Literary Rentrée Celebrates American Author Jake Lamar

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Literary Rentrée Celebrates American Author Jake Lamar
On September 3 and 4, 2005, the French Sénat opened the doors of the Luxembourg Palace to celebrate the rentrée with a literary festival.  Called Feuilles d’Automne (Autumn Leaves or Autumn Pages), it was conceived as a forum for contemporary writers and their public.  Readings and discussion were the principal activities for both days of the event.   In the palace courtyard, a tent city of sorts provided shelter from the sun on an unusually hot weekend.  Authors read passages from and discussed their favorite works (Bibliothèques idéales), and also discussed their favorite new publications. Debates were held on subjects such as how book titles are chosen.  In the opulent Salle des Conferences on the first floor of the palace, round table discussions brought multiple groups of three authors together to discuss various topics.  Reading sessions and other activities for children were organized in tents located on the path adjacent to the Medici Fountain.   Among the writers invited to the event was American Jake Lamar.  Former journalist for Time Magazine and author of five works, Lamar’s first publication was the autobiographical Bourgeois Blues (1991).   His other books are novels. The latest, Rendezvous Eighteenth (2003), is the first in which he used Paris as the principal setting.  His third novel, If 6 Were 9 (2001), was published in France under the title Le Cameléon Noir in 2003.  His second novel, Close to the Bone (1999), has not yet been published in French.  As a consequence of the translation into French and the publication of his first novel, The Last Integrationist (1996) under the title Nous Avions un Rêve (2005), he was invited to participate in the Feulles d’Automne festival this year.   During a Bibliothèque idéale session, Lamar read from three of his favorite novels: The Bluest Eye (Toni Morisson, 1970), Mao II (Don Delillo, 1992) and If He Hollers Let Him Go (Chester Himes, 1945).  He read each selected passage in English and moderator Hubert Artus followed by reading a translation of that passage in French.   Artus evoked the political and multicultural atmosphere of today’s France as he encouraged Lamar to talk about the U.S. political environment examined in The Last Integrationist.  Artus stated that the publication of Nous Avions un Rêve is timely given that France is currently debating subjects such as affirmative action (discrimination positive) as it grapples with its own social and racial issues.   Lamar is one of the latest of a long line of African-American writers to establish a home and pursue a career in Paris.  His path bears more than a slight resemblance to that of Himes, the post World War II author who became renowned for a series of detective novels that were widely acclaimed and popular in France prior to being published in the United States.  Both Himes and Lamar received grants to write, both adapted the mystery novel as a primary genre, and both saw their works published in both French and English.  In addition, both met their life companions in France.   During the Bibliothèque idéale session, Lamar explained that though he had studied African-American literature during his years at Harvard, he had not heard of Chester Himes or of his works prior to moving to France.  He said that Himes is described by the French as “un grand” (a great writer).   During the weekend, Lamar also participated in round table discussions on liberty (Liberté Chérie) and on how authors got published for the first time.   Through his participation in this edition of Feuilles d’Automne, Lamar has become yet another African-American literary figure associated with the history of the Luxembourg Garden.  Langston Hughes spent time in the garden with his girlfriend Mary Cossey, as she had an apartment on the bordering boulevard Saint-Michel.  Richard Wright, a contemporary of Chester Himes and perhaps the best known of African-American expatriate writers of the late 20th century, lived near the garden and spent time reading and writing there.  Himes briefly lived only a block away from the garden after his arrival in Paris; a few years later, he crossed the garden daily when he walked from Odéon to the Café Select in Montparnasse to write his novel A Jealous Man Can’t Win (also known as The Crazy Kill).  Himes also wrote the novel Pinktoes at the Café du Départ (now Le Cercle) across the street from the garden.  Lamar enjoys strolling in the Luxembourg Garden, describing it as “one of the loveliest spots in the city”.   Nous Avions un Rêve has been very well received by the French public.  In the wake of its publication, Lamar was profiled in Libération on September 22, 2005 and is scheduled to be interviewed by Ouest-France, the country’s largest daily newspaper.  Soon after the festival, he was invited to appear on the France 5 political talk show  Ripostes , where he and several others discussed the political climate of the U.S. with regard to its poorest citizens.   The literary rentrée of 2005 is proving to be Lamar’s entrée into the limelight of the French publishing world.   T0 receive information about a private, guided walking tour of the history of the Luxembourg Garden, including 20th and 21st century elements relevant to the African-American presence in Paris, please send an e-mail message to Discover Paris!  – Personalized Itineraries for Independent Travelers.    
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