Bookmobile Program Encourages NYC Literacy, Highlights 17-Year-Old Writer

House of SpeakEasy brought its Bookmobile of free books to Bella Abzug Park, along with 17-year-old Michael Hoffen, who discussed his new book “Be a Scribe.”

| 09 Jul 2024 | 04:06

17-year-old Michael Hoffen not only learned to read hieroglyphics for fun, but published a book to prove it. Now, he’s passing on his love of words and language to the next generation through a partnership with a New York City literacy organization.

House of SpeakEasy brought its SpeakEasy Bookmobile to Bella Abzug Park park at W. 36th between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues on July 9, offering free, primarily children-friendly, books to New York City park goers.

“We are a literary and arts nonprofit, and we are attempting to increase literacy throughout the city via a number of initiatives,” said Mia Arias Tsang, a program coordinator with House of SpeakEasy. In addition to other programs, “we also have our Bookmobile, which is this beautiful, purple box truck with shelves on the outside, and it travels through all five boroughs of New York City, handing out books for free to the public.”

In addition to copies of “Be a Scribe” by Hoffen, Christian Casey, and Jen Thum—the focus of the July 9 event specifically—shelves were stocked with picture books like ”The Monster at the End of this Book,” installments in beloved series like ”Ramona and her Father,” and newer books like ”The Great Transition.”

“Be a Scribe” is an English translation of a story originally written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is accompanied by visuals including an original map.

The project began back in 2020, when Hoffen found himself looking for ways to occupy his time during the COVID-19 lockdown. He had initially intended to take a class in-person on hieroglyphics, but when that was canceled he sought out his would-be teacher, Casey, who would eventually become his co-writer, in pursuit of the knowledge anyway.

After studying for a couple years, Hoffen spent two months translating the hieroglyphic story into English before putting in even more time compiling the book itself.

“I wanted to do something that everyone could read, as opposed to just being a scholarly work,” Hoffen said. “There have been translations done of this text before, but I wanted to make it easy to understand.”

He explained the plot of the book to a group of children readers during a Q&A at the Bookmobile event—a father tries to convince his child to become a scribe, explaining what is wrong with every other possible profession.

“I hope that people get to get the book, and I also hope that they get to learn more about the process, too, of writing the book,” Hoffen said. “Those are the two main goals.”

At one point, Arias Tsang told the group of children present for the Q&A that, “You guys could write a book when you’re 16!” Programs like the SpeakEasy Bookmobile make this all the more possible by not only giving these kids access to books at a young age, but also showing them a person who did accomplish what they could, too, in Hoffen.

“Even if you think that, ‘Oh, no one’s going to buy this,’ or ‘No one’s going to want to read this,’” Hoffen started. “I think the real accomplishment isn’t that people bought it, it’s that you wrote the book.”

More generally, House of SpeakEasy hopes to bring this type of event back in the future, after seeing the impact it had on July 9.

“It’s going great so far, we’ve had an amazing turnout already,” Arias Tsang said. “I definitely think this will be a great format for events going forward.”