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Monday, April 18, 2011

Meet Dallas Woodburn, Author and Editor

Give Back by Paying Forward
By Dallas Woodburn

By all rights, I should not be writing this. I should not even be here at all. I was born three months prematurely, weighing a mere two pounds, six ounces. For the first few months of my life, I was in the hospital, kept alive by feeding tubes and a respirator. My harrowing entrance into the world is a daily reminder for me of the fragility of life, and to pursue my dreams with both joy and urgency – dreams are too important to "put off" till tomorrow!

I have loved to write for as long as I can remember. When I was in fifth grade, I published my first book, There's a Huge Pimple on My Nose: A Collection of Stories and Poems. It received a glowing review in the Los Angeles Times: "If you simply want to enjoy some remarkable writing, it would be hard to find a book more satisfying." My second book, 3 a.m., has also received high praise and was featured on the national book talk show "Between the Lines" on PBS. I have also published articles and essays in Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Los Angeles Times, and eight Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

The night I was born, a doctor who was caring for me told my father, “Your daughter is a fighter.” Still today, I draw strength from those words. My mantra has become “P.A.S.T. – Preemies Are So Tough.” Whenever I feel down or discouraged, I remind myself of my past. Compared to being kept alive by a respirator and feeding tubes, nothing seems insurmountable. 

Being a preemie has not only given me the resilience to overcome disappointment and the courage to pursue my dreams, it has also instilled in me the desire to give to others. I feel boundless gratitude to the doctors and nurses who saved my life. There is no way I can ever repay them. What I can do, however, is “pay forward” in their honor by doing good works and striving to better the lives of others.

In 2001, I created "Write On! For Literacy" to encourage kids to discover confidence, joy, a means of self-expression and connection through reading and writing. I hold writing contests, teach writing camps, and created a website www.writeonbooks.org that features book reviews, author interviews, and more. In the past eight years, my Holiday Book Drive has collected and distributed nearly 12,000 new books to underprivileged children for Christmas. My latest endeavor is starting a publishing company, Write On! Books, that publishes anthologies of stories, poems and essays by young writers for young readers. The first Write On! anthology, Dancing With The Pen, features the work of more than sixty young writers from all across the United States and even abroad, and was released this past February to rave reviews.

Every year on my birthday, I visit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the local hospital. I introduce myself to the worried parents of the sickly preemies and tell them how I was once a tiny baby in an incubator myself. You would never know it now. I am five-foot-ten, an honors student, and ran track and cross-country in high school. The parents tell me I give them hope. Visiting the NICU is my most treasured birthday tradition. It reminds me how incredibly blessed I am to be alive and healthy today.

All of us have gone through difficulties in our lives. All of us are indebted to people who have given us so much that there is no way we can ever repay them. Instead of trying to pay back, I urge you to focus on paying forward. Volunteering to help others in honor of someone who has helped you in an extremely rewarding and fulfilling way to live your life.  

Bio: Dallas Woodburn, 23, is the author of two collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: A Collection of Today’s Best Youth Writing. A 2009 graduate of the University of Southern California, she is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she serves as Assistant Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review. For her volunteer work, Dallas has been nationally honored with a Congressional Award Gold Medal, a Jackie Kennedy Onassis/Jefferson Award, and most recently a “Best of You” Award from Glamour Magazine. Connect with Dallas at http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com/ and http://www.writeonbooks.org.


  1. Dallas, you're always so inspiring. I love the annual visit to the NICU and can certainly imagine how much it would help worried parents seeing you there. The idea of 'paying it forward' is a lovely one. As you rightly say, we're all indebted in one way or another and have all overcome myriad odds to be here. Thanks for reminding us!

  2. I love your story about being a preemie. You're right, once you realize how precious life is, you have to do the important things and not wait for them to happen to you. Great post!

  3. Dallas:

    You had me captivated from your first sentence. How wonderful that you visit the neonatel unit on your birthday. This is a true testament to the wonderful and caring person you are.

    Keep up the great work!

    Warmest regards,

  4. What an awesome thing to do on your birthday!!! I'm sure you instill hope into the hearts of parents and their children. Best post I read all month!

  5. Thank you so much everyone for your kind words!! You made my day! :) And thank you Shelby for having me!

  6. Oh my gosh!! It's my wonderful English teacher!!!

  7. Dallas, I love experiencing your trek from almost not being here to your own writing. Shelby, you are a wonder for having Dallas.

    More of us should revisit our BIRTH days. Think, not only might we have never made it to this earth, given the exigencies of sperm and egg, we might have been someone else--someone who didn't like writing.


  8. I sure am glad you made it into this world Dallas. You've inspired so many people with your giving attitude, your knowledge and your professionalism. I personally thank you for encouraging my granddaughter to persue her writing dreams. God bless.

  9. Dallas, you are an amazing and inspirational young woman. You're pay-it-forward philosophy is absolutely wonderful and generous, especially offering tangible hope to parents who are terrified over heir babies' early entrance into this world.

    There's a song I love, The Power of One; you reflect the essence of that song.

  10. What an inspiration you are. Keep up the great work!