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Writer Esmeralda Santiago On Relearning How To Read08:29Download

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Words are an integral part of author Esmeralda Santiago's life. But six years ago, she suffered a stroke and lost the ability to read.

She remembers her stroke and feeling off.

“I felt as if I wasn’t myself," Santiago told Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "I couldn’t understand anything I read.”

The idea of not being able to read was harrowing.

“Before you are a writer, you’re a reader" Santiago said. "To me the idea that I was losing the ability to read was just terrifying.”

But this wasn't the first time she's had to learn to read English. She was born in Puerto Rico and came to New York with her family when she was 13.

I said, 'I’m just going to do the same thing. If I did it once before, I can do it again.'

Esmeralda Santiago

“I thought, 'I have been through this process before,'" Santiago said. "When I was 13 years old I came from Puerto Rico to the United States not knowing any English. What I did at that time was I went to the public library, and I would go to the children’s book section where there would be alphabet books and everything would be illustrated. So it was very easy to connect the words to the images. I said, ‘I’m just going to do the same thing. If I did it once before, I can do it again.’”

For Santiago, reading "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy was an accomplishment after recovering from her stroke.

"I read the war scenes, the stuff people skip over, because for me it was proof that I actually had recovered from the stroke, that I could read every word in that book,” Santiago said.

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This segment aired on September 24, 2014.

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