Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Top 30 Books on Black Paris & Beyond

A section of my bookcase. 

The largest private collection of books on the African American experience in France I ever saw was on the shelves upon shelves at the home of the late Professor Michel Fabre.
Bookish people like me tend to be a little particular about lending out their precious books but Professor Fabre opened the door and said 'Have a look around. Then, find anything?" I found the stories that I tell on the tours today.

And, in the spirit of those who dedicate their time and passions to teaching or learning about the Black experience, I'd like to share a few of my books with you. Go ahead, pick one or two and prepare yourself for a trip through exceptional lives and experiences.

I've added a few on this list about Paris and France, too, because one theme is a rich source for the other.

  Books We Use on the Tour

Deep Are The Roots - Memoirs of a Black Expatriate
Gordon Heath
Actor in
New York and London, turned folk club nightclub owner of Cabaret de l'Abbaye from 1948 in Saint-Germain-des-Pres amid the rage of jazz clubs.

Henry Ossawa Tanner - A Spiritual Journey
Marcus C. Bruce
In the Lives and Legacies series by Crossroads Publishing Company.
Tanner’s story is one where you cheer on the little guy who wields a huge amounts of talent.
He was more than an inspired painter - dedicated husband, proud father, mentor, community leader, Red Cross worker.

La reine des pommes
Chester Himes
The 50th anniversary of the Serie Noire by Gallimard.
The novel that opened the doors to the
France kingdom for Chester Himes. Turned into the movie 'A Rage In Harlem'.

Black Boy - the restored text established by the Library of America, 1993 edition
Richard Wright
Signed by Wright's daughter, Julia Wright.
I love the way every couple of years the cover of this timeless novel changes, in a style that attracts new readers all over again
Why I Left
America and Other Essays
Oliver W. Harrington. Introduction by M. Thomas Inge.
A close friend of Richard Wright and well-known
Pittsburgh cartoonist, Harrington gives indepth perspective on his exile in Europe, his homeland, and the culture he was trying to outrun. I use readings from this in my presentations.

Three Lives
Gertrude Stein
This was Stein's first published book, and one of the three lives is that of Melanctha, a worldly-wise and sensitive Black girl. When Richard Wright read this story, he said he could hear his grandmother's voice in the character, and he struck up a lifelong friendship with Stein.
Harlem to Paris - Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980
Michel Fabre
My bible.

A Street Guide to African Americans in
Michel Fabre
Bible #2

Notes of a Native Son, 1984 edition.
James Baldwin
Baldwin’s first nonfiction book. To get inside Baldwin’s mind via these searing essays is an unforgettable trip. Includes life in Harlem, protest novels and his first, turbulent insights on living in Paris.

For Ongoing Research and Enlightenment

Negrophilia - Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s
Petrine Archer-Straw
 Explores the ambiguities and racial complexities of the 1920s
Paris through every artistic and cultural expression possible. Absolutely fascinating.

The ABC of Color
W.E.B. DuBois. Introduction by John Oliver Killens
Sixty years of brilliant insights from this social scientist, historian and pioneer in black liberation. While trying to find myself in the European culture during my first years in
Paris, this book got me reflecting on what it meant to be black.

Black Paris - The African Writers' Landscape
Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Forward by Simon Njami
This professor of sociology at U. California at
San Diego explores African writing and identity in France from early negritude, founding of the Presence Africaine publishing house to the mid-1990s.

Black France / France Noire - The History and Politics of Blackness
Trica Danielle Keaton, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Tyler Stovall, Editors.
In a country that doesn't recognize race as a meaningful category, how to understand and explain the realities of race and racism in this supposedly race-blind society. Brilliant essays that address some deeply challenging questions on how prejudice manifests itself. You don't get a better picture than through these three experts.

Harlem Renaissance - Hub of African American Culture, 1920-1930.
Steven Watson.
Amazing achival photos and page-turning storytelling. This book helped me gain foundation and bridge between the Harlem Renaissance and the brilliance that continued in Roaring Twenties Paris.

Talking at the Gates - A Life of James Baldwin
James Baldwin
Say it again, James.
Paris Then and Now

Writers in Paris - Literary Lives in the City of Light
David Burke
Love the way David tells a story - Includes Wright,
Baldwin, Alexandre Dumas
Le Paris des Etrangers, (The Paris of Foreigners)
Edited by Andre Kaspi and Antoine Mares
Paris as a refuge for the self-exiled, poets, writers, photographers, musicians, architects, sculptors, as well as students, workers, the persecuted and dilettantes  from all nationalities... Interesting reflection on how French attitudes were changing.

De l'indigene à l'immigre  (From Native to Immigrant)
Pascale Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel
In the series Decouvertes Gallimard
The French colonial model ‘bringing their colonies gently into the light of civilization’, as the authors put it. From colonialization to immigration to integration of
France's colonies. Excellent archival images of advertising depicting Black, Arabic and South East Asian stereotypes.

Les Juifs à Paris a la Belle Epoque
Beatrice Philippe
Because I also have a keen interest in Jewish culture. 

Gourmet Paris - an A to Z of the best dishes - Restaurant guide
Emmanuel Rubin
More than just a handy guide, it describes the traditional French dishes and gives historical context to the dishes. Mini history of
France by mouth.

Guide to Impressionist Paris
Patty Lurie
A brilliant then-and-now guide book of street scenes as painted by Degas, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh et al juxtaposed with photographs of the exact same location today. Because
Paris is always a dance between the past and the present.

Chic et jolie à petits prix a Paris - the best addresses for fashion and beauty for smart Parisians.
Charlotte Roudaut, from the series Les Guides qui changent la ville.
I'm not much of a shopper and this little guide book makes it easy for me to cut through the shash.

The Road from the Past - Traveling through History in France
Ina Caro
More than just facts, an opinionated guide that takes history buffs like me right into the heart of Provence, Loire Valley and all point in between. How can you live in this country and not succomb to the pull of history.

Boris Vian - Manuel de Saint-Germain-des-Pres
Boris Vian (aka The White Negro)
Vian was the pope of post WWII Saint-Germain-des-Pres, he opened jazz clubs where the best musicians (Miles, Sidney, Bud P…) came to play but he was also a fabulous, irreverent raconteur of his favorite neighborhood. This edition includes a booklet of photos plus a CD. This, plus Alain Souchon’s “Rive Gauche à Paris” brings back the best days of this part of the  6th arrondissement.

L'Afrique de la colonisation a l'independance
Anne Stamm, from the series Que sais-je?
My primer on African colonization to Independence.

Paris Put a Pen in their Hands

(click on the book title for link)

Jake Lamar
Is it possible that we have a reincarnation of Richard Wright and Chester Himes in our midst? Mais, oui! From Jake's first - the autobiographical 'Bourgeois Blues' to political thrillers to Paris based who mystery-thrillers, Jake is the master.

Tanner Blue - a novel
Valerie Haynes Perry
A story born on the Left Bank of the Seine when the author learned that the French named a color after Henry Ossawa Tanner. Valerie penned this after taking our tours.

Project Girl
Janet McDonald
A powerful account of a young girl from the Projects struggle to realize her dreams. Janet, a lawyer turned successful author, who realized her dream of living in
Paris and becoming a writer. A segment of her divided life and battle to reconcile opposing worlds.

Passing Love - a novel
Jacqueline E. Luckett
This romantic yet realistic novel shifts between
Paris of today lived by a young questing woman and the jazzy expat city of the 1950s.

Half-Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan
Written by an Afro-Canadian, this award-winning novel of WWII jazz era
Paris and Nazi Germany stands out with its musical diction - it reads like a jazz piece.
Annandale Blues
Guy Ducornet
The memoir of a young French jazz lover whose encounter with Ralph Ellison changed his life. He wrote this book after meeting me on a flight from
Paris and I told him the significance of his living on Rue Fontaine, formerly the heart of 1920s Black Paris.


Charity said...

This is fantastic!

Shannon @ Reading Has Purpose said...

I adore this post. Now I must go add these titles to my to-read Goodreads list.