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Foreign Languages and Literatures Alum Brings Recognition to His Upbringing in Africa

A native from Mali, a culturally rich nation located in the West African Craton, NC State alum Abdoul Salam Maiga first interest in college was not literature but Socio-Anthropology. However, as soon as he finished his Bachelor’s degree in the field, he realized that his real passion was not there but in literature — specifically French literature. So, he went on to complete a Maîtrise — Master’s degree — in French Literature at École normale supérieure in Bamako, Mali. Then, in 2007, he came to the US to study English and, some time after that, decided to apply again to Graduate School. He ended up accepting admission and a TA’ship from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at NC State, from which he graduated with distinction in 2012.

After finishing school, Abdoul sets out to bring recognition to his upbringing in Africa, which he felt was his moral obligation. He aims to bring his rich African heritage to life via text, as a majority of the culture has been passed down orally. The impact that the MA program has had on his life and career is not lost on him, whom has an extreme appreciation of his education and the opportunities that this degree has created.

What follows is an interview we did with Abdoul via email in which he talks about his writing, his passion for literature and his appreciation for the quality of education he received at NC State.

How have your experiences and history in academia influenced your writing?

First, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself. Writing has imposed itself on me. My desire to present the realities of my culture through writing has been reinforced with my increased level of education, most notably, my acceptance into North Carolina State University’s MA in French program. I had the opportunity to speak directly with professors who have authored several books and contributed to the development of worldwide knowledge. While writing my paper, I learned that simple things can combine together to make complex and interesting things. At the top of it all, I learnt to be patient and persistent in my work.

I come from cultures that have so much to share with the rest of the world. African cultures are very varied and rich, but they are mostly oral. Yet many of the books used in schools across Africa are written by non-Africans, and often describe realities that contrast with those of learners. Imagine teaching about snow to a child living in the Sahara desert? I have always said that African realities must be written in order to reduce the influence of many foreign books taught in those school because they are not adequate at all to the realities of the learners. I would like to clarify that I am not asking Africans not to read or use foreign books. All I want is to advance a better knowledge of African culture. I would like it to be the main focal point.

Were there any opportunities offered through the department that have impacted you in your career?

At the end of my Master’s, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Then, my professors from NC State advised me about several options to continue my education beyond the Master’s –for instance, a PhD– that I am still exploring.

Will your second book be translated into as many languages as your first?

My first book — originally written in French and titled Soutoura, la princesse Songhoï — was translated into English and thirteen other different languages and my second book — also in French and titled La perle du Sahara — has already been translated into English. One of my goals is to keep translating my books into many local African languages as well as other languages. I would like to erase the barrier of languages in order to allow Africans to enjoy my writings in their own language and also give the international community the opportunity to grasp the meaning of African values and life styles. Right now I have a small team of volunteers from various countries. I don’t have much to pay them, with my limited funding, but If I get better support, I will continue to translate my books in multiple languages.

I think the MA program in French at NCSU is great.” — Abdoul Salam Maiga.

Have you always had a passion for writing?

I have a passion to share African cultures. Writing is a very good way to do so. Some moral obligations urge me to write. For instance, my village did not have schools until around 1886, which means that we have been learning for less than two centuries. Villagers were — and even presently are — still reluctant to send their children to school. They don’t see the link between their cultures and schools. The books are in French and they mostly speak about Western world. I am the first one in my village to write a book in our native language. Since my first book was published, it became a sort of a bible for the students as well as other people from my village who don’t even know how to write. Knowing the original story, anyone from my village can use the illustrations to explain my book. Many people have read it over and over again, and some children have identified with my characters, who became their second teachers.

What drew you to a career in teaching?

I believe that teaching is a very noble profession. It allows us to train ourselves while teaching others. Without a doubt, it is a hard job which requires constant effort and continuous concentration, but with it, also comes boundless joy when one realizes that he/she is contributing to the intellectual development of others.

What drew you to the French language, and made you want to work for your Master’s in it?

I did not have a choice; French was and continues to be the only language available for students in my country. I was not alphabetized in my own native language. I only did French from my first day in school to my last. I was lucky to be in the USA in 2007 and to embark on the serious study of the English language. However, I am glad that french allowed me to continue with my education.

Was there any specific part of the MA program at NC State that has prepared you for, or shaped your professional life?

I think the MA program in French at NCSU is great. I cannot point out one specific part that shaped my professional life, but I can state that I noticed the usefulness of the entire program. For instance, my first contract with the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute dealt with pure French language and the anthropology of tourism. The second contract with Nashville Community College was about the French language. I worked with a translation company at one point. Now while writing my books, I employ several other skills leant from different subjects.

Do you see yourself continuing down the path of literature in the future?

I see myself continuing with a PHD program in French while I continue to write. I have volunteers from the USA, Benin, Ghana, Mali, and Kenya working with me right now. I think that with time, our team will be able to gain more experience and focus on African oral culture, and work towards churning its rich history and teachings into stories.

In what ways could being bilingual help prospective students while they study or work abroad?

Being bilingual helps students to read multiples books in different languages. Different topics after all, are always tackled according to an author’s cultural and linguistic background. Being able to say good morning in any language also aids in breaking social boundaries and building trust.

How have you melded your bachelors degree in socio-anthropology with your masters in French?

I always like to challenge myself. In my third year at University, while undertaking a B.A. in Socio-Anthropology, I decided that I needed to finish with two degrees. I did an exam in the year 2000 for a another graduate school called École normale supérieure and succeeded in the field of French. I found the study of languages very interesting. It helped me to sharpen my mind, and expand my world view.

What advice do you have for current NC State students studying foreign languages and literatures?

I would advise them to remain very focused in the class, and to keep in mind that every subject is important. Learning a language is more than being able to do assignments and get good grades. One has to be able to efficiently use the language they are studying. It is essential to keep practicing through conversation. I met couple of very good french teachers who could not speak this language, but read and write very well.

What advice would you to have for a college student interested in publishing their own works someday?

In life, our dreams should always be bigger than our present reality. We should always dream big. Publishing is possible and each of us has something unique to share with the rest of the world. I encourage all aspiring authors to take the time and work hard on their drafts, and if necessary, look for some extra help to improve his/her own work before looking for a publisher.

What is your overall opinion of the MA program in Foreign Languages at NC State, has it paid off for you in your career?

It is a good program that allows student not only to work for schools and companies, but also for themselves.

Would you recommend receiving a MA in foreign languages to students on the fence about pursuing one?

Learning a new language is always fun and useful. Whoever would like to discover and enjoy other cultures should learn more languages.