Meet Philani Dladla, a young man from South Africa who defied all the odds to pursue his love of and evangelism for reading.
The 24-year-old’s story is an outstanding tale of modern resilience in the face of the pressures of drug addiction and homelessness. The ‘Pavement Bookworm’, as he has become popularly known, went from living on the streets – giving book reviews on a motorway through car windows for cash – to becoming the founder of a literacy project and Book Reader’s Club for underprivileged kids in Johannesburg.
Dladla was born in Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal. His extraordinary story began at school, when he received an improbable gift:
Here, he attended a small, rural school which taught its pupils in isiZulu. When Philani received a book from his mother’s employer, he realised that in order to understand what the words meant, he would have to learn English. Even though it was a heavy, non-fiction book about politics, it was the first birthday gift he had ever received and Philani loved it. He read it over and over, grappling with the difficult language. “It was a challenge for me. But I wanted to know what was so special about this book.”
And he will tell anyone who asks that his favourite childhood book was, in fact, The Last White Parliament (by F van Zyl Slabbert). It was his only book.
You can see a snippet of Philani’s rapid oratory reviews in this video, as well as an explanation of why he believes reading is so important:
Philani is now a respected global voice on the subject of reading, even giving a Tedx Talk on the matter at the end of 2014, in which he talks about going from being a drug addict, to being homeless, to being an entrepreneur and a philanthropist in his own right.
Anyone wishing to find out more about the Pavement Bookworm should take a look at Philani’s Twitter Q&A with Tedx Johannesburg.