Federal Study Shows Many Literate People Prefer Not to Read “Literature”

A new report by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) finds a precipitous decline in literary reading in America, especially among young adults.

The NEA report, “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” says fewer than half of American adults read poems, plays, or narrative fiction. Mark Bauerlein, director of the NEA's Office of Research and Analysis, says many of the 17,000 adults surveyed are aliterate — that is, they have all the qualifications for literacy, but choose not to read.

As the NEA administrator explains, people from all walks of life have simply lost their interest in literary reading. “We see declines in literary reading across every group, whether marked by age, income, education, race, or region,” Bauerlein says. “But the strongest decline — and the most worrisome for the future of literary culture in this country — is that of young adults, people aged 18 to 34.”

The NEA says its findings document a “national crisis” because reading develops a “capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches both private and public life.” According to the report, there has been a ten percent decline in literary reading among adults since 1982, as well as a drop in non-fiction forms of reading.

Bauerlein says the overall findings could have far-reaching ramifications. “Now what it means for the country, it's hard to tell. The best you can gather right now is kind of anecdotal evidence,” he admits. “If you ask teachers in [college] English classes, they will tell you that the students coming into classes these days — 21-, 22-year-olds — are not as widely read as they used to be.”

Bauerlein says it is unfortunate, but it is becoming more and more difficult to get college students to read works of literature that exceed 200 pages.

Interestingly, in direct contrast to the decline in literary reading, the survey found a 30 percent increase over the last two decades in the number of people who are doing creative writing (11 million in 1982 vs. 14 million in 2002). During the same period, however, more than two million fewer individuals reported having taken a creative writing class or lesson.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press).

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