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San Francisco Writers Conference ‘Freedom to Read’ Scholarship
San Francisco Writers Conference San Francisco Writers Conference
San Francisco , CA
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dylan Mahood, winner of SFWC Freedom to Read Scholarship
SFWC Says NO to Censorship and Creates a Scholarship In Response to Local School Board Decision to Ban Dorothy Allison Novel. Dylan Mahood and his teacher Terri Hu will attend the San Francisco Writers Conference to be held February 18-20, 2011 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

San Francisco, CA--1-22-11--Last year Dorothy Allison's classic, Bastard Out of Carolina, was brought before the Fremont Unified School District board by Washington High School English teacher, Teri Hu. Based on nothing more than the title—and themes deemed too 'adult' for students in the advanced placement class—it was no surprise the book was not allowed on the high school reading list.

Since Allison will be a keynote presenter at the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference, that decision could not be ignored by the SFWC organizers. "We were troubled that a significant book would be withheld from students," said SFWC Marketing Director Barbara Santos. "We also felt we had a vested interest in supporting our friend, Dorothy." In response to the school board decision, they decided to extend a scholarship to a student Ms. Hu would select.

High school student Dylan Mahood of Fremont, California will receive the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference 'Freedom to Read' Scholarship. Both Mahood and Hu will attend the conference in February at the Mark Hopkins Hotel—and meet with Dorothy Allison.

Dorothy Allison writes raw, thought-provoking prose—her writing has been compared to that of J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee. 'Bastard' is the kind of book that resonates and draws students into classroom discussions. However, since Ms. Hu had been an advocate for the book before, the school board added that she could not return to petition for the book for another two years.

"I followed the Fremont school board horror show," said Allison who was in Aspen at a gathering of Southern writers honoring fellow author Ernest J. Gaines at the time. "I started getting calls from newspapers around the Bay Area letting me know that 'Bastard' was again being banned from the student reading list. Now I have been through this before. There was that terrible school board fight in Maine that we took all the way to the Maine supreme court—where eventually we lost and the only comfort was that in response, Stephen and Tabitha King went out and bought copies of 'Bastard' to put in every library in the state." (See more below.)

Dylan Mahood proved to be a perfect recipient—eager to become a professional writer. While he was not involved in the school board decision, Ms. Hu selected him as the recipient because: "I believe he has the talent and temerity to realize his dream of becoming a writer."

The 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference will take place this February 18-20 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. The prestigious event is where writers learn not only to improve their writing, but how to publish and promote their work. Presenters will include David Morrell, First Blood (Rambo) and Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing; Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina; Robert Dugoni, Wrongful Death; Cara Black, Murder on the Left Bank; Susan Wiggs, Fireside; and Sheldon Siegel, Judgment Day. The 2011 event will have—as always—unequaled one-on-one discussions and networking opportunities. The event is valuable for all writers, screenwriters, journalists and poets. For more information go to www.SFWriters.org.

More on the power of controversial books from a letter written by Dorothy Allison:

"…it does seem to me that it is the best and most dedicated teachers who are always caught in these struggles. They want to do the best they can for the young people about whom they care so passionately so they seek out big complicated provocative fictions to spur their students to think deeply. When those impulses encounter school administrators and parents who don't think that provocative material should be taught, then the result is that both the teachers and the students suffer.

I remember that my heart broke when that young teacher in Maine all those years ago left teaching behind after she found herself having to defend not just my book but her own love for her students. After months of dealing with the ACLU and various legal support groups, she went back to school to get a law degree—which might be a fine thing. But I had met some of her students and knew that she had been a wonderful and inspired teacher. It seemed tragic to me that a book I wrote had driven her out of the profession she loved—except for two things. It wasn't my book that broke her heart, but the people who would not let her teach it. And while talking to some of those her students I got a good look at what my novel had accomplished—one of the things I wanted it to do when I first wrote it. I wanted to reach girls like Bone and get them to understand they are not the monsters they are told they are. I wanted to show them a loved version of a wronged girl, and hope they saw themselves in her enough to begin to love themselves. Those children in Maine told me that my novel was the first one they had read that seemed true to the lives they were living. It made them feel real in a way they had not felt before they found the book—that their own stories were big enough and important enough to give them a sense of what they might do with their lives.

Nothing has made me feel as strengthened as remembering those young people, and how they privately dealt with the public controversy around the banning of my book. Every time it has happened again, that is what I cling to—that while some book feel the book too provocative, too violent, too mean or too sad, there are others for whom it is simply lifesaving and life affirming. Most of all I think of the courage of teachers who think deeply and use the book to open conversations that otherwise would not happen. They are heroic in the attempt and courageous in enduring all the difficulties that accompany such a decision.

Listening to Ernest J. Gaines talk in Aspen, I heard him casually refer to the controversies and contempt he had encountered in the long years in which he wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and A Lesson Before Dying. At one point he said, "I couldn't write about anything but the place I came from." I knew what he meant. We all have our places, our people, our vital stories. Sometimes our stories will be like gravy on a biscuit, warm and filling and comfort inducing, but sometimes just as importantly, we will be the pickerel or the chow-chow—acidic and startling—just the thing to wake up a sleepy-headed appetite. I can handle that." Taken from a letter from Dorothy Allison to the San Francisco Writers Conference.

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San Francisco Writers Conference is a 509(a)2 non-profit charity.

For more information go to: www.SFWriters.org

Sponsors & supporters include: BookShop West Portal, Writer's Digest, John Wiley & Sons, Author Solutions, Smashwords, InterContinental Mark Hopkins, Berrett-Koehler, Conari Press, Antrim Group, The Writer, Book Expo America, Joyce Turley, Harvey Pawl, Kevin Smokler, Victoria Hudson, Ellen Taliaferro, MD, Stephanie Chandler, Alan Rinzler, Ann Seymour, www.ExpertClick.com, Red Room, Bowker Manuscript Submissions, eReleases.com, UC Berkeley Extension, HubPages, and San Francisco Writers University.

Barbara Santos
Marketing Director
San Francisco Writers Conference
Livermore, CA
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