One evening this past April, Jay Leno gave Aidan Colvin a call.
Granted, it wasn’t the first time the celebrity comedian and the Raleigh high school student had spoken: they’d met in Fayetteville the day before, at one of Leno’s shows, but that had been a quick chat in the autograph line. This time, though, the phone in Aidan’s Raleigh home was lighting up with a blocked caller ID. When Aidan’s mom, Liisa Ogburn, picked it up, Leno was on the other line.
He’d read Aidan’s book and wanted to talk to the author.
“We had this really long conversation,” Aidan recalls. “He actually read the entire book the night before, which I thought was really impressive.”
The book, “Looking For Heroes: One Boy, One Year, 100 Letters,” documents Aidan’s self-set mission to connect with successful people with dyslexia. He wrote letter after letter. Some, like Ozzy Osbourne and Richard Branson, didn’t write back. Others, like CNN founder Ted Turner, replied that it had been incorrectly reported that they had dyslexia. Yet people like Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, novelist and screenwriter John Irving and, yes, Leno, responded.
Yet these luminaries aren’t the stars of “Looking For Heroes” – the members of Aidan’s family are. One of the teenage author’s major inspirations was Larry Swann Colvin, or “Pop,” his paternal grandfather. Pop, who died in January, had dyslexia as well.
“We had the rough copy that we gave to him about a week before he died, so it was kind of dedicated to him,” Aidan says.
“Honestly, it speeded up writing it because Aidan wanted to read it to his granddad before he passed away,” Ogburn says. “At that point, Jay Leno was not part of the story.”
When Pop was growing up, Aidan explains, dyslexia wasn’t as well understood and there weren’t as many mechanisms to help people with dyslexia understand their learning difference. In those years, teachers thought that Pop was stupid or that he just wasn’t trying hard enough, Aidan says, so he took classes and eventually jobs that didn’t require much reading and writing. He worked 14-hour days for 42 years as a barber in downtown Wilmington.
“He worked with his hands and he got confident doing things that didn’t require reading,” Ogburn says. “There are many other ways to shine.”
During the year that Aidan was writing letters and hoping for replies, Pop was living with the family. He was there for Aidan, and the two talked often, but he had cancer. The first draft of the book, the one that Pop and Leno read, was largely a story of a boy and his grandfather during that last year together. And while the final version added a few chapters about Aidan’s conversations with Leno, a lot of the book’s focus is still on Pop.
“He was really inspirational because he was the only person in my family who had dyslexia,” Aidan says.
Outside his family, the successful people Aidan wrote to during that year slowly began to respond, and each response seemed to be more detailed and personal. At first, they were simply writing back or answering Aidan’s questionnaires, though filmmaker Harvey Hubbell V, director of “Dislecksia: The Movie,” Facetimed with Aidan.
“I was just so grateful that the dyslexics that responded did take that time,” Ogburn says. “We all need heroes, so they were true heroes to Aidan. Maybe he can be a hero to some of the kids who are writing to him now.”
Indeed, in the months since finishing his book, Aidan has gone from asking famous people about their dyslexia to answering questions about his own. He has set up social media accounts for “Looking for Heroes” and will be featured by a number of organizations for Learning Disabilities Awareness Month in October. Still, Aidan isn’t getting ahead of himself. The book may be out, but the 11th grade at Wake STEM Early College takes precedence.
“I’m really focusing on the next week or two at this point,” Aidan says.