Written by Joy Huang
Ever since she was young, French teacher Anne Dumontier loved reading and writing. Now, she promotes francophone culture by participating in and leading French book clubs and writing groups. “When you read novels, biographies or essays, you learn about the culture of the characters you read about,” Dumontier said. “Literature in general is definitely a strong medium to promote the culture of a country.”
In France, Dumontier did not have much exposure to book clubs. When she moved to California, she joined a book club from a French association, La Bibliothèque Orange, that has existed for nearly a hundred years. “One of the things that I’ve discovered here is the concept of the book club—it’s something that didn’t exist in France,” Dumontier said. “I found that it’s very nice to be able to read the same book and share what you have been thinking and discuss. You get a deeper understanding of the book.” Her level of involvement grew with her interest, and she eventually became the leader of her chapter. Her responsibilities include ordering and distributing books and organizing discussions. Every year, the book club reads books in French that have been published the year before. They are not all from French authors—some books are translated.
With the rise of technology in recent years, Dumontier decided to start a French digital reading club around five years ago to encourage her friends to utilize a new method for reading. Along with her graphic artist friend Danièle Archambault, she also started an English graphic novel club at the Mitchell Park Library, where members read graphic novels from France. Through this book club, people who do not speak French can also be exposed to a specific genre of French writing. In Dumontier’s classroom, she and Archambault have created the project “French Language and Culture through Comics” (Langue et culture française par la BD), which aims to teach students about francophone culture and language through the process of producing a comic book. “Literature and writing is for me a part of promoting French culture and French literature,” she said. “As a French teacher, not only am I motivated to help my students to do well and learn French, but I’m also motivated in the French community to help people to continue learning about the culture and continue supporting the French language.”
In addition to reading and discussing books, Dumontier also helped start writing workshops for the French- speaking community around 10 years ago. When the workshop stopped a few years ago, she decided to start a French novel support group with her friends to help each other write novels.
Through her reading and writing groups, Dumontier was also exposed to global perspectives. The members of her book clubs come from many different countries, including Mexico, Syria, Iran and Algeria. “ These books clubs are very interesting because even these francophone speakers come from different countries, and they have very different perspectives on the books we read,” she said. “It’s not only the French culture but also the international culture all linked by the French language.”
Through French book clubs and writing workshops, Dumontier is able to share her interests in the community. “It’s true that whatever I do in French could be done in any other language,” she said. “I can only encourage other people to pursue their passion in reading and writing, and it’s true that sharing with others in a book club brings another level of interest for reading.”