As soon as Firoozeh (Fear-ooZay) Dumas started signing her Funny in Farsi books last Tuesday, a funny thing happened – they sold out.
When Dumas read her stories to the audience, Mills Hall was silent until the story ended. And then it seemed that the entire hall broke out in laughter. Occasionally, she took a break from a story by taking a swig from a bottle of water. While she drank, the audience waited, and probably would have sat waiting in anticipation forever with the promise of a story of another supermarket adventure or a relative's botched name.
"Where are you from? Where's Iran? Is it by Persia?" she recounted.
To simplify introductions, Dumas eventually began to refer to herself as being from, "Iran, land of Persian cats."
Mills College's MFA annual Contemporary Writers Series hosted Dumas' reading, the first in this year's series. Her book is a memoir detailing the humor in coming to America as a 7-year-old with no grasp of English and a name unpronounceable to most. As she recounted, having a difficult name could peg someone for constant interrogation.
Having a distinctly foreign name led to many other problems. In one instance, a receptionist pronounced her name as, "Fritzie Dumass."
Dumas' name was such a substantial topic that it became a chapter in her book titled The F-Word. The word that the title refers to is her first name. Once Dumas wrote her book, she encountered problems with selling it.
"Most decision makers in the book world think that when it comes to the Middle East, readers only want to read about oppression and politics. My book is humorous with an underlying message about shared humanity, so there is no 'niche.' The book world does not like to take chances, so for some my gentle book seems too risky," she said.
Firoozeh Dumas was a stay-at-home mom during the writing of her memoir and because it was difficult for her to find quiet time with a young child, she only wrote from the hours of 4-6 a.m. "Once I started writing, I was having so much fun I didn't have to set my alarm. It was extremely fulfilling. Writing was a break from laundry, cooking and cleaning."
When Dumas began writing, it wasn't for humor. "I wanted my children to never be afraid of people who are different from them," she said.
During the evening, the audience responded to her pieces with side-splitting laughter.
"I think it's always interesting to see how audiences react to the reader. This was what we hoped every reader would be like," said Laura Davis, a second year MFA student who helped publicize and organize the event.
After the Funny in Farsi books sold out, a student approached the author with her frustration. After finding that they live in the same town, Dumas responded with, "Why don't you just stop by my house?"
More information about the author can be found at www.firoozehdumas.com. The next reading in the series will be Jamaican-born author Claudia Rankine on Sept. 27 from 5:30-7 p.m. in Mills Hall. All events in the series are free.