Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

Discover Paris! and the Toni Morrison Society Conference in Paris

Sunday, November 7th, 2010
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Toni Morrison
(c) Discover Paris!

The Toni Morrison Society is holding its sixth Biennial Conference in Paris, France from November 4-7. Called Toni Morrison and Circuits of the Imagination, it is the first conference that the group has hosted outside the United States in its seventeen years of existence. Highlights of the event were the induction of Toni Morrison into the Legion of Honor; her receipt of the “Medaille de Grand Vermeil” from the City of Paris; a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the publication of Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye; and the dedication of a bench on rue Louis Delgrès, which is one of the sites in Paris where the city commemorates the abolition of slavery in France’s colonies.

Discover Paris’ role in the four-day conference was to give a tour of sites relevant to African / Diaspora history in the French capital. Monique Y. Wells, co-founder of the travel planning service, provided commentary to approximately one-third of the conference attendees during a three-hour bus tour that covered the city yesterday. Wells not only reminded participants of events such as the 1956 Congress of Negro Writers and Artists that was held at the Sorbonne, but also regaled the group with little-known facts about African-American personalities who lived in Paris during the 20th century. In particular, the story of painter Beauford Delaney’s final “Paris years” struck a chord with the group. Wells recently founded a non-profit association called Les Amis de Beauford Delaney to resurrect the memory of this painter.

Monique Giving Bus Tour Commentary
(c) Discover Paris!

Though it rained for much of the tour, the skies cleared sufficiently to allow the group to stop at Place Josephine Baker for photographs. Upon reboarding the bus, Wells relayed the story of Baker’s last performance run in Paris, which took place at the Bobino theater just a couple of blocks away from the square that now bears her name.

Participants Gathering for Group Photo
at Place Josephine Baker
(c) Discover Paris!

Among the various services that it offers, Discover Paris! has been providing private walking tours, self-guided itineraries, museum visits, and excursions on African-American history in the French capital since 2000. This set of activities has recently been rechristened Entrée to Black Paris™. Its new mission is to increase awareness of the contribution of all African Diaspora peoples to the richness and diversity of contemporary life in the French capital.

When asked to describe her reaction to the opportunity to participate in the Toni Morrison Society conference, Wells said, “It is an honor and a privilege to contribute to this historic event in support of Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison and the Toni Morrison Society. Since 2001, Discover Paris! has been working with the conference organizer Professor Janis Mayes on her Paris Noir summer study abroad program. We are very pleased that she selected us to be a part of this program as well!”


By A. D. McKenzie

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
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Shakespeare and Company
(c) Discover Paris!

Literature lovers were in for a treat recently when more than 30 famous writers descended on Paris for the fourth Shakespeare and Company Literary Festival.

The three-day event drew hundreds to the René Viviani Square – across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral and a few steps from the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookstore itself. Readers came to listen to authors such as Martin Amis, Petina Gappah, Philip Pullman, Jeanette Winterson, and Hanif Kureishi.

The theme this year was “Storytelling and Politics”, and the writers rose to the challenge of discussing topics that included “what the World Cup means for Africa”, “politics and violence in Pakistan” and “how to write a book in a military dictatorship.”

Novelist and film-maker Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia) gave a witty presentation titled “Writing the Suburbs, Writing the City.” He told the audience that he now believed the “identity novel” is dead. He said he realized the “game was up” when he found himself on a panel in Asia with three beautiful Indian first-time novelists who all lived in New York.

Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) spoke about the effects that literature can have on people’s lives and thinking. She said she was convinced that the much talked-about demise of the book was premature – and she seemed to be right, judging from the number of people that bought books after each session.

The bi-annual festival in fact highlights the unique role that the Shakespeare and Company bookshop has played in Parisian literary life. The original store was opened in 1919 by an American ex-pat named Sylvia Beach, who welcomed writers such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. Her store became a meeting place for many wandering English and American scribes, as well as for readers who could buy or borrow books.

The shop was shut down in 1941 during the German occupation of France, but 10 years later a second English-language bookshop was opened on the city’s Left Bank by another American – George Whitman. This store acquired the Shakespeare and Company name when Beach died. It now houses the Sylvia Beach Memorial Library on its first floor, “where free readings and writers’ workshops take place, where visitors sit to read all day, and where young writers stay at night,” according to the shop’s own lore.

Whitman, now 96 years old, still keeps an eye on things, says the literary festival’s co-organizer Jemma Birrell. She said the theme of “Storytelling and Politics” was in keeping with his view that a bookshop is a political act because of the titles it chooses and the writers it promotes. Whitman’s daughter Sylvia launched the first festival in 2003 and currently does the day-to-day running of the store.

We wish to thank A. D. McKenzie for her contribution to the Paris Insights blog.

Jacques Chirac at La Rhumerie

By A. D. McKenzie

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
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Jacques Chirac at La Rhumerie
Photography by A. D. McKenzie

“What’s going on inside … why do I have to walk in the street instead of on the sidewalk?”

This was the question from a pedestrian on Sunday afternoon as she tried to avoid a large crowd and a troop of police officers in front of a café on the boulevard Saint-Germain. The reason for the throng was that former French president Jacques Chirac was inside La Rhumerie café signing copies of the second volume of his autobiography.

The 77-year-old Chirac is a frequent patron of the café (known for its rum-based cocktails and its Caribbean cuisine), and manager Dominique Herenguel said she was delighted when the politician decided he would autograph his book there.

“It’s wonderful that he has chosen to give us this honor,” she said.

Chirac seemed relaxed as he chatted with admirers of all ages. At one point, a couple clamored for him to hug their baby, and he smilingly complied as the cameras rolled. He later spent time talking to a young boy who appeared thrilled by the attention.

Between autographs, Chirac paused to sip a frothy white cocktail, while his security staff tried to keep journalists and photo-hunters from getting too close in the packed cafe.

Despite all the excitement, some regular diners continued nibbling on their salt-fish fritters and drinking their exotique punch, seemingly oblivious to the hoopla.

La Rhumerie, established in 1932, is an institution in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area. It is located a few steps from the landmark church and from similarly famous cafés such as Les Deux Magots. The owners try to keep its profile high with literary spectacles, art exhibitions, and other cultural events.

As Chirac signed copies of his book, he was flanked by the colorful canvases of Nathalie Lemaître, a French artist who has held annual exhibitions at La Rhumerie for the past five years. Her current show runs until July 11 – something to catch if you missed Chirac.

We wish to thank A. D. McKenzie for her contribution to the Paris Insights blog.