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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Beauford and the James Baldwin Writers' Colony in Paris

The James Baldwin Writers' Colony is a Global Pathways study abroad program offered by Emerson College at its Kasteel Well facility in the Netherlands.

Running from July 5 - August 2, the course description invites participating students to "write, workshop and revise short works of creative fiction and nonfiction inspired by the literature of African Americans who lived and work in Europe." It further indicates that "Excursions to Amsterdam and Paris, France will enable you to walk in the footsteps of literary giants such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Chester Himes.

The Paris excursion included a luncheon at the Café Select. Program Cultural Architect Charles Reese invited me to share in this meal and talk about the relationship between Beauford and James Baldwin. He also asked me to explain the significance of the café in their lives.

Café Select
© Discover Paris!

James Baldwin Writer's Colony at the Café Select
© Discover Paris!


Serendipitously, the group was seated in the same space where Les Amis celebrated the first anniversary of the laying of Beauford's tombstone at Thiais Cemetery.

Monique addressing the crowd at 1st anniversary celebration
© Discover Paris!

The luncheon meeting was sandwiched between a black Paris history tour given by Julia Browne of Walking the Spirit tours and an encounter at the U.S. Embassy.

I spoke about the first encounter between Beauford and Baldwin in NYC, how Beauford became a mentor for Baldwin during his formative years, and how the "tables turned" when Beauford moved to Paris and became part of Baldwin's entourage. Baldwin felt increasingly responsible for Beauford as Beauford suffered bouts of physical and mental illness, and was eventually named as part of the tutelle (trusteeship) that managed Beauford's affairs when he was committed to the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in 1975.

I also spoke about the Select as one of Beauford's last favorite hangouts in Montparnasse and how the café figures into Baldwin's novel, Giovanni's Room.

Dr. Anthony Pinder, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, Internationalization, & Global Engagement, was one of the professors on the excursion. He opened the floor to questions with one of his own about how, as travel professionals who specialize in black Paris history, Browne and I determine the "truth" of what we present to our audiences and how we decide to present information so that it is best received by audiences with different levels of understanding regarding this information. This sparked a lively discussion!

Browne passed a couple of images around - one of Beauford, James Baldwin, and Wilmer Baldwin at the American Cultural Center and one of a painting that Beauford created during his New York years.

Beauford and the Baldwin brothers at the American Cultural Center
Photo: U.S. Information Service

The conversation then turned to how Beauford's work is valued and whether his estate is benefiting from the use of his work for commercial purposes.

My part of the event ended with me taking photos with Reese, Browne, and Dr. Pinder.

From left to right:
Charles Reese, Monique Y. Wells, and Dr. Anthony Pinder
© Discover Paris!

Julia Browne and Monique Y. Wells
© Discover Paris!

It is always my privilege and pleasure to share information about Beauford's life and art with study abroad students!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a great history telling moment. Gratitude and Appreciation Dr Moniaue Wells.