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How would you feel if every
sentence seemed like the above
garble to you? If every written
word was a puzzle you couldn't
solve? Like a Rubik's Cube with
letters instead of colors?
That's what it would feel like
to be illiterate. Getting good
grades would be next to impos-
sible. You would never experi-
ence the joy of escaping into a
good book. For as long as I can
remember, I've been passionate
about reading and writing.
At age ten, I wrote and self-
published a book of short stories
titled There's A Huge Pimple On
My Nose that sold 1,400 copies
and was reviewed by the Los
Angeles Times: "If you simply
want to enjoy some remarkable
writing, it would be hard to find
a book more satisfying than
Dallas Woodburn's."
At age eighteen, I published
my second book, 3 a.m., which
also received rave reviews. Says
Laurie Stolarz, author of Blue is
for Nightmares: "Woodburn is
a very gifted writer whose work
celebrates the beauty and humor
of everyday life."
Recently, I signed a contract
with Foundry Literary + Media in
New York to represent my first
novel manuscript to publishers.
Writing is not a solitary en-
deavor for me. I write stories to
express myself, certainly, but
once a story is written I do not
feel satisfied until I have shared
it. After my first book was pub-
lished, I began speaking to the
schools about reading and writ-
ing, and was moved by the en-
thusiastic responses I received.
Many kids told me that they
thought writing was `only for
grown-ups' until they heard my
I founded `Write On! For Lit-
eracy' in 2000 to encourage the
kids to discover confidence, joy
and a means of self-expression
through reading and writing.
My website, www.writeonbooks.
org, features writing contests,
book reviews, writing prompts,
and more.
Write On! also holds an an-
nual Holiday Book Drive, and
in eight years we have donated
10,140 new books (with an esti-
mated value of $80,000) to un-
derprivileged kids. I have been
told that for many, these books
are the only Christmas gifts they
receive. Every year, I look for-
ward to delivering the books --
kids swarm the boxes as if they
were filled with candy.
In a recent assessment con-
ducted by the National Literacy
Institute of U.S. fourth-grade
students, 13% reported never
reading for fun on their own;
and an additional 16% read for
fun once a month. In today's
world saturated with electronic
media, teachers face many in-
creasing problems getting stu-
dents excited about reading.
In 2009, after writing a Busi-
ness Plan and garnering feed-
back from professors, mentors,
teachers and kids, I launched a
publishing company, Write On!
Books, publishing anthologies
of the stories, poems and es-
says written by young writers
for young audiences. A portion
of the proceeds helps to fund
the school libraries and art pro-
Write On! Books is based on
a simple premise: who better
knows what kids want to read
than kids themselves? Kids can
submit their writing directly on
my website: www.writeonbooks.
Writing has taught me many
life lessons: the importance of
following your passions, be-
lieving in yourself, and striv-
ing forward with perseverance
and hope. I have also learned
the strategy of breaking up big
dreams into smaller steps you
can take today.
Big dreams can often seem
overwhelming, but if you pick
out one small step to accomp-
lish each day, before long you
will be amazed at how far you
have traveled. It is like writing
a book -- if you just focus on
writing one page a day, at the
end of the year you will have
365 pages!
Small steps, I have learned,
have a way of snowballing into
big leaps that you never even
dreamed possible. My first book,
There's a Huge Pimple On My
Nose, began when I received a
fifty-dollar grant from my ele-
mentary school. I had proposed
using profits from my book sales
to pay the grant so an extra
grant could be offered the fol-
lowing year.
My first printing, done at a
Kinkos copy shop, was modest:
twenty-five staple-bound forty-
page books. My fellow students
and teachers acted as if Pimple
were at the top of the New York
Times Best-Seller List. The first
twenty-five copies sold out in a
couple of days. So I went back
to Kinkos, ordered twenty-five
more books -- and soon sold
all those as well.
After three more trips to Kin-
kos, where all the workers now
knew me by name, I searched
for a publishing business and
ordered several hundred glossy-
covered, glue-bound, profes-
sional-looking Pimples. My little
forty-page dream evolved from
a snowball into a blizzard, with
reviews in the national maga-
zines CosmoGIRL! and Girls'
Life; booksignings, radio inter-
views; and a `Dallas Woodburn
Day' at the Santa Barbara Book
Write On! has snowballed
magically. Now there are chap-
ters across the U.S. -- Texas, Ida-
ho, Pennsylvania -- and even a
chapter in Canada! If you are
interested in starting a chap-
ter or holding a Holiday Book
Drive in your hometown, visit or e-
Like any pursuit, the writing
life is full of challenges; I wrestle
with `writer's block' and rejec-
tion letters. On my writing desk
I have a photograph that keeps
these disappointments -- in-
deed, any problems that arise
in my life -- in proper perspec-
By all rights... I shouldn't be
writing this essay for Awareness
Magazine. In fact, I shouldn't
even be alive. I was born three
months prematurely, weighing
just two pounds, six ounces. The
photograph on my writing desk,
grown a bit faded after twenty-
two years, shows my two-day-old
self inside a high-tech incubator.
I have a breathing tube down my
nose, a tangle of heart monitor
wires on my chest, and an IV
needle in my thigh.
I can never repay the dedi-
cated Neonatal Intensive Care
Unit surgeons and nurses who
cared for me. What I can do,
Paying Forward through Literacy Endeavors
By Dallas Woodburn
Dallas Woodburn with participants of the 2009 Write On! Summer
Writing Camp.
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