By Staff Writer Gloria Chang
Former MSJ French Teacher and Boys’ Soccer Coach Fodé Doumbia visited Mission Pizza for a two hour talk about his newly published book Grandpa: A Conversation with Myself on February 11. He greeted many of his previous students and players with warm welcoming hugs, pats, and handshakes.
As people sat down at the reserved tables and ordered pizza, Doumbia opened his talk by explaining the main characters’ origins. A boy raised his hand to ask whether the book was fiction or non-fiction, to which Doumbia responded that the story is fictional but is based on real life experiences. He did not want to write a memoir because he found memoirs boring and was only ever able to finish one in his life.
The talk shifted to the themes in his writing, specifically racism, homosexuality, arranged marriages, cultural differences, and generation gaps, which were illustrated through the conversations between a young man and his grandfather. When touching upon racism, Doumbia defined it to be something beyond discriminating against a skin color, but also discriminating because of what a person eats, wears, does, or believes. He recalled how others treated him differently when he wore traditional African clothing each Friday in honor of his culture. His admiration for his own culture also led him to incorporate the griot as a storytelling element in his book.
The book took him three years to write and to everyone’s surprise and laughter, the most difficult part for him was typing. Writing by hand came naturally, but typing was a tedious process. During the question and answer session, a student asked why he wrote the book in English instead of French. Doumbia responded that his main audience was in the US and also revealed that he was rewriting a French version, in which he will remove some heavier parts so his nieces and nephews can read the book. In conclusion, he told his audience that he does not consider himself a writer and said, “I only wrote a book.”
As the talk came to an end, Doumbia thanked everyone for coming. Students, soccer players, and parents lined up to talk to him, buy a copy of Grandpa, ask him to sign the book, or ask for a picture. During this time, the Smoke Signal interviewed Doumbia.
The Smoke Signal: How would you describe your book Grandpa?
Fodé Doumbia: It’s a first try. It’s a rookie shot. I would call it a rookie shot. I think the second edition is something that would really impress people. This is just a first try, and I’m happy with it.
SS: What made you decide to write a book?
FD: I wanted to share my story and my history with my kids — well — not just with my kids, but with everybody who knows me. I want them to know my story. Once they know my story, once they know what I have gone through, they would know me better.
SS: When did you decide to start writing?
FD: There was one summer. I usually travel to go to Senegal. One summer, I could not go to Senegal. I was just going to sit home, apart from coaching. I said, ‘why not start writing?’ I waited, and then that year, I started writing and went for it.
SS: What is your writing process like?
FD: I’m very creative and just started writing. As I was writing, ideas started coming. The reason is that I have thought about writing for years and years, so the ideas had been accumulating.
SS: What are some memorable experiences you’ve encountered when moving to culturally different areas?
FD: Senegal has a culture, a society where people talk a lot and laugh a lot. We are very outgoing. That is something I have missed when I first arrived here. I thought I was alone in a big crowd. That was a difference.
SS: How has teaching at MSJ impacted your writing?
FD: When I write this book’s next edition, I will put Mission in it, but when I came to Mission, I had already finished writing that book.
SS: What is one thing you want your reader to take away from reading your book?
FD: My history, my story, and my culture because there is a lot of culture in it. I want them to understand part of my culture and then, through my history, to really know who I am. Because when you know a person’s story, it allows you to know who the person really is.
SS: What advice would you give young writers?
FD: Don’t underestimate anything. Whatever you want to write, whatever you feel, write. Just write. Just follow your gut feeling. You need to write by inspiration.
The Kindle version and paperback copy of Grandpa: A Conversation with Myself are available for purchase on Amazon. Readers can also buy the book on Amazon’s publishing platform CreateSpace.
Photo by Staff Writer Gloria Chang