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Boy Lifts Book; Librarian Changes Boy's Life

Susan Notes:

In my teaching career, librarians were the people who went those extra 10,000 steps for kids. Every day.

Morning Edition
Steve Inskeep, host.

It is a Friday morning, which is when we hear from our program StoryCorps, which is traveling the country recording Americans as they share stories about their lives. Today, we're going to hear how a teenage boy fell in love - with books.

Olly Neal grew up in Arkansas during the '50s - didn't care much for high school - and one day he cut class and wandered to the library. We're going to hear, now, as he tells his daughter what happened when he stumbled onto a book written by African-American author Frank Yerby.

Mr. OLLY Neal: I was a rather troubled high school senior at the time, about 16 years old. And I spotted this book that looked rather risqué called "The Treasure of Pleasant Valley." On the cover was a drawing of a woman who appeared to be wearing something that was basically see-through, but the symbolism was really great for me at that age of 16.

And then I realized if I read the book, two of my classmates - girls were volunteering in the library - and if they saw me taking out a book, they'd tell the boys then my reputation would be down 'cause I was reading books. And I wanted them to know that all I could do was fight and cuss.

And so finally it come to me: just steal the book. And so, when I finished the book in about, oh a week or two, I brought it back. And when I put it back, there was another book by Frank Yerby. So, I thought, maybe I'll read that, too. So, I took it under my jacket. And later, I brought it back, and there was â by God, there was another book by Frank Yerby. So I took it.

And I think that semester I read four books by Frank Yerby. And several years -13 to be exact - we were at a gathering at my high school for my class reunion, and the teacher who had been the librarian, Mrs. Mildred Grady, was there. She told me that she saw me take that book when I first took it.

She said, my first thought was to go over there and tell him, boy, you don't have to steal a book, you can check them out â they're free. Then she realized what my situation was â that I could not let anybody know I was reading.

So, ,she said that she decided that if a old boy would read a book, she and Mrs. Saunders would drive to Memphis and find another one for me to read â and they would put it in the exact same place where the one I'd taken was. And every time I took one out, they headed to Memphis to find another one.

Now, you got to understand that this was not an easy matter then because this is 1957 and '58 and black authors were not especially available, number one. And number two, Frank Yerby was not such a widely known author. And number three, they had to drive all the way to Memphis to find it.

And I credit Mrs. Grady for getting me in the habit of enjoying reading so that I was able to go to law school and survive.

Ms. KARAMA NEAL: That's pretty cool.

Mr. NEAL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: The story of Olly Neal, who is now Judge Olly Neal. He sat down with his daughter Karama in Little Rock, Arkansas.

— Morning Edition.



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