Bits 'n' Pieces: Inspiring with the forbidden

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Justin Stanley just got national accolades for providing a banned substance to teenagers.

Breathe easy parents, he isn't distributing Lawn Darts or other dangerous items.

Instead he's providing them with banned books -- titles such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Slaughterhouse-Five," Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series -- as a way to encourage reading.

The effort won the project a 2013 Innovations in Reading prize from the National Book Foundation, which includes a $2,500 prize. The awards, founded in 2009, are given to people or institutions that have developed new ways to encourage reading.

Stanley, 38, who graduated from Hudson's Bay High School in 1992 and lives in Vancouver, launched the nonprofit Uprise Books in 2011. The program on the Internet, which he initially funded through Kickstarter, provides books to underprivileged teens ages 13 to 18.

The notion is that kids will be drawn to the forbidden fruit angle of the materials, banned at various times or places in the U.S. and around the world, and that they'll also learn something about First Amendment rights in the process.

In the past year, he's distributed books through three lower-income schools in Portland. He hopes to expand the program for kids in Clark County this year. Eventually, he wants to make the effort national.

Stanley nominated the project for the award himself, with recommendation letters from teachers in the community, he said.

"They liked the simplicity of the project, and the banned book idea," Stanley said.

Stanley got the idea for the project while working on his master's degree at Portland State University. He initially created it in a summer 2011 class called "Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship," but continued to expand on it after the class was over and after he graduated last year.

"It's fun," Stanley said. "I wish I had more time and resources for it."

He works for an energy efficiency consulting company and does the project in his spare time, he said.

So far, he's given out about 300 books, but he hopes to expand the effort with the prize money so that kids will be able to submit requests for books online.

"They already sent me the check, so we're moving forward," he said.

Stanley will go to New York in November to attend the awards ceremony, meet this year's other four winners and give a presentation about his program, he added.

Visit http://www.uprisebooks.org for more information.

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.