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?

I have two deep passions that sort of control my actions and decisions. The first is social justice. Social justice is what ultimately guided me into education and to this job specifically. There is a chance I would have gone into law or criminal justice as another avenue for social justice, but I am currently happy with the path I am taking.


The second passion is for sports and athletics. I am a huge basketball, soccer, football, and cross country/track fan. I have followed the Grizzlies since I moved here 11 years ago and am so excited about the way they have grown and adopted the characteristics of the city they call home. If it were not for my passion for social justice I would be involved in sports or athletics somehow, either through journalism, coaching, or managing.

If you could make everyone on earth read one book, what book would it be?

 My favorite book of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Every time someone asks me what book they should read, it is my go to. The beginning of the book is a little drawn out, but the character and plot development more than makes up for it.  I was unable to put it down and I am certain that anyone who loves a good plot twist would love this book as well.

If you could spend one day in another person’s body, who would you choose to be? What would you do that day?

If I were able to spend the day as one person, I think it would be Lebron James. As a former collegiate athlete and a big basketball fan, it would be an eye opening experience to go through his routines and practice schedule as well as play in a game. Lebron James is probably the best all-around male athlete in the world right now and he is at the peak of his game. There would be no better experience for an athlete and basketball fan than to see a high-level game from the point of view of one of the best basketball players of all time.

You can only eat one more dish for the rest of your life? What dish do you choose and why?

gussThis is one of the hardest questions I have ever gotten. As of right now, I think I would have to go Gus’s Fried Chicken. I’m not sure if that has to do with the complex flavors and spices that are making my mouth water as I say this or the combination of the juicy chicken and all of those sides… I guess I know where I’m going for dinner.

Tell us something about you that would surprise us.

This is going to sound kind of boring but I am really not a huge of fan of TV shows. I much prefer sitting down to watch a movie than I do a TV show. I also really enjoy watching bad movies. Something about bad movies just makes me laugh.

Stay tuned for more People of Literacy Mid-South! Connect with Literacy Mid-South on Facebook and Twitter, visit us at, and subscribe to our blog to stay on top of all of our developments!

Happy New Year, and a Hearty Welcome!

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Happy New Year! Like so many of you, Literacy Mid-South made a New Year’s resolution. Our resolution: find new and innovative ways to spread our message throughout the community.

To that end, welcome to the new and official blog of Literacy Mid-South! We intend for this new space to help in our efforts to educate and inform the Mid-South about the valuable work that we do, the important issues our community faces, and the faces of those who are actively engaged in changing the literacy rates in Memphis.

In Shelby County alone, 14% of adults read at or below a 3rd grade level.  The reading proficiency rate is only 32% among 3rd grade students in Shelby County Schools.  Those numbers are depressing.  The good news is that there is a lot of energy around literacy and lifelong learning in the Mid-South, with organizations like Literacy Mid-South, Books from Birth, story booth at Crosstown Arts, Memphis Teacher Residency, and Seeding Success making headway for children and adults.  We also have amazing events like the Mid-South Book Festival.

In our blog we’ll be:

  • Profiling Literacy Mid-South employees, students, board members, and volunteers
  • Providing information and updates about our Mid-South Book Festival
  • Discussing important literacy issues that impact our workforce, families, and schools
  • Providing useful tips for creating a new generation of lifelong learners

We look forward to hearing your feedback.

Want to more know about our impact, volunteers, and mission? Check out our Annual Report and visit us at