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.
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.
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!”