African-American expatriates in Paris
09 Friday Mar 2012
African-American artists in Paris, Books about Paris and France, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, Josephine Baker in Art and Life by Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Kiratiana's Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found by Kiratiana Freelon, Paris, Paris Noir by Tyler Stovall, The Stone Face by William Gardner Smith
By Kirstin Wood
Inspired by our posts from Kiratiana Freelon’s Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found and D-Day historian Alan Davidge’s post Stars, Stripes and Seine: Americans in occupied Paris 1940-1944 below are a few of our favorite books written by and/or about African-Americans in Paris and France. Some are novels; some are histories; all are fantastic reads.
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin:
Set against the backdrop of 1950s France, Giovanni’s Room profiles a young man caught between two loves – his fiancée and an Italian bartender. Read it for the romance, but also for the in-depth descriptions of mid-century Parisian nightlife.
Best for: history lovers, especially those of military histories
The Stone Face, William Gardner Smith:
Smith is often overshadowed by his more famous contemporaries, James Baldwin and Richard Wright, in surveys of African-American expat literature – but this book, one of my all-time favorites, expertly tangles with issues of race, love, and prejudice in mid-century Paris, and deserves a spot on every Francophile’s bookshelf.
Best for: wannabe flappers, avant-garde artists
Paris Noir, Tyler Stovall:
A professor at UC-Berkeley, Tyler Stovall has built a name for himself as an eminent expert of French history. This particular book is outstanding in its recounting of the community that was forged by African-American artists, writers, dancers, entertainers, musicians, etc., in 20th century Paris.
Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image, Bennetta Jules-Rosette
While “La Baker” is perhaps best known for her role as “Siren of the Tropics,” (a problematic role in itself), Jules-Rosette explores several other roles Josephine Baker inhabited in her life, giving this famous entertainer a more multidimensional stardom than she has been given in the past.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Stars, Stripes and Seine: Americans in occupied Paris 1940-1944, by Alan Davidge. 5,000 Americans refused to leave Paris after war broke out in September 1939. Who were they? Read the stories of how Josephine Baker, Sylvia Beach, Arthur Briggs, Drue Leyton, and others lived and breathed Paris during the war.
French Impressions: Kristin Adele Graves and her fascination with heroine Josephine Baker. Kristin Adele Graves, doctoral candidate in African American Studies and French at Yale University, writes about Josephine Baker, a woman who did it all—singer, dancer, film and theater actress, political activist, and author. Baker rose to unprecedented and unparalleled success in the 1930s.
Eating: Afro and French (in Paris), excerpts from Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to BLACK PARIS: Get Lost and Get Found, by Kiratiana Freelon. Although you must sample the highlights of traditional French cuisine, visitors on a quest for black Paris will also be drawn into the city’s eclectic ethnic eateries. Kiratiana shares where to go for Antillean and Sénégalese cuisine in Paris.
African Queen of Parisian Cuisine, from Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to BLACK PARIS: Get Lost and Get Found, by Kiratiana Freelon who writes about the “African Queen of Parisian Cuisine.” Featuring suggestions such as Le Petrossian 144, in Paris, where the head chef is Rougui Dai, a Frenchwoman of Sénégalese decent. There are more than 2,000 French restaurants in Paris. Of the 400 that the Michelin Guide found worth listing, only 77 receive on of their coveted stars. And of those starred restaurants, only one has a black, female head chef: Le Petrossian 144.
A Haunting in Courbevoie and other “Encounters in Paris: A Collection of Short Stories.” Swiss author Carolyn Moncel shares her fictional story about the 17th century, limestone Catholic Church, Église Sainte Agnés located west of Paris. It is a story of love, loss, absolution, and empowerment.
Text copyright ©2012 Kristin Wood. All rights reserved
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.