Literary Paris hotspots – Part 1

   595  

France’s love of art and literature makes it logical for Paris to be a
living monument to generations of writers whose works continue to
inspire. The city is rife with museums and monuments dedicated to the
memory of its writers, poets, and artists and still excites
contemporary writers, whose continual pilgrimage is testimony to the
influence that this city has on the creative spirit. Literary
luminaries such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Baldwin, Ernest
Hemingway, and Henry Miller—as well as contemporary writers from
Barbara Chase-Riboud to David Sedaris—have all called Paris home at one
time. The City of Light has given many expatriate writers a sense of
personal and artistic freedom and a chance to live la vie parisiènne.

 

For
the avid literature devotée, Paris has many cafés and bars that double
as literary forums where authors, poets, scribblers, and would-be
Balzacs can gather to share ideas along with good food and wine.
Moreover, walking around the city can become a daily celebration in
honour of your favourite writer. Arm yourself with an arrondissement
plan book to help you navigate your way around Paris’s 20 districts
where you can visit all the old haunts of your esteemed littérateur.

A
warning: if you plan to attend any of the ‘’discussion’’ groups in the
cafés, remember that establishments in Paris may be closed from July to
September. During this time, it is best to telephone for program
information.

LITERATI FOOTMARKS

Why not spend an
entire day walking around Paris and spending time in the neighborhoods
where some of America’s best writers lived, worked, and dreamed?
(N.B.: The following selections are not comprehensive.)

Suggested itinerary:
* Monday—Lawrence Ferlinghetti
* Tuesday—James Baldwin
* Wednesday—Margaret Fuller
* Thursday—Henry Miller
* Friday—Langston Hughes

 

MONDAY: Lawrence Ferlinghetti (6th and 7th arrondissements)

Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, famous poet, painter, publisher, and owner of one of
America’s most well known bookstores, earned his doctoral degree in
poetry at the Sorbonne in Paris. Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore,
named after the Charlie Chaplin movie, still stands in its original
location in San Francisco’s North Beach.

Respected as one of the
most important poets in the Beat movement, Ferlinghetti was born in
Yonkers, New York, and raised in France by a female relative. He did
not speak English until he returned to America at the age of five. In
the late 1920’s Ferlinghetti began writing poetry during his years at
boarding school. When his guardian, Sally Bisland, gave him a copy of
Baudelaire’s poems, the gift inspired his love for literature.

In
World War II, Ferlinghetti joined the Navy and ultimately became a
Lieutenant Commander. After the war, he, like many other American
expats, took advantage of the benefits of the G. I. Bill to go to
college. In 1948 he received a Master of Arts from Columbia University,
and later he obtained his Ph.D. in creative writing from the Sorbonne
University of Paris. During this time abroad he met writers Jack
Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Dylan Thomas, as well as other “Beat
Generation” poets and writers.

The Beat generation, a small
group of writers, represented an important period in time for American
writers. While the Beat sub-culture was one of the most creative and
explosive times in postmodern literature, today it is looked upon as a
very distinguished period. Lawrence Ferlinghetti remains its most
celebrated writer and his work is still widely read and admired. Paris
had a special allure for the writers of the ‘’Beat’’ movement, partly
because of its discernible art and culture; the museums, theaters,
glorious gardens and outdoor cafes blended beautifully with the Beats’
creative energy.

89, Rue de Vaugirard (6th arrondissement)—In
1948, Ferlinghetti arrived in Paris for the first time, at the age of
28. He took two rooms here, below street level. The rooms cost $26 and
he stayed for one year. He went on to open the City Lights Bookshop
when he returned to San Francisco.

52, Rue de Seine (6th
arrondissement)—Ferlinghetti stayed in the Hôtel de Seine in June 1963
to spend time visiting his old haunts.

TUESDAY: James Baldwin (4th & 6th arrondissements)

James
Baldwin, one of the most prominent figures in African American
literature, moved to Paris on Armistice Day, November 11, 1948. He was
only 24 when he became part of a group of black expat writers that
included Chester Himes and Richard Wright; Baldwin considered Richard
Wright and Ollie Harrington mentors. And although Baldwin did not speak
French at the time, he had read the classics and watched the films of
Marcel Carné, which he felt gave him enough information about France
and the French to help him adjust to this new culture. It was life as
an expatriate in France that helped Baldwin find his voice as an author.

Baldwin,
the eldest of nine children, was born in 1924 into a poor family in
Harlem, New York. Yet despite the poor quality of the public schools he
attended as a boy, he managed to become an excellent student and
matured into a voracious reader. Spirituality and his exposure to the
Pentecostal Church played an important role in his development as a
writer. But he became disillusioned with the church early on and
rejected its teachings, even though biblical themes are plentiful in
his work, most notably the religious anguish of the character John
Grimes in Go Tell It on The Mountain (1953).

Baldwin wrote his
first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain, in Paris. This book
established him as one of the leading commentators on the condition of
black people and their social injustices in the United States. From
then on, his novels began working at a personal level, exploring issues
of identity, family, and sexuality. This made Baldwin a literary and
political star in Paris and the United States. But despite this
success, Baldwin’s did not share the same fondness for France and the
French as many of his fellow expatriates. While many enjoyed the ways
of the French, Baldwin appreciated that the French were indifferent and
left him alone. ‘’This total indifference came as a great relief and,
even as a mark of respect,’’ he said.

Baldwin remained a
prominent presence on the Paris intellectual scene for 20 years and
regularly spoke at many cultural events and political meetings. The
French awarded him the Legion of Honor in 1985, and when he died in
Saint Paul in December 1987, the French press and TV treated him as an
honorary citizen of France.

10, Quai d’Orléans (4th
arrondissement)—James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, bought a
house here where Baldwin was a frequent guest.

170, Boulevard Saint-Germain (6th arrondissement)—Café Deux Magots
James Baldwin meets the writer Richard Wright at the café. Wright helps Baldwin to find an affordable hotel.

WEDNESDAY: Margaret Fuller (9th arrondissement)

Margaret
Fuller, writer and lecturer, was born into a distinguished family in
Massachusetts in 1810. She received a full classical education at an
early age that led to some psychological pressures in her adolescence.
She often complained of having ‘’spectral illusions, somnambulism, and
nightmares’’ throughout her youth.

As a young woman Fuller
became interested in transcendentalism and subsequently served as
editor on THE DIAL: a magazine for literature, philosophy and religion
(1840 to 1842). When Fuller was 36 she accepted an invitation from
Horace Greeley to move to New York and become the first literary critic
of the New York Herald Tribune. Fuller achieved a career that brought
her respect, fame, and an influential social position in the liberal
wing of reformers in New York.

Fuller was an ardent feminist,
and her work Women in the Nineteenth Century (1845) dealt with
politics, intellectualism, and the sexual aspects of feminism. In 1846
she spent several months in Paris before heading off to Italy, where
she married the Marchese Ossoli and had an infant son. In 1850 the ship
that was to bring her back to America was wrecked and she, her husband,
and their infant son were drowned.

4, Cité Rougemont (9th arrondissement) Métro: Rue Montmartre

Margaret
Fuller spent several months here in the Hôtel de la Cité, beginning
December 1846. At this time she was the epitome of Boston’s
intellectual and literary society.

Part 2- Henry
Miller’s and Langston Hughes’ Paris haunts. Plus Cafes / Literary
forums and where to find the best Ginger Martinis in Paris (a Hemingway
favorite).


BP Senior Editor, Christiann
Anderson is the creator and co-author of Paris Reflections: Walks
through African American Paris (McDonald & Woodward, 2002.). She is
the author of The Single Woman’s Guide to Paris and Ribjoint (both due
for release 2005).


Paris Reflections takes its readers on
six walking tours through the historic districts of Paris, where for
more than two centuries, African-Americans have lived, worked, and
created a rich and vibrant legacy of achievement in art, literature,
science, business, sport, social reform, and other fields. From the
last decades of the 18th century to the present, this legacy has been
shaped by such people as Sally Hemmings, Victor Séjour, Ada “Bricktop”
Smith, Jack Johnson, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright,
Sidney Bechet, and James Baldwin. Available from Amazon.com and McDonald & Woodward Publishing.

Previous Article Buzz: Evian
Next Article A Guide to Paris Guidebooks

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *