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Rushdie, Sweeney added to FFRF convention lineup

Julia Sweeney hams it up for the camera at FFRF’s convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

FFRF is delighted to announce that acclaimed author Salman Rushdie has joined comedian Julia Sweeney and “Mythbuster” Adam Savage as some of the notable speakers who will be headlining FFRF’s 41st annual convention in San Francisco, which takes places Nov. 2-4 at the downtown Hyatt Regency.   

Future issues of Freethought Today will update convention speakers as they are confirmed. 

Salman Rushdie

Rushdie is one of the most celebrated authors of our time. He has written several classic novels, influenced a generation of writers, and received the Queen’s Knighthood for his “services to literature.” He is also one of the most thought-provoking proponents for free speech.

His novels include The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and 2008’s The Enchantress of Florence. His masterwork of magic realism, Midnight’s Children, won the presitigious Booker Prize, and later, the Best of the Booker. He is also the author of bestselling memoir Joseph Anton. Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life is a children’s novel and a companion to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. His latest novels are Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which was a New York Times besteller, and most recently The Golden House, a novel that “depicts Obama’s and Trump’s U.S.”

Julia Sweeney

Sweeney, one of FFRF’s honorary directors, will perform a new stand-up routine called “Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” for the FFRF audience.

She is joining Second City in Chicago in May.

She is a “Saturday Night Live” alum who created and portrayed the androgynous character “Pat,” which spun off the feature film “It’s Pat.”

She also created and performed several award-winning one-woman shows, including “God Said, Ha!”, “In the Family Way” and “Letting Go of God,” which was about her journey from Roman Catholic schoolgirl to atheist. She has also been in several movies, including “Pulp Fiction.” She has previously received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

Adam Savage

Savage has spent his life gathering skills that allow him to take what’s in his brain and make it real. He’s built everything from ancient Buddhas and futuristic weapons to fine-art sculptures and dancing vegetables.

In 1993, Savage began concentrating his career on the special-effects industry, honing his skills through more than 100 television commercials and a dozen feature films, including “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” and “Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” “Galaxy Quest” and the “Matrix” sequels.

In 2002, Savage was chosen along with Jamie Hyneman to host “MythBusters,” which premiered on Discovery Channel in January 2003. Fourteen years, 1,015 myths, 2,950 experiments, eight Emmy nominations and 83 miles of duct tape later, the series ended in March 2016.

Today, Savage stars in and produces content for, including behind-the-scenes dives into multiple blockbuster films (such as “Ghost in the Shell,” “Alien Covenant” and “Blade Runner”). He also produces and stars in his “Brain Candy” stage show with Vsauce’s Michael Stevens.

John de Lancie

De Lancie, an actor, director, producer, writer, singer, musician and voice artist, will be receiving FFRF’s first “Clarence” award — a statuette version of FFRF’s 7-foot statue on display in front of the site of the Scopes trial, in Dayton, Tenn. De Lancie spoke at that dedication and helped with the unveiling.

Well-known for portraying “Q” in the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he has many film credits, including: “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” “The Fisher King,” “Fearless,” “Multiplicity,” “Women on Top” and “The Big Time.”

De Lancie has appeared in numerous television shows, including “The Librarians,” “Breaking Bad” and “The West Wing.”

He was a speaker at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2016. He spoke in reference to his Star Trek character Q, “My name is John de Lancie, and I am a god. At least, I’ve played one on TV. And I’m here to tell you as a god that I was created by humans. The words I spoke were written by men and women, just like all the gods before me. My god creators wanted you to believe I was the omnipotent one.”

Sarah Haider

Haider is a co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), a group that advocates for the acceptance of religious dissent and works to create local support communities for those who have left Islam.

Born in Pakistan and raised in Texas, she spent her early youth as a devout Muslim. In her late teens, she began to read the Quran critically and left religion soon after.

Nowadays, Haider directs EXMNA’s Life Beyond Faith mini-documentaries, a series of video portraits of ex-Muslim atheists and humanists. She is also heading EXMNA’s Normalizing Dissent tour, and travels the United States and Canada to cover a range of issues related to apostasy in Islam. She is currently a columnist for Free Inquiry magazine. In addition to atheism, Sarah is particularly passionate about civil liberties and women’s rights.

She will receive FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award.

Bailey and Doug Harris

Bailey Harris, 12, a sixth-grade student at Salt Lake City’s Open Classroom, will be receiving the $5,000 Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award. When Bailey was 8, she was watching the episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” in which host Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “The planets, the stars, the galaxies, we ourselves and all of life — the same star stuff.” Inspired, she immediately went up to her family’s computer and started writing what would eventually become the beautiful picture book, My Name is Stardust.

Bailey worked with her father, Doug Harris, over the next year to develop a story that they felt would teach children this concept, along with other areas of science such as evolution and astronomy, most effectively. After various versions of the story, and feedback from numerous parents, scientists, and children, the story for My Name is Stardust was finalized. Doug Harris gets a co-credit on the book.

Doug is a successful entrepreneur, special-interest writer and science education advocate.  He was a featured expert panel speaker at the 2017 BookCon in New York City on Science and Education. While releasing his book in 2017, he was interviewed by Helen Little for The Public Library Podcast on iHeartRadio about science, education and literature.

The second book in the series, Stardust Explores the Solar System, will be released in the fall.  The public will receive early access to the book through a Kickstarter campaign that launched in January. It will then be featured at Book Expo and BookCon in New York City in June, followed by an international book release in October.

Leighann Lord

Lord, a veteran stand-up comedian, will perform a stand-up routine at the convention. Lord has been seen on Lifetime, VH-1, Comedy Central, HBO and “The View.” She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and the author of Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady.

Lord was the New York City face of the African-Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and its Millions Living Happily Without Religion Campaign. In 2012, the group ran a media campaign that included billboards depicting Lord and other contemporary activists and organizers alongside historically prominent African-American humanists Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Frederick Douglass.

Author Chris Johnson has featured her in The Atheist Book: A Better Life.

Debra Deanne Olson

Olson, along with Dr. Craig West Wilkinson, just authored a book about her atheist grandfather, The Honorable Culbert Levy Olson: Governor of California 1939-1943.  A review of the book was syndicated in more than 300 newspapers in early March.

She is a political, environmental and peace activist and held volunteer positions on both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

She was a national senior advisor and a fundraising consultant for the Kucinich for President campaign in 2003. She is founder of Peace Solutions.

Sarah Haider
Debra Deanne Olson
John de Lancie
Bailey Harris
Adam Savage
Salman Rushdie Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Olson is committed to fostering a culture of peace and connecting like-minded individuals and organizations to create a sustainable and healthy society. She has been an active member of the Clinton Global Initiative since 2006 and served as a member of the Business Council of Women for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary.