Student Stories: From Illiterate to Author

“Most people think that they don’t know anyone who can’t read, but the person who can’t read is your co-worker, your next door neighbor or the person you just passed on the street. It’s the person sitting beside of you in the church pew."

Meet Earl Mills. Earl is all too familiar with the shame and embarrassment of being illiterate. At 45 years old, Earl was married with five children, owned his own home, and worked for 25 years at the same company. Yet he had a secret that few others knew: he could not read.

His lack of reading skill was exposed when he was put on the spot at church one night when he was asked to read a Bible passage. The problem was that at 44 years old, he couldn’t read. No one knew except his wife. Earl says, "When you can’t read, you keep it under a lock and a key and you let hardly anyone inside of that part of your life."

Earl sought the assistance of the Craven Literacy Council. When he went to them they assessed him at a second-grade reading level. He had trouble spelling words like girl and bird. With sheer determination he embarked on a three-year process of learning how to read. In addition to improving his literacy skills, Mills developed his ability to capture the frustrations and triumphs through his poetry. Today, he has published several books of poetry, including From Illiterate to Poet and From Illiterate to Author.

Ear is now a passionate advocate for adult literacy. He recently attended the National ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Literacy in Charleston, South Carolina where he was asked to read a few of his inspiring poems to the audience of 500 adult literacy professionals. ProLiteracy is a national nonprofit whose mission is to help adults learn to read by developing materials and programs for over 1,000 literacy member programs across the country. When adults learn to read and write, they have the power to change their lives and their communities.

Twenty Six Letters

by Earl Mills

Befuddled by the alphabet, fifty years old and can’t read yet.

Twenty–six letters have brought me such shame;

someone asked me to spell my name.

Another bulletin at work today, who can I ask – what does it say?

Grandpa, will you read this book to me?

I tell her the letters are too small to see.

I don’t have my glasses; I’m running late; I am victim to this lie I hate.

Cannot read – won’t tell a soul;

secret of my youth- now I am old.

Letter after letter I can’t figure out; frustration inside, a silent shout.

Twenty-six letters can raise so much hell;

their riddles to me they will not tell.

This secret stay locked within, but I will not let these letters win.


  • ludo king 51 days ago
    Thanks to the author for the article! Very pleased!
    ludo king

  • Astounding story! I would love to peruse a greater amount of your verse! Congrats on your adventure that permitted you to share the brutal reality that such a variety of individuals can't read. Ideally, we can end absence of education - single word at once!

  • HR Research Paper Help 327 days ago
    I adored your lyric. Your sonnet was solid and conveyed your voice all through the ballad. It was very unique. I additionally might want to peruse a greater amount of your work. Absence of education is as yet a section our general public. As a resigned instructor, I might want to see a number of the youngsters who are battling, get more offer assistance. -

  • Google 1 years 2 days ago
    Great Post

  • google 1 years 7 days ago
    grreat post

  • Jennifer Brown Banks 1 years 219 days ago
    Be proud that you are striving to know more and grow more. My mom always says you're never too old to learn. Congrats!

  • Betty R Anderson 1 years 252 days ago
    Betty Anderson

    I loved your poem. Your poem was strong and carried your voice throughout the poem. It was quite original. I also would like to read more of your work. Illiteracy is still a part our society. As a retired teacher, I would like to see many of the children who are struggling, get more help.

  • Cathy Milne 1 years 272 days ago
    Amazing story! I would love to read more of your poetry! Congratulations on your journey that allowed you to share the harsh reality that so many people cannot read. Hopefully, we can end illiteracy - one word at a time!



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