Earl Mills was 48 years old before he read his first book.
Now he has written and published two and is working on a third.
Mills, an adult literacy advocate from New Bern, is one of 10 authors scheduled to participate in the annual Authors Luncheon on May 18 in Havelock.
"I graduated high school in 1971 at Jasper High School and I was married, raised five children, had the same job for over 25 years while essentially hiding the fact that I could barely read beyond a second-grade level," Mills said.
Mills said his lack of reading skill was exposed when he embarrassingly stumbled through a reading of scripture at his church.
Mills sought the assistance of the Craven Literacy Council.
"At the age of 45, I walked in and they assessed me at a second-grade reading level," Mills said. "When I walked in there, I had trouble spelling words like girl and bird."
After one-on-one tutoring, Mills made progress.
"The more I read, the better I got, the faster I could read and the more words I could pronounce," Mills said. "We worked about 2 1/2 years before I read my first book at age 48. Now I’ve read approximately 100 books and I’ve written over 100 poems."
Mills said that an estimated 15,000 people in Craven, Pamlico and Jones counties can’t read at a proficient level.
"When you can’t read, you keep it under a lock and a key and you let hardly anyone inside of that part of your life," Mills said. "Can you imagine taking your small child to the doctor and the doctor gives you a prescription and you have it filled and you can’t even read well enough to administer the medicine to your sick daughter? Can you imagine your granddaughter coming to you asking you to read to her and you tell her that the letters are too small to see? You have to lie. It’s like one lie after the other. I left my glasses. These lies you hide behind."
Mills said there is an enormous amount of shame for people who are illiterate.
"It’s a silent cry. The illiterate voice is crying," he said.
Mills said somebody filled out his job application at Hatteras Yachts, but he had the opportunity for promotions but couldn’t handle the paperwork and had to give them up. He said math helped him cover up that he couldn’t read well.
"I could figure out how many bricks it took to build the Empire State Building," he said. "I could figure out how much concrete it would take to pour a driveway. I could read blueprints. My math skills helped me hide my illiteracy."
In his book, "From Illiterate to Poet," Mills has many poems that express the frustration of an illiterate person.
"My poetry is my innermost being on paper," he said. "If you read my books, you are really taking a peek inside of me because I try to let the world see through my illiterate eyes, the situations and the circumstances that I’ve been through.
"Most people think that they don’t know anyone who can’t read, but the person who can’t read is your co-worker, your next door neighbor or the person you just passed on the street. It’s the person sitting beside of you in the church pew. It’s personal. It’s deep."
Mills will join authors Bethany Faith, Bettye Goodman Green, David Cecelski, Devyn Dawson, Bruce Roberts, Gloria Martin, Sharon Phennah, Norma Harper Doane and Evelyn Heckhaus at the Authors Luncheon. The event, which serves as a fundraiser for the Friends of the Havelock-Craven County Public Library, is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. May 18 at Cherry Point United Methodist Church. Tickets are $20 and available at the library at 301 Cunningham Blvd. For more information, call 447-7509.