People of Literacy Mid-South: Meet Knox

knox shelton

People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick.

This week, we’re talking to Knox Shelton, Community Relations guru for Literacy Mid-South. Knox grew up in East Tennessee and is a graduate of Hendrix College in Arkansas. Since he moved to Memphis three years ago, Knox has amassed a lot of experience through his community work. Find out more about him below.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what three words would you choose?

I’d choose: Conscientious, patient, and inquisitive.

What is your role at Literacy Mid-South?

I am Literacy Mid-South’s Community Relations Manager. My role is to engage the public and raise awareness about all of our great work. My job is very exciting and fun, as there is always something happening around the office. One of the first things that I was told by fellow staff when I first joined Literacy Mid-South was that things are constantly changing (always for the better). I’ve found that to be very true. Everyone at Literacy Mid-South is always reexamining a program, an event, or a plan to see if there is a way that it can be improved. This makes my job particularly exciting as there is always something to report. Everyone here is incredibly intelligent and driven, which is very inspiring.

What did you do before you worked for Literacy

I was the Volunteer & Measurement Coordinator the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis. It was my first job when I moved to Memphis and it was a great way to meet a lot of people looking to do great things in our city. I only knew a handful of people when I first moved here three years ago, but I had always wanted to live here since I was a child. Working with individuals who wanted to volunteer in Memphis really gave me an opportunity to hear and see what a lot of Memphians find so great about Memphis and what others view as current obstacles to overcome.

What is one of the biggest challenges that Memphis

Sam Mattson discussed this a bit in his profile earlier this year, but I think there needs to be more of an emphasis on collaboration on all levels throughout Memphis. Collaboration is extremely important because it creates a dialogue between the various people working to achieve similar goals. A lot of the issues that we face (literacy being a good example of this) are complex, urgent and interconnected on many levels with many other issues. One organization can’t solve the problem alone so its important to come together and utilize each other’s resources to achieving one goal.

Tell us about one time where you really felt like your work really helped to make a difference in the Mid-South.

mid south book festival 2015 street fair

The Mid-South Book Festival 2015 was a huge moment for me. I had basically just started in my role with Literacy Mid-South, and most of my time had been spent getting ready for that week. Seeing the community come together for a week centered around the act of reading, whether it was Literacy Summit, author panels, or the Writer’s Conference, was a truly memorable experience for me.

If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Television’s “Marquee Moon

What is your favorite thing about living in Memphis?

The food, for sure. Picking a favorite from amongst the insanely good restaurants here is almost impossible, but some favorites of mine are Uncle Lou’s, Andrew Michael, Second Line, La Guadalupana, and Payne’s to name a select few. There are lots of things that I love about living in Memphis, but I have always felt that the food here is such a great representation of what makes this city great.

What’s the last book you read?

appalachians all

I just finished Dr. Mark Banker’s Appalachians All. Dr. Banker was a professor of mine in high school and has been a role model of mine since. Appalachians All is a great reflection on Appalachian identity, which is important to me as I grew up in Appalachia before moving to Memphis.

Is your office really messy or really organized?

My office is very messy, which I hate. I am typically a bit obsessive when it comes to being organized, but every time I make some progress in my office, another event starts up and things begin to pile up again.

What Literacy Mid-South event are you most looking forward to in

The 2016 Mid-South Book Festival. This is such a fun and unique event. There are so many different components to the festival. This year we already have some great authors booked (more still to come too!). I will certainly have to sneak away from working for a bit to hear Lauren Groff speak. Her book, Fates and Furies, is one of my favorite recent reads.

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!


The Relationship Between Incarceration and Low Literacy

Incarceration Low Literacy

Politicians and journalists often claim prison planners use third grade reading scores to predict the number of future prison beds needed. While it has been found this claim is mostly urban myth, there is in fact a strong connection between early low literacy skills and our country’s exploding incarceration rates. Compelling statistics underscore this connection:

Early Signs in Adults                                                                                            

Pro Literacy

A low level of literacy is not a direct determinant for a person’s probability to be convicted on criminal charges, but correctional and judicial professionals have long recognized a connection between poor literacy, dropout rates, and crime. The educational level of the prison population differs significantly from that of the household population being over-represented with individuals having below average levels of education. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 70% of all incarcerated adults cannot read at a 4th grade level, “meaning they lack the reading skills to navigate many everyday tasks or hold down anything but lower (paying) jobs.” Data supports that those without sufficient income earned by work are the most prone to crime. Paul Romero, a correction official once noted, “With legal means of succeeding in society narrowed, illiteracy is heavily implicated in the crimes landing many behind bars in the first place.”

The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” When inmates who left school before receiving a high school diploma where asked the main reason they dropped out of school, about one-third reported they lost interest or experienced academic difficulty.

Early Signs in Children

KidsAccording to a special report, Early Warning, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “…the process of dropping out begins long before high school. It stems from loss of interest in middle school, often triggered by retention in grade…and that, in a great many cases, is the result of not being able to read proficiently as early as fourth grade.”

Reading on grade-level by the end of third grade is one of the most critical milestones in education. Studies show that 74% of 3rd graders who read poorly still struggle in ninth grade, and third grade reading scores can predict a student’s likelihood to graduate high school. Donald Hernandez reported in Double Jeopardy, children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. While those with the lowest reading scores account for only a third of students, this group accounts for more than 63% of all children who do not graduate from high school.

Factors That Contribute to Third Grade Reading Proficiency

The connection of causes of many societal ills, including poverty, violence, crime, and incarceration in most instances correlate to high school completion rates and literacy skills education for primary grade students. There is an urgent national call for collaborative efforts to ensure children are prepared for college and career through achieving grade-level reading by the end of third grade. Warning Confirmed outlined the following factors effect third-grade reading success:

  • Readiness for school in terms of the child’s health, language development, social-emotional skills and participation in high-quality early care and learning programs.
  • Chronic absence from school must be mitigated.
  • Summer learning loss must be prevented.
  • Family-oriented stressors such as family mobility, hunger, housing insecurity and toxic stress should be addressed.
  • Quality of teaching the child experiences in home, community and school settings.

Education in Tennessee Prisons

  • Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) school system provides offenders with comprehensive academic programs, vocational programs, and library services to prepare offenders for the socioeconomic and occupational environment they will encounter upon their return to the community.
  • The adult basic education and high school equivalency (HSE) programs improve competency in basic learning skills, occupational aptitudes, and general reading/literacy levels.
  • In 2013, 618 HSE Certificates and 3,672 Vocational Certificates were earned in Tennessee prisons.
  • College programs leading to an associate’s degree are also offered
  • Vocational training is offered in: Automotive, Mechanical Technology, Barbering, Carpentry, Cosmetology, Construction, Culinary Arts, and HVAC & Refrigeration

 Education for Adults in the Community

Most low literate adults need to be connected to literacy education programs that assist them with developing the literacy skill necessary to obtain and keep gainful employment, as well as maintain positive lifestyles.

  • In community-based literacy programs there are more than 240,000 learners and 94,000 tutors nationwide
  • These programs provide instruction in basic literacy, GED prep, English, citizenship, job readiness, financial literacy, digital literacy, health literacy, drivers license prep, and other areas of study that interest learners.

Literacy Mid-South’s programs work to improve literacy outcomes for Mid-Southerners of all ages and backgrounds. Our work in the Third Grade Reading Collaborative Action Network directly addresses the need for early elementary literacy proficiency. Our Read Memphis Project has replicated our Adult Learning Program within the Shelby County Department of Corrections, in order to assist as many low literate incarcerated individuals as possible. Learn more about our Third Grade Reading Collaborative Action Network by clicking here. And if you’re interested in our Read Memphis Project, learn more about that by clicking here.

20 Secrets About The Mid-South That Book Lovers Will Enjoy

secrets revealed

This week we’ve compiled the Mid-South’s most bookish secrets, just for book lovers! How many of these facts did you know?

michael jackson

Michael Jackson has shopped at Burke’s Book Store.

Charlaine Harris, author of The Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka Sookie Stackhouse) novels, attended Rhodes College.

John Grisham’s first novel was not The Firm, as many believe. Grisham began writing his first novel, A Time To Kill, in 1984.

danny thomas

Danny Thomas’ last public appearance was at a book signing at Davis Kidd Booksellers in Memphis.

W.C. Handy is most known for being the “Father of the Blues.” He was also an accomplished author, and published five books during his musical career.

Lisa Patton, bestselling author of the Dixie series, attended Hutchison School in Memphis.

virginia frazier boyle

Virgina Boyle, “Poet Laureate to the Confederacy,” is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

pinocchio's bookstore

Until it closed in October of 2012, Pinocchio’s Bookstore was the oldest children’s bookstore in Memphis.

Tennessee Williams spent some of his childhood in Clarksdale, Mississippi after his grandfather was assigned as a minister in a parish there.

Memphis author Shelby Foote did all of his writing by hand, as he disliked the typewriter.

Contrary to the scene in Silence of the Lambs, the building Hannibal Lecter escapes from is Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial, not the Shelby County Courthouse.

A bomb shelter is built beneath The Booksellers at Laurelwood. It is now being used as office space for the staff.

eric jerome dickey

Author Eric Jerome Dickey grew up on Kansas Street in South Memphis.

The Memphis Public Library was founded in 1893.

Famous adventure journalist, novelist, and Memphis resident Richard Halliburton was assumed lost at sea in March of 1939. His empty grave is at Forest Hill cemetery.

Burke’s Book Store was originally opened on Main Street downtown shortly after the Civil War.

Commercial Appeal writer Jody Callahan appeared on Jeopardy in 2006.

William Faulkner died at Wright’s Sanatorium in 1962 in Byhalia, MS*.

The Commercial Appeal was first published in 1841.

Photo by Jim Weber. Accessed via The Commercial Appeal.

The Memphis Literacy Council was co-founded by a Holocaust survivor, Nina Katz.

How many of those secrets did you already know? Do you have any others? If so, sound off in the comments! 

If you want to sate more of your bookish hunger, be sure to put the Mid-South Book Festival on your calendar. We’ll have tons of authors, literary events, and a street fair. We hope to see you there!

*Faulkner also served as Postmaster at the University of Mississippi in 1921, a position that he resigned from. Check out his resignation letter