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'Riding for Reading'

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Like many recent college graduates, Seth and James Levy have decided to take a cross-country trip to see a bit of America. The Levys have more than sightseeing in mind, however: they want to inculcate in students a love of reading and creative writing.

Last September, the brothers set out from Rockport, Maine, on a cross-country "Ride for Reading" bicycle trip in an effort to inspire junior-high students to read, write, and create their own stories.

The Levys, who are scheduled to finish their trek in San Francisco by the end of May, are the core of "Streetside Stories," a nonprofit organization they founded to combat "aliteracy"--a disinterest in reading--and the growing indifference they see to regional culture and lore.

Seth, a 1986 graduate of Georgetown University, conceived the bike ride as a way to draw attention to the importance of inspiring young people to read.

And when James graduated from Wesleyan University in 1988, he joined in developing the Washington-based project. Last June, both brothers quit their part-time jobs to work exclusively on the "Ride for Reading."

The Levys ride about 250 miles a week. This month, they are visiting schools in Texas and New Mexico. At each stop, they conduct student workshops and storytelling sessions to demonstrate that reading can be adventurous and that stories are composed by real people who draw on their experiences.

The biking element, says Seth, is more than just a gimmick. Stories from the road provide a natural introduction to a workshop. More importantly, he notes, a long bicycle trip demonstrates a commitment to an activity that, like writing, requires persistence.

The brothers are also developing a network of students to write stories about their region and exchange them with students at schools elsewhere.

The response to the project has been positive from teachers, librarians, and literacy groups they have met along the way, says Seth. But most rewarding, he adds, has been the students' response.

"At the end of the workshops," says Seth, "the kids say they realize that writing is not such a hard thing after all and they understand why it is a worthwhile endeavor."--jw

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