Reading-2A new initiative is turning Women in Recovery (WIR) participants into bookworms – and helping them in their healing. Earlier this year, WIR received funding from the Oklahoma Humanities Council to establish a reading enrichment program. Visiting scholars, primarily college professors and librarians, assign a book which women have one month to complete. The scholars then lead a lively, group exploration of the authors’ backgrounds, literary themes and how the text applies to participants’ lives.

Nearly 35 women – those in the first phase of the 18-month WIR curriculum – participate in the reading program. Recovery support specialist Debbie Wright-Burns says the program has helped boost women’s academic and social skills and improved their ability to work as a team.

When faced with difficult vocabulary or unfamiliar concepts, “they help each other. Sometimes, they read to each other out loud in their apartments,” says Wright-Burns.

Reading also helps the women – who have experienced poverty, addiction, abuse other significant traumas in their lives – realize the possibilities that exist with recovery.

“Books give us the opportunity to step in other people’s lives and look at something different than our own,” says Shelby*, an enthusiastic reader and WIR participant.

Shelby and her fellow bookworms have already tackled works that range from a modern political retrospective to a collection of letters from the early 20th century. They’re currently pouring over Dust Track on a Road, an autobiography about one woman’s path from childhood poverty to an influential role in the Harlem Renaissance.


* name changed to protect client’s identity