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Author Grandbois aims to become a true Davis citizen

August 21, 2006
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Peter Grandbois and his family moved to Davis in July and yet when he held a public reading from his recently published first novel more than 30 people turned out.

“We just moved here from Colorado yet I see a lot of neighbors here tonight and I really appreciate it,” said Grandbois at his Border’s reading in early August.

Those in the audience included neighbors, yes, but also other Davis writers and three students who will be studying with Grandbois this fall when he begins teaching Latin American literature at California State University, Sacramento.

At the event he read the first chapter of his novel, “The Gravedigger” (Chronicle Books, 2006, $23.95). This is the gist of it: In a small, whitewashed village in Andalucia, Spain, Juan Rodrigo, is a gravedigger. The job was handed down to him by his father, as was the ability to hear the voices of the dead and to tell their stories to the living. When his daughter, Esperanza, falls in love with a gypsy boy he doesn’t approve of, Rodrigo finds his tolerance and acceptance put to the test.

“The book is about how happiness and grief exist side-by-side, and is a novel about story-telling,” said Grandbois. He said his work was heavily influenced by the Latin American style of magic realism.

He has a master’s in fiction from Bennington College and a Ph.D. from University of Denver.

“I was born in Minneapolis and grew up in Denver,” he said. But he fell in love with Northern California when he came here in 1991. At the time he was not a writer but a member of the U.S. Fencing Team.

Then he moved to Chicago where he worked as a high school English teacher. In 1994, he met the woman he would marry, Tanya Wilson.

“At that time I was not interested in Spain at all,” he said. But Tanya, whose mother was Spanish, introduced him to Spain.

“We took our honeymoon in Spain in the Malaga region where she grew up,” Grandbois said. The two have returned to Spain every summer for more than 10 years.

In fact, when Tanya got a job in Barcelona she and Grandbois decided that they wanted to live there permanently and raise a family.

“In 1997 we lived in Barcelona where I fenced and began to write seriously for the first time,” he said. “I fell in love with her family, the culture and the people of Spain,” he said.

But there was a problem. Tanya was pregnant and Grandbois had no job. They were poor.

“We were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he said. “But we still would have stayed in Barcelona but we were starting a family.”

They decided to return to Denver where Grandbois worked in his family’s business.

“I got serious about writing,” he said. “I got up at 5 a.m. and wrote every day.”

Now with two children in the family, Grandbois realized that he had to continue working hard. Fortunately, he said, Denver was booming in the 1990s and his family’s business – a temp agency for secretaries and general office help – was doing very well.

After saving enough money, he quit work in order to enroll in a doctorate program at the University of Denver. He graduated in June with a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature. Then he applied for 36 teaching jobs all over the country and got five interviews.

“Northern California was my first choice,” he said. “I’m glad to be at Sac State. I always knew I wanted to write, but I couldn’t just sit alone in my room,” he said. “It invigorates me to work with students.”

Now Grandbois and his family of three children are settling in to life in Davis. They all have bikes, he has visited the fencing club, the kids are enrolled at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, and Tanya is meeting other people from Spain.

“We’re going to be involved all over the place,” he said.

In fact, Grandbois plans to commute by bike to Sac State.

“I want to be a true Davis citizen,” he said.

He’s well on his way.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org and watch for more local writers to be featured biweekly at this web site. If you want to know how some Davis residents are getting involved with India today, go to www.sahaya.org

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