Willimantic, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University’s Distinguished Professor of English, Raouf Mama, has recently authored a memoir titled “Fortune’s Favored Child,” published by the Curbstone Imprint of Northwestern University Press. Mama’s memoir is a coming of age story which centers on his encounter with his father at the age of 20.
“Until then, I had no idea the one I had called father all my life was not my biological father. Until then I had often wondered why my father didn’t like me and had accepted my lot as an ‘unwanted child.’ I had thought I was simply an unlucky child,” Mama says. He recounts the events leading up to the day he considers to be the most joyful day of his life—the reunion with his father. As the story opens, the protagonist falls ill and the school district physician tells him to quit school and, when he feels better, to find a job that requires no mental exertion. His adoptive mother takes him to a clairvoyant healer, however, and in contrast to the school district physician, the healer tells him that only a reunion with his father, from whom he had been separated at birth, would cure him of his sickness.
One of the central chapters in the memoir is the one in which Mama uncovers his identity and learns about the custody dispute between his parents, an ill-tempered dispute which prompted the king to decide to take the child’s life by invoking death upon him to teach the parents a lesson. Only the unexpected and iconoclastic intervention of the king’s eldest wife saved the child’s life. And it is this 11th hour reprieve that gives the memoir its title. “I asked my mother what had made that woman save my life?” Mama says, “She replied ‘she was moved by the hand of God, because you are Fortune’s favored child.'”
The publication of Fortune’s Favored Child is the latest of Mama’s many achievements. In March of this year, he was awarded the title of “Super Professor” by Faculty Row, an international peer-reviewed group of accomplished academics. In 2011, he won an Erasmus Mundus fellowship, a prestigious international fellowship awarded annually by the European Union to a select number of international scholars. In 2009 he won the “Trophee Kwabo,” an international award honoring outstanding members of the Beninese diaspora. In 2008, he won the National Multicultural Children’s Book Award for “Why Monkeys Live in Trees”.
Mama is also the recipient of two Connecticut State University Excellence Awards, two Greater Hartford Arts Council Individual Artist Awards and two artist fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, which has also awarded him the title of Master Teaching Artist. In January 2005, the office of the English Language Program in the U.S. State Department awarded him the title of Senior U.S. English Language Specialist. In December 2004 Mama was awarded a Distinguished Immigrant Award.
A graduate of the University of Michigan with an M.A. and Ph.D in English and Education, Mama is fluent in English, French, Fon and Yoruba, and proficient in Spanish and German.
Mama performs African and multicultural stories, blending storytelling with poetry, song, music and dance. An orator from the African oral tradition, he has been a keynote speaker at literary award ceremonies and fundraisers as well as a plenary speaker at international and regional conferences in the United States, Benin, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Venezuela. He also lectures on African literature and African folklore and conducts workshops on storytelling and creative writing. He is an expert on the power of folktales as multicultural teaching and learning tools, especially as tools for teaching literacy skills, creative writing and public speaking.
Mama regularly travels to Benin to work with English teachers, Peace Corps Volunteers, education professionals and children, using storytelling as a multicultural teaching and motivational tool. Participants’ evaluations and comments often point to Mama deepening their appreciation of the power and magic of storytelling.
Over the past 10 years, Mama has worked in partnership with UNICEF and the School of African Heritage in promoting education and cultural awareness through storytelling. In 2005 and 2006 he travelled to Benin as a Senior U.S. English Language Specialist and provided training for English teachers in all 12 provinces. In December 2008, he participated in the first International Festival of Storytelling and the Spoken Word in Benin.