We had the opportunity to interview children’s book author and poet Alain Serge Dzotap. He started to write poetry after devouring book after book from his hometown’s city library. Today he promotes literacy across Cameroon through workshops, school visits, and his publishing house Les Bruits de l’encre. Alain’s books have received the Saint-Exupéry Valeurs Jeunesse Prize and have been included in the International Youth Library’s White Ravens catalog. In 2016, Alain was recognized with Cameroon’s medal of knight. The Gift is his first book published in English.
What made you decide to become an author?
I was born in a house without any bookcases. I discovered my first written stories in primary school, and they fascinated me. I probably write to tell stories for the little boy that I was.
What makes you most passionate about working as a writer?
Using very simple words to make emotions visible is magic!
I also enjoy meeting my young readers. They always teach me something.
I also like the freedom that the profession of writer gives to me.
What’s a typical workday like?
My very simple workday: writing and jumping for joy when I wrote a beautiful sentence.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
The stories I write now are inspired by my daughter. Seeing her growing up and discovering everything inspires me. I have also been working on traditional tales for a few years.
How much research do you do before you begin a book?
Generally I write short fiction for children. Very little research is needed. Except when I wrote “King Njoya, a brilliant inventor,” a documentary on an African king who invented a type of writing: the shumum. It demanded a month of research.
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
I am mostly inspired by daily life. Some of my stories are pure fantasy. The idea of illustrations also gives me support when I am writing.
What has been the most memorable reaction you’ve received from a reader?
In January 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, I was invited to France for school meetings. After a meeting at the Alexandre Jardin Library in Asnières-sur-Seine, a young boy offered me a large box of chocolate. And he said to me: “I’m so proud of you, Alain Serge!”
I have never forgotten those words.
What do you hope kids learn from The Gift?
My father was a builder and my mother a farmer. Thanks to reading and writing, I was able to escape, to visit other worlds. With The Gift, I would like to communicate to children the power to go further, the power to be free.
When you are not writing, how do you like to relax?
I read or I sleep, dreaming that I wrote the most beautiful story in the world.
But if there’s one thing I’d really love to see, it’s seeing an elephant running and scratching its butt at the same time!
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
I am a miracle! At the start, I had everything against me—absolutely everything! Some days I cried because I was desperate!
Luckily, later on, I met incredible people, whom I didn’t know anything before, who supported me in my career. That’s why I always say you have to believe in humanity. Because nothing is ever lost.
When Leo opens his birthday presents, he receives an amazing gift: a pen! Inside it, Papa says, are many beautiful things. But how do you get them out? None of his friends can guess. Super-Zombo doesn’t get anywhere by blowing on it, and Coco-Tembo thinks it’s too tiny to hold anything important. Maybe Leo’s mama will know how to reveal all the wonders inside…
This warm, charming story is a perfect introduction to the joy of writing. Like Leo, young readers will discover how a simple utensil can express all the words in the world—even one’s own name.