Sunday, March 7, 2010

Black Girl in Paris

I think my favorite books are those written in the first person. It makes me feel as if I am having a conversation with the protagonist, I get to hear her voice and get inside her feelings. She invites me to experience what she is feeling and thinking. Such is the journey I recently ended with Shay Youngblood's Black Girl in Paris.

I felt just as adventurous and daring as Eden. Her hunger to write is my hunger to write. The promise of creative and artistic freedom in inspiration that Paris has afforded James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, even my brother, Thomas Pollard was the yearning that I felt as I turned pages after page. I looked at the maps and the pictures and imagined myself twenty-five years ago and if I had been brave enough to skip college in Jefferson City and purchase a ticket to France.

Eden recounts her adventures in several vignettes of her life there. She was everything from an artist's model to a poet's help to an au pair to a tour guide in her quest to find that voice that was always deep within her. The drive to meet the ailing James Baldwin is what propelled her through the streets of Paris during the times of the bombings and the suspicious treatment of Haitians. During the time of uncertainty and nationalism and wonder and hope and the simple joie de vivre that is this wonderful city.

Paris has always been a romantic notion to me every since my brother moved there over thirty years ago. The embracing of black artistic endeavors is what drew Langston Hughes in 1924 and my brother in 1974, the ability to free oneself from the shackles of race in oppressive America to don the beret of expression in a France that seemed full of gaity and possibility. They love the arts in France. The writer is seen as brave and gifted and revered in ways that do not always happen in America. I understood, as I journeyed with Eden, why Josephine Baker made this her home. I could be enveloped by this place that did not frown at a jazz playing white man loving a hopeful writer black girl. My eyes closed and I saw the many cultures gathered around the table. I would bring the espresso.

This book was a treasure find in my local library. The title was something I always wanted to be, a black girl in Paris, just once in my life. I wanted to muse and imagine myself as Eden and wonder if I would find the voice I sought as she seeks her voice.

"To be a good writer you must write often, seek out adventure, be original, and read good literature." These things I am trying to do as more gray hair pops up in my dred locs and youthful impulse is long behind.

Paris is the city of dreams come true. I felt that and like Eden, learned that the unfolding muse happens "one word at a time, story by story, mile by mile, let the sound of the voices carry you the distance, welcome."

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