A life-and-death struggle

In Cleveland, Mississippi, a good man retires after 30 long years on the job:

People just don’t realize the stress of a Mississippi librarian’s life, he says. People don’t understand what it takes to keep those front doors open–or what’s at stake if you don’t. Reading, [Ronnie] Wise believes, is life. Illiteracy, therefore, is death. He witnesses its stranglehold every day. Shopping at the grocery store, standing in line at the bank or post office, he’s constantly accosted by strangers trying to conceal their secret behind the same lie. “Excuse me,” they say. “Forgot my glasses–could you tell me what this says?”

People call him a librarian, and he surely looks like a librarian, with his sedentary frame, thick eyeglasses, fastidiously trimmed hair and goatee. But, deep down, he feels like something else, something more. He feels like the Sisyphus of Mississippi. He feels like a superhero in one of his beloved comic books, even though he fights the forces of darkness with little more than night classes and meager grants, and he loses more than he wins; 30 years of that would make even Spider-Man cranky.

So thoroughly has Wise devoted himself to crusading for literacy, to creating a book-lined fortress in the middle of the book-starved Delta, that everyone around here figured he’d die among his books. “Just felt like it was time to close this chapter of my life,” he tells them all with a tight smile.

J.R. Moehringer writes a great profile of this prickly, thoroughly unreadable man. Please read it.

(Thanks, Maud.)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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