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Me, I always wanted to study French,

It don’t make sense-

I’ll never go to France,

But night schools teach French.

Now at last I’ve got a job

Where I get off at five,

In time to wash and dress.

So, s’il vous plait, I’ll study French.


     From Freedom Train by Langston Hughes




JAZZ BAND IN A PARISIAN CABARET


Play that thing,

Jazz band!

Play it for the lords and ladies,

For the dukes and counts,

For the whores and gigolos,

For the American millionaires,

And the school teachers

Our for a spree.


You know that tune

That laughs and cries at the same time



May I?

Mais oui,

Mein Gott!

Parece una rumba.

Play it, jazz band!


                     By Langston Hughes




          Florence Jones at the time of the Grand Duc


“One night there was a terrific fight in the Grand Duc.

It began like this: a little French danseuse named Annette was going to have a child. (…)

Feeling badly, no doubt, Annette began to be very spiteful to those clients who didn’t think that they could afford another bottle of champagne, so one night the owner of the place asked her not to come back any more. (…) He called an attendant to eject her. Annette would not go. The attendant laid hands on her and pushed her, struggling in her satin evening gown, toward the door.

As she passed the last table, Annette seized a patron’s champagne bucket-ice, bottle, and all and flung it straight at the proprietor at his cash desk behind the bar; whereupon the attendant slapped Annette to the floor with one blow of his hand.

Then it was that Florence, the famous entertainer, that same Florence who snubbed millionaires nightly, arose from her table near the orchestra to defend the poor little French danseuse in her trouble. Florence wore an evening gown of gold and a spray of orchids in her hair. She swept across the floor like a handsome tigress, blocking the path of the waiters, who, at the bidding of the management, rushed to eject the little danseuse.

Florence said: “Don’t touch that woman! She’s a woman and I’m a woman, and can’t nobody hit a woman in any place where I work! Don’t put your hands on that woman.”

By that time the little danseuse had risen form the floor and seized another ice bucket, which she sent whirling into space. Customers dodged behind tables. The orchestra struck up “Tuck me to sleep in my Old Kentucky Home,” to drown out the noise.

A waiter did lay hands on the danseuse, but Florence laid hands on the waiter. Then the Negro manager laid hands on Florence, and a battle royal began between the women (and those who sided with the women) and the management (and those who sided with the men).”

From The Big Sea, a memoir by Langston Hughes




TO FRANCE  


(…)


As he whose eyes are gouged craves light to see,

And he whose limbs are broken strength to run,

So have I sought in you that alchemy

That knits my bones and turns me to the sun;

And found across a continent of foam

What was denied my hungry heart at home.


By Countee Cullen




“After his discharge, he went to Paris to live until his money ran out, as did a great number of other discharged GIs. He got a room with another young brother in a hotel on Rue Chaplain, around the corner from Boulevard Raspail and Montparnasse, almost within hailing distance of the Rotonde and the Dôme. It was a hotel very popular with discharged Negro GIs in Paris, partly because of its location and partly because of the army of prostitutes who cruised from there under a strict discipline similar to that they’d just left. He knew no one but other discharged GIs, all of whom recognized one another on sight, whether the had met before or not. They comprised an unofficial club; they talked the same language, ate the same food, went to the same places –usually to the cheap restaurants by day and the movie theater Studio Montparnasse- down the street, or Buttercup’s Chicken Shack over on Rue Odessa at night. They gathered in each other’s room and discussed the situation back home.”

From Blind Man by Chester Himes




“Spring was approaching Paris. Walking up and down this house tonight, I see again the river, the cobblestoned quais, the bridges. Low boats passed beneath the bridge and on those boats one sometimes saw women hanging washing out to dry. (…) The trees grew green those mornings, the river dropped, and the brown winter smoke dropped downward, out of it, and fishermen appeared.(…) Along the quais  the bookstalls seemed to become almost festive, awaiting the weather which would allow the passerby to leaf idly through the dog-eared books, and which would inform the tourist with a passion to carry off to the United States, or Denmark, more colored prints than he could afford or, when he got home, know what to do with. Also the girls appeared on their bicycles, along with boys similarly equipped; and we sometimes saw them along the river, as the light began to fade, their bicycles put away until the morning. This was after Giovanni had lost his job and we walked around in the evenings. Those evenings were bitter. Giovanni knew that I was going to leave him, but he did not dare accuse me for fear of being corroborated.”

From Giovanni’s room by James Baldwin





I Will Spit On Your Graves was a novel written by French writer Boris Vian in 1946. It is written from the point of view of an African American and takes place in the US. It tells the story of an African American who can “pass” and vouches to revenge the lynching of his brother. The novel was published under a pseudonym, Vernon Sullivan, and presented as a translation from Boris Vian, who was already a celebrity in France, as a writer and as a jazz musician. The book resulted in a scandal in France, and was prohibited because of the rawness of its tone.

It would be best  to make it look like an car accident. They would wonder why the two girls had come this side of the border, and they would stop wondering after the autopsy, when they would learn that Jean was pregnant. Lou would simply have been accompanying her sister. I would not be implicated at all. But once things had quieted down and the inquiry been closed, I would tell their parents. They would learn that their daughter had been tricked by me, a Black man. I would then disappear for a while, then start again. A stupid plan, but the most stupid plans work best.


From I Will Spit On Your Graves

by French writer Boris Vian





Neige, a black woman: I too salute you, Ivory Tower, Gate to Heaven, fully open to the stinking and majestic Nigger, stinking and majestic. You are so pale! What ill has hold of you? Will you play tonight the role of “The Lady With Camelias?” Marvelous, this ill which makes you whiter and whiter until complete whiteness. (She bursts out laughing.) But what is running down your black cotton stockings? So it was true, Lord Jesus, that behind the mask of a trapped White man trembles a poor Nigger?


From The Niggers,

a play by French writer Jean Genet