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Nominations Open for the William S. Gray Citation of Merit

By ILA Staff
 | Jan 30, 2024
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The International Literacy Association (ILA) is calling for nominations for the prestigious William S. Gray Citation of Merit, an accolade that pays tribute to outstanding individuals who have left an indelible mark on the field. Established in 1957, this award serves as a lifetime achievement recognition for literacy leaders who have made unparalleled contributions to literacy development.

The esteemed award, named after the eminent literacy scholar William S. Gray, is the highest individual honor awarded by ILA. Gray, the first president of the International Reading Association (now ILA), laid our foundation for serving and honoring those whose groundbreaking work has significantly influenced literacy research, theory, practice, and policy.

The illustrious list of past honorees of the Citation of Merit reads like a hall of fame, showcasing luminaries such as

  • P. David Pearson
  • Jeanne S. Chall
  • Nila Banton Smith
  • Dorothy Strickland
  • Brian Cambourne
  • Nell K. Duke

A complete archive of past recipients can be found on the Citation of Merit web page.

If you know someone deserving of joining the ranks of these esteemed individuals, then submit a nomination by March 15. Eligible nominees are ILA members who have made outstanding contributions across multiple facets of literacy development, including but not limited to research, theory, and practice. To learn more, visit literacyworldwide.org/awards.

Maintaining Gray’s legacy

Referred to as “the father of reading,” William S. Gray (1885–1960) dedicated his life to advancing literacy education and lived by the phrase he popularized: “every teacher a teacher of reading.”

His academic journey led him from teaching elementary school in Illinois to earning a master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1914, and earning a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1916. Gray remained with the University of Chicago until his retirement in 1950, during which time he held key roles including dean of the school of education.

Gray was considered the leading expert on reading for the first half of the 20th century. He was cocreator of the Dick and Jane book series that began publishing in the 1920s, became a staple of elementary classrooms, and is credited with teaching 85 million children how to read. He conducted a worldwide study of literacy for UNESCO that resulted in the book The Teaching of Reading and Writing: An International Survey. In total, his extensive body of work included more than 500 studies, reviews, articles, and books, which also included On Their Own in Reading: How to Give Children Independence in Analyzing New Words.

In 1935, Gray and Bernice Leary published their landmark work in readability, What Makes a Book Readable.

Gray cofounded the International Reading Association and served as the organization's first president from 1955–1956.

As we carry on his legacy, we invite you to join us by submitting your nominations for the Citation of Merit or any of ILA’s other opportunities in the 2024 awards and grants program. Let us celebrate the tireless efforts of those who continue to shape the future of literacy education.

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