From A Village To The World
North State Novelist Tony D'Souza
Author of the critically acclaimed novels Whiteman and The Koncans, Tony D’Souza loves living in Dunsmuir because it feels like a village. “I miss village life from Africa,” he says. D’Souza lived in Ivory Coast, Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer where he taught AIDS education.
D’Souza has traveled to more than 50 countries, but most of the time he wasn’t heading off to cathedrals and museums featured in guidebooks. Instead, he immersed himself in community life, working on a kibbutz in Israel, caring for children in an orphanage in Madagascar, studying Ainu storytelling in Japan and reporting on the Eric Volz murder trial in Nicaragua.
D’Souza came to the North State in 2002. He taught English as an adjunct professor at College of the Siskiyous and Shasta College, until he gained a full-time position at Shasta College in 2003.
While living in Dunsmuir in the old “mortuary” – “a grand old building right across from the river,” D’Soua says – he would return home from teaching to write. His novel, Whiteman, quickly went from manuscript to a critically recognized novel. He left the North State to promote his book.
Whiteman was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. D’Souza has been published in many nationally distinguished magazines, including The New Yorker, Playboy, Salon, Esquire and Outside. He received a 2006 National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship, a 2007 National Endowment of the Arts Japan Friendship Fellowship and a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship. His latest book, The Koncans, was released in February.
Shasta College English professor Kathryn Gessner says, “I had almost given up reading contemporary fiction when I read my first Tony D’Souza short story. I remember where I was sitting, the sense of the chair, the ambient light on the page. ‘This is good,’ I said to myself.”
She further explains, “When I am reading his fiction, I am reminded that romantic television serials blare through thatched huts with grass mats on dirt floors where people sit cross-legged in the dark, flies alighting all over them. His work has that edge, the edge of a real story in heavy times, always told just south of true, but fresh in ironic metaphor.”
D’Souza returned to Dunsmuir this past summer. Teaching creative writing one day a week at Shasta College leaves time for journalism at the Mt. Shasta Herald. “D’Souza’s work makes people care,” Gessner says. “I laughed out loud when I saw his first byline on the front page of the Mt. Shasta Herald. I could not resist reading the first line of journalistic prose.”
D’Souza began his writing life in a small attic in Germany. Since then, he has been very disciplined with his work. Dr. Brian Spillane, Dean of Science, Language Arts and Mathematics at Shasta College, says, “While an accomplished writer who can blend with the literati of Manhattan, Tony is also very personable, and he never fails to reaffirm the friendships he has. At the same time, witnessing Tony’s success has been something of an inspiration for a number of people. His success is a reminder that with hard work and determination people do excel and accomplish great things. And that begs the question for each of us, ‘Why not you, too?’”
All one has to do is read one of his stories to realize he is also gifted. Many writers work long hours, but that doesn’t ensure a phone call from “Uncle Steve,” as in Stephen King. While in Saratoga, Fla., King asked if D’Souza would like to take a drive with him. “I said ‘Sure, of course,’” D’Souza says. He and King drove around for about three hours listening to Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers on an audio CD and talking about the life of a writer. “He gave me a lot of advice and told me to persevere,” D’Souza says. “He told me he was a fan of my work. I found him to be incredibly generous and friendly, encouraging and supportive. It was one of the highlights of my writing life to date.”