FREMONT -- A free book club that will focus on critically acclaimed literature banned by the Fremont school board is scheduled to begin Wednesday night at an Irvington district church.
Since 2008, the five-member board has banned "Bastard Out of Carolina," a National Book Award nominee about a teenage girl sexually abused by her stepfather, and last year it rejected "Angels in America," a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS in the 1980s.
In response to the censorship, Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation hired Teri Hu -- a Washington High teacher who tried unsuccessfully to add those books to the school's AP English supplemental reading list -- to lead the new monthly club.
The eight-part course is open to the public, including Fremont students, said the Rev. Jeremy Nickel, the church's minister. Copies of the censored books will be on sale at the sessions, and some free copies will be provided to those who cannot afford to purchase them, Nickel said.
The course will ask participants to complete assigned reading that they will discuss at a monthly meeting. The first session is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Cole Hall, next to the Fremont church at 2950 Washington Blvd., Nickel said.
"This is about educating the community about what's inside these books," he said.
Nickel, who did not disclose Hu's salary for leading the course, praised the instructor for her persistence regarding the banned books.
She is attempting "to give these young people a chance to wrestle with the full spectrum of humanity in a safe environment, before they are on their own making these decisions in real time, with real consequences," Nickel said. "And equipping them with the moral muscles to make the right decisions is what happens when they explore transforming works ... and then discuss them with their peers, teachers and parents."
Hu -- a Fremont Unified School District teacher for the past 15 years -- said she submitted the same books for approval for about a decade and experienced no problems. That changed in 2008, when the school board rejected "Bastard Out of Carolina" -- even though it had been approved by a district textbook committee. When Hu resubmitted the title in 2009 and 2010, the board rejected it again and passed a rule that books could not be submitted in consecutive years. Last year, she submitted "Angels in America," which also was not approved.
Despite the repeated rejections, Hu said will continue submitting them for approval.
"It's like they don't want our children to read modern, relevant books," she said. "I am not giving up."
Ivy Wu, a school board member since 2004, said she voted to censor the works because she believes most Fremont parents do not want those mature themes featured in the school curriculum. "I'm not saying social issues should not be taught in classrooms, but these books are too graphic," she said. "It's unsettling for these parents."
Wu said she encourages parents and students to attend the church's monthly course to learn more about the banned books. "It can be done better if it's in a different setting, outside of the classroom," she said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
WHAT: Course on books banned by Fremont school board: "Angels in America" and "Bastard Out of Carolina"
WHERE: Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2950 Washington Blvd., Fremont
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday