The Value of Literacy (Partners)

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Ethan Hawke at Literacy Partners 50th Anniversary Evening Of Readings & Gala Dinner at Pier 60.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Another one of those beautiful late Spring days yesterday in New York with temps in the high 70s with lots of sunshine and more of those massive white tufts of cumulus clouds. Although today, according to the weatherman, it might be even cloudier and look like rain. Or maybe not with maybe some moisture coming our way.

This past Monday night, Literacy Partners annual Evening of Readings & Gala Dinner where they were celebrating their 50th Anniversary.

More than anyone else, Liz made Literacy Partners what it is today. But, she never did it alone. A few years into her work with Literacy Partners, Liz recruited her dear friends, Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi. Together the three of them changed the course of history for tens of thousands of families.

The evening reminded me of my first attendance at one of their annuals. I had been invited by Liz Smith along with high fashion designer Arnold Scaasi and his domestic partner (and later husband) publishing executive Parker Ladd. The duo were major black tie social figures, and of course Liz was a major entertainment columnist and television figure for decades.

When I first attended, Liz explained to me that the Partners raised funds to pay for reading lessons for individuals (adults) who couldn’t (didn’t know how to) read. What was surprising to me, and evidently had been surprising to the trio, was that many ordinary people couldn’t read! Never learned, illiterate. It was a phenomenon.

Many of the students (all adults of various ages) were men and women who had come to America as young adults from various countries where they spoke another language and/or were never taught English in their native lands.

In the mid-’90s it was also naturally assumed that all American adults, of course, had learned to read as children in schools. It was through Literacy Partners that we learned that even many Americans couldn’t read, and had never learned for one reason or another — usually explained socio-economically — came as a shock.

Each year the annual evening was a formal dinner. It always began with two or three men and women who had been students of the Literacy Partners, reading something to the evening’s paying guests. The program also included the invited celebrities — mainly famous actors and writers — reading something they had chosen to amuse the evening’s guests. This also demonstrated to the “students” that they had attained a basic level of equality, and no longer carried the embarrassment of not knowing.

It was one of those moments when everyone in the room had the pleasure of learning we were all equal. This was America at the time.

This year, Literacy Partners hosted their annual Evening of Readings & Gala Dinner down at Pier Sixty overlooking the Hudson River. The original founders and supporters had of course passed on to greater heights, and the evening has developed into an “Awards” program, honoring recipients across multiple categories and organizations.


Cynthia McFadden.
The evening was hosted by former NBC News correspondent Cynthia McFadden.

The Literacy Leadership Award recognizes HarperCollins’s 200-year legacy of promoting literary excellence and thanks them for bolstering our literacy initiatives. HarperCollins has also partnered with Literacy Partners for over 30 years.

The Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledges former Simon & Schuster Editor and author Michael Korda’s indelible mark on the publishing world and commitment to advancing literacy.

The Spirit of Literacy Award signifies Deborah Roberts and Al Roker’s dedication to literacy, as award-winning authors and journalists, inspiring countless individuals for decades.

The prestigious LIZZIE Award pays tribute to Elizabeth T. Peabody, a close friend of Literacy Partners patron saint, Liz Smith, and someone who embodies Lizzie’s tireless devotion to promoting literacy.


Brian Murray accepts The Literacy Leadership Award on behalf of HarperCollins, with Courtney Kapes Lewis.

Michael Korda receives an award from Joni Evans onstage during the Literacy Partners 50th Anniversary Evening Of Readings & Gala Dinner.
Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Korda with Joni Evans.
Spirit of Literacy Award recipients Deborah Roberts and Al Roker.
LIZZIE Award recipient Elizabeth T. Peabody.

The Champion of Literacy Award honored four extraordinary literary powerhouses:

Julia Alvarez, a pioneering and widely-recognized Dominican-American author whose 50-year career has amplified the voices of Latina authors.

Viola Davis, Academy Award-winning actress, producer, New York Times bestselling author, and founder of JVL Media which gives voice to underrepresented author.

Ethan Hawke, four-time Academy Award nominated artist and one of Hollywood’s most multi-faceted stars: actor, screenwriter, director, producer and best-selling novelist.

Anthony Tassi, Literacy Partners CEO, whose visionary leadership over the past 11 years has profoundly impacted the organization’s mission.


Champion of Literacy Award recipient Julia Alvarez.
Champion of Literacy Award recipient Viola Davis.
Brian Murray and Viola Davis.
Brian Murray and Viola Davis.
Champion of Literacy Award recipient Ethan Hawke.
Champion of Literacy Award recipient Anthony Tassi.
Student reader Sophia Nichson.

Funds raised during the event supports Literacy Partners’ mission of helping adults transform their lives and create a brighter future for their children through the power of literacy. Programming focuses on parents of young children with evidence-based practices and innovative partnerships to create a two-generation impact through our free classes, community workshops, and educational media.

Literacy Partners’ programs break the cycle of poverty, improve job prospects, and close the achievement gap for children before they even begin school.


Literacy Partners board members.
Guests participate in a paddle raise. Guests also enjoyed a special performance by Rare_Vintage and music composed by JB Bontemps.
Prince Dimitri and Jackie Weld Drake.

The Gala Committee included Co-Chairs Courtney E.K. Lewis and Cynthia McFadden, and Committee members Marie Brenner, Peter Brown, Jacqueline Weld Drake, Joni Evans, Katharine Raymond Hinton, Sheila Nevins, Victoria Chu Pao, Jordan Pavlin, Elizabeth T. Peabody, Perri Peltz, Lesley Stahl, Holland Taylor, and Fareed Zakaria. Special thanks to Golden Anniversary Sponsors HarperCollins Publishers and News Corp.

The evening raised over $1 million to support innovative literacy education, advocacy and programming in New York City.


Ryan Hawke and Ethan Hawke.
Ryan Hawke and Ethan Hawke.
L. to r.: Sung Jin Hong and Adrienne Metzinger; Erin Crum, Kelly Rudolph, and Leah Wasielewski.
Lavaille Lavette, Viola Davis, and Judith Curr
Lavaille Lavette, Viola Davis, and Judith Curr.
Richard Hooper and RyAnn McKay.
Richard Hooper and RyAnn McKay.
Bill Eichner and Julia Alvarez; Tinika Brown Davis and Anthony Tassi
L. to r.: Bill Eichner and Julia Alvarez; Tinika Brown Davis and Anthony Tassi.
Jon Yaged.
Al Roker, Deborah Roberts, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, and Spencer Means.
Joni Evans and Michael Korda
Joni Evans and Michael Korda.
Viola Davis and Ethan Hawke.
Al Roker, Laura Jarrett, Craig Melvin, and Cynthia McFadden.
Jordan Pavlin and Ethan Hawke.
Joni Evans, Lesley Stahl, and Cynthia McFadden.
Elizabeth T. Peabody and friend.
Laura Jarrett, Tony Balkissoon, Lindsay Czarniak and Craig Melvin
Laura Jarrett, Tony Balkissoon, Lindsay Czarniak, and Craig Melvin.
Anthony Tassi, Sophia Nichson and friend
Anthony Tassi, Sophia Nichson, and Ritu Moondra.
Cynthia McFadden and friends.

Courtesy of Getty Images for Literacy Partners

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