By Joe Wojtas
Publication: The Day
Published 12/12/2011 12:00 AMUpdated 12/12/2011 12:29 AM
Tim Martin/The Day
In this Nov. 16 photo, Mark Hogan, left, of Mystic, a volunteer with Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut, examines a book called "In a Fisherman's Language" written by Jim Henry, right, of Mystic. Hogan tutored Henry, now 98, for two years, teaching him how to read and write.
Jim Henry's story sells out first printing, attracts interest as far away as Greece, Germany
Mystic - He may not have learned to read and write until he was 91, but Jim Henry is becoming a literary star.
Since the 98-year-old Academy Point resident released his first book, "In a Fisherman's Language" last month, he and his family have found themselves immersed in a world of book printings, agents, publicity and film rights.
The book's first printing of 780 copies sold out in just two weeks and a new shipment of 1,000 more arrived last week. A New York City film producer has contacted Henry and his family, they now have a book agent and a textbook publisher wants to feature his story in one of its books. A German television station and Greek newspaper are doing stories about him, there's a offer for an audio book and Kindle and Amazon want to offer an e-version.
And people from not just around the country but the world have called and emailed wanting a book.
"Everyone seems to have a story to share about why they want to give someone the book," said Henry's oldest grandchild, Marlisa McLaughlin, who's found herself working as his agent.
"It's been the most amazing, unifying experience I've ever had," she said.
McLaughlin added that family members have helped answer emails and send out books to those who order them.
"I've had to have a crash course in running a small business," she said. "But we can't handle the distribution of all these books. It's way too big for us."
So they have hired a New York City agent and McLaughlin said they are talking with a large publishing house about a second edition that would include a hardcover book.
But before Henry gets too famous, the retired Stonington lobsterman will hold a public book signing on Sunday, Dec. 18, at the senior housing project where he lives.
Quit school in third grade
Henry's story is almost made for the movies.
When he was a third-grade student, his father made him and his brother quit school so they could work odd jobs.
When he was 18 he moved to Stonington Borough, and he went on to not only captain a lobster boat, but also work at Electric Boat and serve in the National Guard. He became a skilled carpenter and plumber and even designed and built his own home in Stonington. He helped found the annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony and ran it for years.
Over the years, he hid his illiteracy from friends and relatives by employing a variety of tricks, such as ordering what he heard someone else ask for when he went to a restaurant. He could write his name just well enough get by.
Learning to read at 91
Then, seven years ago, at 91, Henry was inspired after learning about the story of George Dawson, the grandson of a slave who wanted to earn his high school diploma by learning how to read and write at 98. Dawson went on to write the book "Life is So Good."
Henry began by reading books designed for first-graders and spent countless hours practicing how to write, first the alphabet and his name, then small words.
Mark Hogan, a retired East Lyme English teacher who is a volunteer with Literary Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut, spent many hours with Henry helping him read and write and the editing the book.
"In a Fishermen's Language" is a collection of short stories such as the time he was unable to save a fellow fisherman who fell overboard, his time as professional boxer and his arrival by boat from Portugal with his parents. Many of the stories involve his career on the ocean.