Songs Inspired by Literature: Singing the Praises of Reading

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The written word's influence on other artistic mediums is often taken for granted, but San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Deborah Pardes is hoping that literature's broad reach into other art forms will inspire both the illiterate and alliterate alike to read.

Pardes founded the nonprofit Artists for Literacy (AFL), which in March released its second CD to benefit literacy programs, Songs Inspired by Literature, Chapter Two. The CD and an information sheet will be included in an ABA Welcome Pack that will be distributed to booksellers at this year's BookExpo America in Los Angeles.

Pardes told BTW in a recent interview, "It's amazing how one piece of literature can inspire art, and it's unlocking the words for someone who can't read or can read but is alliterate and doesn't choose to read."

In 2000, Pardes started the Songs Inspired by Literature Project (SIBL) believing that music inspired by books could be used to help promote literacy. AFL evolved out of the success and achievements of SIBL. AFL is an arts-based nonprofit organization that provides adult and family literacy programs with communications expertise and compelling materials to help them maximize their limited resources. AFL seeks to facilitate the building of local coalitions between artists, teachers, adult learners, literacy program staff, library staff, business owners, and government officials.

Songs Inspired by Literature, Chapter Two is a compilation of 16 songs and features performances by such artists as David Bowie, Steve Earle, Tom Waits, and Roseanne Cash, as well as up-and-coming artists. Proceeds from the sale of the $15 CD ($10 wholesale) will directly benefit literacy projects that serve over 44 million American adults who cannot read above the fifth grade level.

However, Pardes hopes the CDs might also prompt those who can read, but do not, to pick up a book again. She explained that, in the same way that a hit movie based on a book might influence someone to read the book, she hopes her benefit CDs might do the same. "A Gallup poll in 1998 noted that 60 percent of people had not read a book in the previous year," she said.

Both SIBL CDs can also be good sales tools. Pardes noted that Chapter One was especially popular with some book clubs in her area. "Now, we want to market Chapters One and Two to book clubs," she said, and noted that a bookseller might place books referenced on the SIBL CDs on a display table with the CDs. "This is a great cause, and we need to push this," she said. "[The CDs] are a great way of connecting two different mediums. People are afraid of books, but they are not afraid of the things inspired by books."

For more information or to order CDs, contact Pardes via e-mail at [email protected]; or order online at --David Grogan