Thousands of Brandon Sanderson books donated to West High School to promote literacy

The Teen Author Boot Camp staff helps unload the books and place them into bags for the Dream Big Project on Tuesday.

The Teen Author Boot Camp staff helps unload the books and place them into bags for the Dream Big Project on Tuesday. (Jared Quan )

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SALT LAKE CITY — Characters in bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson's books often are faced with challenges ranging from duels to proving one's honor and devotion to a cause — and yet, few individuals show more devotion to a cause than Jared Quan.

Quan, the outreach chairman of the League of Utah Writers, helped ensure thousands of Sanderson's books reached West High School students last Tuesday.

A chance conversation with Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, led Quan to realize that those living west of I-15 in Salt Lake City don't just have a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 and other health problems; they have fewer resources and opportunities, especially when it came to reading and writing.

So, Quan devoted dozens of hours to making the Dream Big Project a reality — a project that worked with the Lightweaver Foundation, Sanderson's nonprofit, to donate 1,300 Sanderson books to West High School, as well as hundreds of other books from authors Kaela Rivera, Mahtab Narsimhan, Maurice Broaddus, and Emily Huey. On donation day, hundreds of bags were filled to the brim with books, ready to be distributed to 2,600 students on June 6.

"By being able to get these high-quality books — which, I love Brandon Sanderson's books — into the hands of kids at West High School gives them at least something of their own to be excited about," Quan said. "They own their own book, their own copy, and they can take that home and not have to worry about how long it takes, whether it needs to be returned to a library or to the school and be able to read it."

Sanderson, a BYU graduate and Utah resident who may be the bestselling fantasy author in the world, noted the importance of the Dream Big Project and how, despite the difficulty of becoming a writer and the economic challenges that path may face, many young people still need to write.

"I'm one of the lucky ones; I got to follow my passions and it worked out. I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that if you follow your passions, it's going to work out. But what I will tell you is — if you don't try, then it will never work out," Sanderson said in a statement. "Follow your passions because they make you a better person, and if you do that, then you're never going to fail."

Quan worked with Terra Luft, membership chairwoman of the League of Utah Writers, to receive funding from 47 different organizations — including the Sorenson Foundation and League of Utah Writers — to put money toward 300 scholarships that would go to chosen students in that geographical area.

Each scholarship was worth $50 and provided free 30-day digital access to the League of Utah Writers Pre-Quill Conference and all its classes. The longer access period would allow the students to watch whatever writing workshops they needed to improve their craft, Quan said. The conference started on April 29, and the digital content will be available until May 29.

The initial goal of the Dream Big Project was to hold a free, one-day writing and author's conference at West High School; however, Quan noted that hosting a conference on a Saturday would be difficult for several of the students, as many had to work on the weekends.

Instead, he and Luft promoted funding to help the students attend the League of Utah Writers Pre-Quill conference digitally, as well as to send as many books as they could to West High. As students received the books and participated in the conference, both the reading material and writing guidance could help improve the young authors' writing skills and confidence in their futures, Quan said.

"We hope, first of all, that it ignites that excitement for writing, and the fact that they didn't have to go pay for that book. Brandon Sanderson right now, of course, is a very popular author in Utah, so to give them that specific focus book and get them really excited about wanting to read it," Quan said. "And the second part to come down that, to go, 'OK, I can be a kid from Utah who can get published and be very successful like Brandon Sanderson.'"

Jared Quan holding a bag filled with books on May 23.
Jared Quan holding a bag filled with books on May 23. (Photo: Jared Quan)

Another reason Quan knew the conference would be successful for students was its keynote speaker Aminah Mae Safi, a Muslim American author from California who could offer different perspectives.

"There's a lot of different communities we knew that she would be able to connect with that aren't as common in Utah, specifically," Quan said.

Funding the Dream Big Project wasn't just an endeavor to help increase literacy rates and writing confidence among young people — but it would also offer hope to those with economic challenges.

"If you come from a lower-income type of socioeconomic setting, which is typical of the west side of Salt Lake County, you typically don't get as many opportunities. You usually have working-class parents who don't have time to read to you," Luft said. "Reading has to be something that you are modeled as a kid. And if you have a parent who's working two or three jobs to try and make ends meet, you're probably not going to have a parent who is sitting down with you and reading you a bedtime story and modeling the behavior that they're reading for leisure."

A board member of the League of Utah Writers, Teen Author Boot Camp, Storymakers, TEDxSaltLakeCity, and LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything in it), Quan has also volunteered with several other arts organizations across the state, including the West Jordan Arts Council and the Eagle Mountain Arts Alliance. As an avid reader and writer himself, he said that encouraging literacy among young people is essential — especially as the practice is a dying art among those struggling to make ends meet.

But by having more books and opportunities for the students, they would feel more encouraged to continue reading on their own, Quan said.

Overall, Quan noted how grateful he was for the efforts of dozens of nonprofits to come together and help students cultivate a love for reading and aspire to become authors themselves.

"Together, we can accomplish many things. We can dream big and make big things happen," Quan said at the donation event. "This (effort) reminds me of my favorite quote; my favorite African proverb. 'If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,'" Quan said.


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Utah K-12 educationUpliftingUtahSalt Lake CountyEducation
Kris Carpenter is a student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.


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