What makes D.C. the most literate city in America?

Panelists discuss what makes Washington the most literate city in America, June 3 at the Scottish Rite building. (Photo courtesy of Christine Grimaldi)
Panelists discuss what makes Washington the most literate city in America, June 3 at the Scottish Rite building in Washington, DC. (Photo courtesy of Christine Grimaldi)

UPDATE (June 4): Last night at the Scottish Rite Freemasons’ annual PEN/Faulkner dinner, we had a fascinating discussion about what makes Washington the most literate city in America. We heard from Leslie Cockburn, writer and filmmaker; Mary Kay Zuravleff, novelist and teacher; Alissa Repanshek, PricewaterhouseCoopers corporate executive; and Daniel Kois, senior editor for Slate.

As the moderator, I wasn’t able to take notes, which was incredibly frustrating, but a member of the audience, Sierra Prasada, was live-tweeting, and this morning she kindly allowed me to republish her tweets. They give a flavor of our discussion:

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For a moment, set aside your complaints about the humidity and the traffic and the politicians, and remember that Washington is the most literate city in America.

Each year, Central Connecticut State University looks at cities with more than 250,00 people, and for four years in a row the District has come out on top on a per capita basis that considers “bookstores, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, periodical publishing resources and newspaper circulation.”

How can that be — and what does it suggest about the nation’s capital?

Please join us for a conversation of this issue at the Scottish Rite Freemasons’ annual PEN/Faulkner dinner on Tuesday, June 3. I’ll be moderating a panel discussion with Leslie Cockburn, writer and filmmaker; Mary Kay Zuravleff, novelist and teacher; Alissa Repanshek, PricewaterhouseCoopers corporate executive; and Daniel Kois, senior editor for Slate.

I’ll ask these panelists what it really means to be the country’s “most literate city.” How do we reconcile this honor with the fact that more than 80 percent of the city’s 8th graders are not proficient in reading? How can we promote a more literate culture? How are the roles of libraries and bookstores (and newspapers!) changing in the age of e-books and “Twitter fiction”?

Bring your own questions — or send them to me beforehand via e-mail (ron.charles@washpost.com).

The program will start at 7 p.m., with a reception and buffet afterwards. It’s free and open to the public, but attendance is limited. For reservations call (202) 232-8155 or email jdholt@dcsr.org.

NOTE: This event will be at the Scottish Rite building at 2800 16th (at Columbia Road NW) not at the Scottish Rite building at 16th & S.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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