Man learns to read at age 96 – and publishes book at 98
If there was ever a story to teach us that it’s never to late to learn something new, this is it.
James Arrudra Henry hid the fact that he was illiterate until just two years ago. At 96-years-old, he moved to Academy Point, a senior’s home in Mystic, Connecticut, where at long last, he began to open up about how he had never learned to read.
Years earlier, he was inspired by George Dawson, the grandson of a slave who at age 98 wanted to earn his high school diploma by learning to read and write. Dawson went on to write the book Life Is So Good.
Once at Academy Point, Henry received tutoring from Mark Hogan, a retired English teacher who volunteers with Literary Volunteers of East Connecticut. They started with the alphabet, his name, small words and then books designed for first-graders.
Two years later Henry is now a published author, releasing an autobiography entitled In A Fisherman’s Language. The book is a collection of short stories including his experience as a professional boxer, the time he was unable to save a fellow fisherman who fell overboard, and his arrival by boat from Portugal as a child with his parents. Many of the stories include tales from his career on the ocean.
The cover of the book is a tribute to his new found ability, featuring a photo of Henry’s hand in black and white as he writes on a piece of paper.
Previously unable to even sign his name, he worked hard to perfect his signature for the official release of the book, and book signing that followed.
“I feel so good about doing this. I don’t know what to do or what to say. I feel like I was just born. Here I am, nothing but a fisherman before and now everyone is looking up to me. It makes me feel so happy,” Henry told The Day.
The book’s foreword was written by his oldest grandchild, Marlisa McLaughlin, who noted she learned about the sea growing up through his uncanny ability to tell stories.
“The collection of stories which follows is the result of his extraordinary journey into literacy, and the following selection of memories reflect his natural approach to storytelling,” the foreword says.
When Henry was in the third grade, his father took him and his brother out of school so they could work odd jobs. As he grew older, he was able to hide his illiteracy from friends and relatives through tricks like ordering something he heard someone else already order on the menu at a restaurant, and he was able to write his name just enough to get by.
When his grand-nephew Bobby heard he was trying to learn to read, he told Henry he would no longer accept phone calls from him – he wanted a letter. A few weeks ago, Henry wrote that letter, and he considers it an achievement as important as the book.
It reads,”Dear Bobby. This is your Uncle Jim. I know that you must have thought I forgot all about you but I would like to thank you. I could never forget you because of the way that you said to me that you would not take a phone call from me. I know you meant well. You gave me the ambition to answer you. And I thank you. I will try my best to please all of you that are helping me. I thank you all. J.H.”
Turns out this is just the beginning for Henry’s career in publishing, as he told The Day, “I have so much more to write down.”
Sources: Yahoo, CNN, The Day