Zombies, Women and Libraries: Dawn of the Unread

27th May 2015

Dawn Of The Unread
What if the writers and literary characters of the past became so incensed by library closures that they rose from the dead? That's the brilliantly creepy premise behind Dawn of the Unread, a project that addresses the serious issues of illiteracy and loss of library funding in a playful and engaging way. Kate Lunn takes a closer look, and introduces some of the fantastic woman writers and artists involved.

Dawn of the Unread is a Nottingham-based project designed to get more young people reading; it is
an attempt to modernise literature and to create a ‘thirst for knowledge’. Their range of ‘interactive graphic novels’ aim to make reading interesting to people raised in the digital world.

Based around figures from Nottingham’s cultural history (from writers to mythic figures to local eccentrics), the initiative was partly set up to reverse this timely statistic, noted in the Dawn of the Unread Manifesto:

If your parents have low levels of education, you are five times more likely to have poor proficiency in literacy than your peers whose parents enjoyed higher levels of education. In England and Northern Ireland, the probability is eight times greater. So the most acute failure to provide young people with skills is for those right at the bottom of the social and economic pile.With public libraries and initiatives now in a more precarious position than ever, these literacy rates must be given a high priority. The way to get young people excited about reading is to give them something they want to read. If they don’t see reading as important, literacy levels will sink lower and libraries will be pushed even further down the pecking order.

There are 15 issues of Dawn of the Unread, viewable here. The final issue will be published on June 8th. Here are closer looks at three issues exclusively written and illustrated by women.

Dawn of the Unread_Psychos

Issue number 6, ‘Psychos’, is written by Nicola Monaghan and illustrated by Judit Ferencz. You can read it here. It is a story about drugs and raving, set when ‘they were closing down the libraries.’ Kerrie, the protagonist in Monaghan’s novel The Killing Jar, has grown up with a junkie mother. In ‘Psychos’ she meets Alfred Hitchcock’s wife, Alma. The two have a conversation about the psychos in their lives. Judit Ferencz’s illustrations are fairly abstract and suit Monaghan’s writing well. Ferencz’s use of reds and blacks brilliantly amplifies the words on the page.

Dawn of the Unread_Ms Hood

Issue number 10, ‘Ms. Hood’ is a poem by Aly Stoneman and is illustrated by Amanda Elanor Tribble. It begins with Ms Hood as she grows up with her ‘mate’ Rob on the same housing estate. It can be viewed here.

Obviously inspired by Robin Hood, young Rob becomes an anarchist, angry with the state of contemporary society. His old friend, Ms Hood, aces her A-Levels and can only watch while her ‘mate’ goes down a tragic road. Ms Hood is not merely the love interest of Robin; she has her own opinions and goals.

Tribble’s illustrations are colourful and emphasise the heart-breaking narrative. The final page reminds us that ‘next time you read about a leaked memo, an inside source, a lead / exposing corruption, lies and greed / Robin Hood will never be gone; his fight goes on.’

Will you walk_Dawn of the Unread

Issue number 13, ‘Will You Step Into My Parlour’, was written by Alison Moore and illustrated by Corrina Rothwell. You can view it here.

Mary Howitt’s ghost comes back to visit a couple of friends playing with a Ouija board. Though Mary and her husband wrote 70 books between them, ‘their names are not well known these days.’ This leaves Mary feeling sad. She is also, understandably, fairly hungry.

They go to the local library, where dead writers are not forgotten. The library is beautifully described as a place where ‘spirits of the past walk among us.’ Rothwell’s illustrations are interesting, combining photographs and ghostly images of poor Mary with more contemporary looking colourful people.

Women (and men) are getting an opportunity to tell their stories via words and art in conjunction with well-known nuggets of Nottingham lore. And to do it all to inspire less-privileged readers to be aware of what reading can achieve – that they could tell their own stories – makes Dawn of the Unread an even more wonderful thing.