In early 2015, I answered a Facebook post seeking a reading instructor for an adult literacy class at the Midnight Mission in LA's Skid Row. I got the gig on the basis of my passion for reading, my willingness to show up and interview, and past experience as a horse wrangler, which apparently qualified as proof that I didn't scare easy.
Over the ensuing four and a half years, I created curriculum for a weekly class that toed the line between critical thinking, an eighth grade literacy equivalent, and a question and answer forum by which recovering addicts and newly post-homeless people asked about life's deeper questions.
The biggest challenge beyond consistency, interpersonal conflict resolution, and maintaining a breadth of readily available broad knowledge was presenting material that engaged students in a way that made reading look like an exciting pastime.
After a couple years of ad-hocing curriculum together, I took a grant writing class through UCLA Extension and began pitching the idea for an experimental textbook.
The Skid Row Reader came to fruition in no small part thanks to my enduring friendship with Bill Deverell. He graciously shepherded my grant proposal to the Vera Campbell Foundation and offered the services of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West as both a financial partner and a source of matching funds.
The end result was a "digressive" text meant to encompass a broad campus of ideas where students could make their own associations and guide the individual learning sessions into something personally meaningful.