50th Stories: A Nurturing Parent

Celebrating 50 Years of Teachers & Writers Collaborative

T&W was a nourishing parent for my neophyte and developing Read To Me Program. Through T&W’s generous welcome, I got immediate street cred and access to the NYC Board of Ed’s teen parent program, LYFE. Additionally, I was able to apply for grants available to nonprofit organizations to develop and expand.

The sense of community was paramount. Everyone was interested in my work to encourage teen mothers to read with their babies. In the beginning, Nancy, Ron and Pat, Chris, Simon, Bruce, Jade, and Carol made room for me to develop ideas, develop materials, and share lunch at the aqua table. There were always interesting people and poets coming in the beautiful office on Union Square. T&W was open minded and open hearted.

I remember Joe Brainard’s I Remember.

  1. I remember Ron Padgett sweeping the floor with a large janitorial broom.
  2. I remember Nancy’s laugh.
  3. I remember the flexibility of the office furniture and space. With very little effort, the front area could be a quiet and comfortable reading room, support a small or large conference, offer space for a training program for Read To Me Program leaders, host a student poetry reading, or become a party space with music and wine.
  4. I remember a launch party to celebrate the Read To Me Program video. All of the teen moms attended. Each received a copy of the film and oceans of appreciative applause.
  5. During several months following the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center towers, I remember developing small cartoons for the Read To Me Program website. It felt creative, healthy, proactive, and therapeutic.
  6. The Read To Me Program featured excellent children’s writer-illustrators as guest artists for each program. Each of them gave generously of themselves and autographed copies of their books for the moms and their babies. Here is a partial list of these wonderful, award-winning artists, including the Dillons, who won back-to-back Caldecotts: Pat Cumming, Leo and Diane Dillon, Denise Lewis Patrick, Vera B. Williams, Elizabeth Winthrop, Cheryl Hudson, Melanie Hope Greenberg.
  7. Thanks to the guidance of T&W’s Lucy Kostelanetz, we made two films with Ames Hill Video’s Kate Purdie and Andy Reichsman. The first one documented an entire Read To Me Program. The second one, Reading With Babies, featured actual babies from 2 to 23 months “reading” and interacting with books and parents. It remains an unusual, rich resource for all kinds of professional folks working with very young children: pediatricians, social workers, librarians, early childhood educators, and day care providers. It also won an award!

I remain deeply grateful to Nancy Shapiro, Amy Swauger, and Ron Padgett, to name only three, for allowing me to be part of T&W for 15 extraordinary years.

Susan Straub

Susan Straub is the founder of the Read To Me Program, which encourages teen parents to read books with their babies. The program has been featured in O Magazine and has been awarded many honors.