Meredith Jaffe has generously been donating her time to coordinate our Ambassador Program for nearly three years. She says that it’s very important for us as a library to have writers as our Ambassadors as they are uniquely placed to understand the power of books to transform our lives. Meredith also gave her take on how why reading is a universal right.
How did you start volunteering for The Footpath Library?
It actually started with International Bookgiving Day which aims to get books into the hands of children. It’s held on Valentine’s Day each year and I thought it was a much better idea for my kids’ school to focus on giving books to those in need than it was to worry about roses, cards and chocolates. I had read about The Footpath Library and thought it would be just the place for the children to donate their new and gently loved books to. Founding Director Sarah Garnett came to our school to officially accept the books on The Footpath Library’s behalf and so our relationship began.
What does your role with The Footpath Library involve?
As the Ambassador Program Coordinator, my initial responsibility was to recruit The Footpath Library’s Ambassadors in each state in which we operate. As a library, it is very important to us that we have writers to be our Ambassadors as they are uniquely placed to understand the power of books to transform our lives. Recruiting our talented team of Ambassadors was a great joy as they all wanted to be a part of what The Footpath Library shares with the community.
What has been a highlight for you during your time with The Footpath Library?
I am very proud to be associated with The Footpath Library. Every time I put on my The Footpath Library hat and talk to publishers, writers, readers and the broader community it reinforces the importance and the impact of what The Footpath Library achieves every single day.
How do you think using ambassadors supports the work of The Footpath Library?
Each of our ambassadors brings their unique experience to the equation – not only as a writer, a voice that reflects our society, its values and paradoxes, but as people. Reading their statements on our website is a reminder of the twists and turns life’s journey takes us on. Each of them has been touched personally by the possibility and sometimes actuality of homelessness. The gift of this experience is understanding and that is a gift that is shared across The Footpath Library “family.”
What’s your involvement with the EPIC! Short Story competition?
EPIC! Is EPIC! It’s so exciting to be able to dream up and run a competition specifically aimed at younger Australians. I’m not going to lie and say it is easy, there are volunteers putting in some hard yards to make sure we reach out to students and teachers and that EPIC! runs smoothly. Reading the 380 odd entries we received this year filled my heart as these little snapshots of life all around the country shine a light on the imagination and experiences of our children. It was so, so hard narrowing down the longlists of Primary and Secondary entries to a mere 25 each. And now I have passed the baton onto our judging panel (and The Footpath Library Ambassadors). I can’t wait to see which stories they pick as this year’s winners. But I don’t envy them having to choose either!
Why do you think providing books to homeless people matters?
The whole point of books is that wherever you are in life, however young or old you are, stories allow you to travel somewhere else. Climbing mountains, travelling 20,000 leagues under the sea, experiencing the greatest love or the greatest loss – these should all be experiences within each of our grasps. Books allow you to escape, or to walk in someone else’s shoes, and that privilege should never belong only to those who can afford to buy a book or have an address that allows them to borrow a book. To read is a universal right.
What do you love about reading?
Love, joy, sadness, loss. Someone has written a book about it that is just waiting to remind us that we are never alone. That’s the thing I love most about reading.
If there was one myth you could dispel about homeless people, what would it be?
That fault is attached to homelessness. Blaming people for the circumstances in which they find themselves is judgmental, erroneous and becomes a hurdle to finding solutions.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering for The Footpath Library?
Do it! There are so many ways to be involved with The Footpath Library–from giving books to giving time, as long as you give a damn it all helps.
Do you have a favourite genre of books/author, if so why?
Oh I hate this question! I definitely don’t have a favourite genre. A great book is a great book is a great book. Authors are trickier. I studied English Literature at University so it’s inevitable that my tastes run to the likes of Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. My favourite writers from the 19th century are definitely Henry James and George Eliot. My favourite contemporary writers range from Margaret Atwood, Carl Hiaasen, PG Wodehouse and Fay Weldon. My favourite Australian writer is Elizabeth Jolley by a country mile.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m preparing for my sessions at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May so in the past month I have read all Liane Moriarty’s books for adults, The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion and Brooke Davis’ delightfully whimsical Lost & Found. I can’t wait to sit down and chat with each of them in person.