Retired baby doctor finds new life as an author

Debnam's first book is for moms

Staff WriterMay 13, 2006 

— Dr. George Debnam is known in Southeast Raleigh for his riveting community speeches, for the thousands of patients he treated in his downtown family practice and for the estimated 11,500 babies he delivered during his 53-year medical career.

But at 78, Debnam has earned a new title -- an author with a book to sell.

In April, Debnam self-published "God's Gifts: Mothers." The 81-page anthology includes poems, hymns, songs and illustrations about mothers. It features work by writers such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mahatma Gandhi and Rudyard Kipling -- "boys you can't hardly beat," as Debnam calls them.

"God's Gifts: Mothers" is the first of nine manuscripts Debnam has produced or started since he retired from his medical practice in 2002. There are five manuscripts of original material on topics such as the history of Shaw University, West African and African-American funeral traditions, preventing hypertension and diabetes, and Debnam's own life. Other anthologies he hopes to publish include one on Christian humor and another on old Negro spirituals.

"I'm trying to draw attention to things that appear to be forgotten," he said.

Debnam is one of about 10,000 self-publishers who will bring a book to market this year, said Dan Poynter, a publishing expert who has self-published 30 titles since 1972. Such writers operate outside of the traditional publishing system, where a company buys an author's book, then helps promote it and get it in stores.

Self-publishers run the gamut from those who do everything from write, bind, promote and sell the book themselves to those, such as Debnam, who pay a company to do the binding and printing. Richard Nixon and John Grisham both self-published books at one time.

Debnam, a math whiz who entered college at age 15, had planned to be a math teacher. But when he graduated from Shaw in 1947, his advisers thought he was too young to command a classroom. They suggested medical school instead.

At the time, there were just two medical schools in the nation that accepted black students --Meharry College of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., and Howard University in Washington, D.C. Debnam moved to Nashville, where he met his wife, Marjorie Boyd Debnam, during his final year at Meharry. She was a student at Fisk University, the college across the street.

Debnam dedicated "God's Gifts: Mothers" to his late wife, mother and mother-in law.

When Debnam retired, his twin daughters, both physicians, took over the downtown clinic. His eldest daughter, Gwendolyn Morgan, an English professor in Atlanta, introduced him to the idea of self-publishing.

Debnam decided to start with his anthology about mothers. His pastor, the Rev. David Forbes of Christian Faith Baptist Church, served as the book's editor.

Debnam is organizing a homegrown book tour of area churches and has taken out ads in local papers. He held a book-signing at a community center and got the book mentioned in a newsletter that reaches 3,000 churches. The book is available at major book-selling sites.

In April, Debnam's printer delivered the first 500 copies of "God's Gifts." This week, Debnam said he has sold all but about 100 copies. He plans to order more.

Staff writer Janell Ross can be reached at 829-4698 or jross@newsobserver.com.

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