The Literacy Narrative of Chadwick’s The First Grader


  • Lauren Marshall Bowen



While examination of narratives written by and about older adults is, by now, recognized as crucial to the critical work of age studies, the overlapping proj- ects of age studies and studies of literate activity (including writing) have not yet been sufficiently integrated. Through analysis of The First Grader, a film dramatizing the true story of an eighty-four-year-old Kenyan man who attends primary school in order to learn how to read and write, this essay illustrates the value in establishing deliberate cross-talk between age studies and writing studies through joint examination of literacy narratives: stories that capture both master and “little” narratives about literacy and learning. As a cinematic literacy narrative featuring an elder protagonist, The First Grader demonstrates how age meanings and age identities impact and challenge culturally endorsed perceptions of literacy and learning by uncritically representing prefigured ideas about literacy and old age, while also suggesting some critical alterna- tives. At the same time, the film acknowledges how literacy and learning contribute to, and are implicated by, the creation and circulation of the meanings of old age.

Author Biography

Lauren Marshall Bowen

is an Assistant Professor of Composition in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. Her work on aging, literacy, and digital technologies has appeared in College Composition and Communication and College English. She is currently involved with the Breaking Digital Barriers project, a local commu- nity outreach and pedagogical research program that supports digital literacy development among elder learners.




How to Cite

Marshall Bowen, L. “The Literacy Narrative of Chadwick’s The First Grader”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 57-87, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v1i.129502.