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Combating stereotypes

Author with comedic moments tells Sage Hill students how to defuse negative prejudices.

October 16, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com
  • Author Firoozeh Dumas, left, author of "Funny in Farsi," answers a student question after she spoke during assembly at Sage Hill about being Iranian and growing up in America.
Author Firoozeh Dumas, left, author of "Funny in… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

NEWPORT COAST — It was funny in English, as well as in Persian, as Firoozeh Dumas had hundreds of Sage Hill students laughing out loud in the high school's gymnasium on Friday.

The well-known author regaled them with funny bits and pieces about the occasional Iranian American culture clashes.

A successful writer who's published a pair of books, "Laughing Without an Accent" and "Funny in Farsi," Dumas said ABC came awfully close to producing a sitcom on her life but later demurred.

Not one for accepting rejection — she got a lot of that for her writing before getting published — Dumas joked that the ultimate rejection had to be when ABC turned her down for the role in which she would use her own voice for her own part in the pilot sitcom.

When one student stood up and asked her whether she was "furious" at not landing a role that so logically should have been hers, Dumas jokingly quipped, "I got paranoid! I thought, 'What's wrong with my voice?'"

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She's since moved to Irvine from Palo Alto and her daughter is a sophomore at Sage Hill. And to update on her career, she's currently putting together a series of short stories for children, which she quickly pointed out is "not about vampires," a quip pointed at the "Twilight" phenomenon.

Her 40-minute presentation was the second in a series of commemorative presentations that are being carried out at the high school to mark the 10th anniversary of its founding on Newport Coast Drive.

Born in the small town of Abadan in southern Iran, Dumas said she and her family moved to Whittier when she was just a child and her father got a job on the periphery of Los Angeles.

Eventually Dumas enrolled in the public school system and recounted to the students how she always remembers being amazed at how she could check out books at the public library without having to pay for them.

The freedom to read eventually bred the ability to write, which she started in earnest at the age of 36, and she hasn't looked back since.

Now, at 45, she's successful, and her tales of how she got there are hilarious — if not an illustration of how stereotypes tend to work in the industry. For example, she joked about how one agent in particular asked her to express "more oppression and a sense of struggle" in her work, to which she responded that not all Middle Eastern women are oppressed.

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