A remarkable book written by Mamour Dieng has quickly gained worldwide exposure but even hitting the shelves. The historical fiction book allows readers to be connected to history with an enjoyable read. It is set in the 18th Century and follows a young prince named Kundal who is coming of age and must learn what it takes to become king. However, the African American is captured by European slave hunters and his life takes a different harrowing direction.
We decided to talk to Mamour Dieng and find out more about his book and to find out why it is important for people to learn more about African American history and why schools should be teaching children more about the slave era.
- You have written a new novel, can you explain what the new novel is about?
The novel is about a young prince named Kundul who is coming of age in the 18th century in central Africa. Kundul is set to inherit his father’s vast kingdom and, in the process of learning what he must do to become king, he is captured by European slave hunters.
- Why did you decide to write this novel?
I wanted to write this novel to give people an opportunity to become more intimately connected with the history of Africa. Most people know a great deal about the European slave trade and how it effectively built America. Few people, however, know the rich cultural history and traditions of those who were kidnapped and sent to America, and, specifically, what role they played in geopolitics.
- Who have you aimed the novel at?
The novel is designed to be read by anyone. The core messages deal with the importance of believing in yourself, following your heart, and honouring your relatives. The historical and cultural elements will appeal to those readers who enjoy historical fiction, and, specifically, those who seek a more intimate connection to African history.
- How much research did you do before writing your novel?
Many of the stories within the novel come from my own experiences living in Senegal. My grandfather played a very pivotal role in my cultural education, as he was full of stories that inform the person I have become today.
- During your research, was there anything that shocked you, and if so why?
There are plenty of shocking things to take from the brutality of the slave trade. People who were seen as nothing more than a labor commodity were taken from their homes, families, and villages to work in the tobacco fields of America. There, they had no value apart from the products produced from their labor. But, prior to the slave trade, these same people were part of a very cohesive, sophisticated, and cultured civilization that stretched back thousands of years. They were active participants in trade with other nearby civilizations, and they endured the influx of other cultures, such as Christian culture and Muslim culture. They also had a hand in influencing other cultures, like the Egyptians, Greeks, Muslims, and Christians.
- You have turned to crowdfunding to get the book published and marketed, why have your decided to go down this route?
The project has expanded considerably since I first started it. I’ve been in talks with a board game developer, who will assist in creating a children’s game based on the novel. And we are hoping to turn the finished novel into a screenplay that we can then sell to Hollywood. We are seeking funding to assure that all of these projects will be completed in a timely manner and with the right amount of professional expertise and input.
- In schools around the world, the history of slaves and how they were treated has widely been ignored, why do you think that is?
It’s ugly history. For those who are of European descent, it can be troubling to come to grips with the fact that one’s ancestors participated in this type of brutality. This book is not meant to demonize those who participated in this (in many ways, one of the main characters, a would-be slave trader, wonders if his Christian beliefs are being compromised by participating). And for those who are descendants of former slaves (most African Americans today), it’s an opportunity to understand that despite all of the evils and wrongs perpetuated on our people over the years, we are still here. It is time to tell those stories of what life was like for Africans before contact with slave traders. It stands to fill in missing pieces of American history, and, by extension, world history.
- How important is it for people to learn about the culture of African Americans?
African American history is American history. Enslaved Africans have as much stake in the building this country as do their European masters—for without the labor enslaved Africans provided, the country would not have grown as fast as it did (economically, politically, and culturally). It may not have been able to fend off English military might. And, looking at African American culture today, it has its roots in Africa as well. This is an important time to honor the contributions of our ancestors to understand who we are today. And, in America, we can’t resign ourselves to think that our particular group did everything. Europeans provided the infrastructure, coming on the heels of the Enlightenment, which gave new power to science and technology and individual effort. Racial minorities of all stripes were the backbone, building the pathways of the future. That is every American’s inheritance.
- Would you like to see schools teach children more about African Americans?
A story like this is perfect for educational purposes. It’s infused with words in the native Wolof language and provides an opportunity to learn about a new culture. And the overarching messages (perseverance, believing in oneself, respecting one’s elders) are themes that speak to every generation and every person, no matter where their ancestors are from.
- Do you think it is harder for authors nowadays to get published?
There is so much talent out there that it seems hard to break into publishing. But technology is such now that many people are finding other avenues to read their audiences. So, yes and no. It’s a great time to be in publishing, but there are also many leagues to go where representation of marginalized peoples and education about history are concerned.
- Would you say it is harder for African American authors to get published?
I would say that 20 years ago it was harder for people of color to get a publishing deal. These days, agents and publishers are looking for fresh perspectives, told from the perspectives of people who in many ways had no voice prior. These developments in publishing mean that the playing field seems to be levelling. Again, it’s a great time to be in publishing.
- There are not a lot of African American novels on the shelves in book shops, why do you think that is?
Again, there have been enormous cultural shifts in the book publishing world over the past 20 years. We can blame European supremacist views for the lack on representative publishing in years prior. But American society has become more liberal where that is concerned. Black authors are getting big publishing deals now. Native American authors are telling their own history now! People take to social media demanding more representation. Book publishers are listening.
- How important is it that people get to read your new book?
Whenever you are producing a great story, you want readers to get the full benefit of what you are writing. Readers want to be taken on a journey. This novel will not disappoint those who are hoping to delve into a world that is utterly foreign to them, but, at the same time, they may learn something they didn’t know about American and world history in the process.
- Do you think we are doing enough to encourage children to read?
I think we could do more. And one of the great things about writing a book like this, especially for communities of color, is that they can start to see themselves in these stories. They might identify with the courage that Kundul, the main character, demonstrates, or even the way some of the more sinsister characters develop and what happens to them. This in general makes learning more fun. When they can see a part of themselves in a story, they are more likely to remember it, share it with others, and, to a large extent, feel a part of the literary world.
- What was the first book you read?
I think the Curious George series was one of the earliest book compilations that produced fond memories for me. The main character was a monkey named George who was always getting himself into trouble. And his handler, The Man in the Yellow Hat, was always getting George out of those binds. It was very comical.
To learn more about the book, please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/916010741/book-production-services-fundraiser/description