Felix Rodriguez is a dad, an author and a man with a story to tell about "The Greatest". Below, my interview with this impassioned writer:
JD: What was the initial inspiration for your Dad, Me and Muhammad Ali and what age group is it meant for?
FR: The initial inspiration for my book occurred at a bookstore in Harlem, New York in 2004. It was the day I took my nine-year old son, Jo-Jo, with me to meet the Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali. Ali was promoting his new book The Soul of A Butterfly written with his daughter, Hana. Prior to the meet and greet, we were verbally warned that Ali will not be signing or posing for any photos. Well, I guess it was our lucky day because Ali not only signed for us, three times to be exact, and once Cassius Clay, but he also posed for a photo with my son. It was an incredible experience for me and my son. As a child from a father-absent home, I value fatherhood and I knew this was a day I needed to document. That is when the idea of Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali was born. I wanted to share a father and son story with cultural flavorings of Latino family life. The book is geared towards ages 8 to 12. It's an easy-reader chapter book, but that doesn't mean adults can't enjoy its references to boxing and Muhammad Ali or the message of the importance of fatherhood.
JD: Why do you think Ali is still such an iconic figure? What is it about him?
FR: I could probably give you million reasons, but I'll share with you what Ali has meant to me. I am the sixth child in a family of seven. My dad left my home when I was about five-years old. Growing up, I was surrounded by drugs, violence, and saw too many of my friends incarcerated. I've been through a lot as a young man and I didn't have a positive male role-model to look up to, so I looked up to Ali. I watched a lot of old boxing fight films, read and studied books about him. Ali taught me to be more humble and caring for people. His accomplishments in and out of the boxing ring are stuff of legend. Ali won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He became world heavyweight champion three different times becoming the first boxer to achieve that. Ali stood up against racism in a time when people were afraid due to racial tensions. He gave hope and pride to people of color. Ali has received countless awards and honors including receiving the 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom. For these reasons and many more, Muhammad Ali will always be considered an iconic figure!
JD: What writers have influenced you most?
FR: Maurice Sendak. I say Sendak because I had the pleasure of attending a function in 2003 where he was the keynote speaker. During his keynote, he spoke about how writing and illustrating impact children's emotions, imagination, and dreams. Sendak shared a lot of anecdotes, but one captivated me most, it was a story of a young bedridden girl that had he visited in a hospital. Sendak described how he began to illustrate Where the Wild Things Are (her favorite book) characters as he sat beside her. This young girl who was not feeling well all of sudden found this burst of energy and excitement when she noticed the familiar character illustrations. Sendak talked about how this young girl smiled and appeared to be happy during that moment. Even if it was for a short time, Sendak made that young girl forget her conditions. For me, it was a heartwarming message that the written word and illustrations can be very powerful for our young children. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer.
JD: How do you juggle writing with job, family, etc.? Are you disciplined like Ali?
FR: My writing time is usually late at night and early weekend mornings. My family is my priority, so if I am writing and my wife or kids need something, I stop banging the keys. There are times I wish I could get away to a quiet beautiful warm beach to be energized and inspired. Yeah right, then I wake up. I had to learn how to deal with the distractions. For me, the important thing to remember is no matter what, to keep writing. I walk around the house and repeat this to myself...think writer, be a writer, you are a writer...now write darn it!
JD: What are you working on now?
FR: I have a few projects lined up. I am working on another children's book. It's about Roberto Clemente. I was also recently asked to write some short stories about my life. But I have to be honest. I have been very busy promoting Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali. I enjoy book signings, speaking engagements, and visiting schools. My favorite part of being a writer is the connection with people. I love networking. I made it my mission to share the message of the importance of fatherhood. It is my hope to inspire and empower the fatherless youth in America to dream big and learn more.
For more on Felix check out his website: