Twentieth-century African-American writers have shared with their white American counterparts the expectation that in Paris they would find an community of writers and artists. And to varying degrees each did. Much like Edith Wharton, African-American writers viewed the French as a people who value art and creativity, the aesthete and the intellectual. And much like American writers from Hawthorne to Henry Miller, African-American expatriates viewed Paris as an "outlet for repressed sexuality," an unpuritanical place, which would allow, even encourage, people to live and love and create as the pleased. In Black Girl in Paris (2000) these are certainly the hopes of Youngblood's protagonist, Eden, a twenty-six-year-old black woman from Georgia. As a child Eden's Aunt Vic broadens the provincial limits of her rural and strict religious upbringing by introducing her to the joys of reading, especially the stories of Langston Hughes. Unbeknownst to Eden's parents, Vic teaches her to sing and dance, regaling her with tales of Josephine Baker and the "freedom" Paris would provide: "Free to live where you wanted, work where you were qualified, and love whom you pleased" (17). Thus Eden grows up thinking of living in Paris as a way to leave behind an old identity shaped in a place where her working class parents, who have not had the benefits of higher education, expect her college education to lead to a practical professional career, like nursing.
Copyright © 2008 South Atlantic Modern Language Association. This article first appeared in the South Atlantic Review 73:3 (2008), 44-60.
Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.
Jones, Suzanne W. "Black Girl in Paris: Shay Youngblood's Escape from "The Last Plantation." South Atlantic Review 73, no. 3 (2008): 44-60.