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2015 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title
LONGLISTED - 2015 American Library in Paris Book Award, presented by the American Library in Paris
Tells the fascinating story of African American women who traveled to France to seek freedom of expression.
During the Jazz Age, France became a place where an African American woman could realize personal freedom and creativity, in narrative or in performance, in clay or on canvas, in life and in love. These women were participants in the life of the American expatriate colony, which included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Cole Porter, and they commingled with bohemian avant-garde writers and artists like Picasso, Breton, Colette, and Matisse. Bricktop’s Paris introduces the reader to twenty-five of these women and the city they encountered. Following this nonfiction account, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting provides a fictionalized autobiography of Ada “Bricktop” Smith, which brings the players from the world of nonfiction into a Paris whose elegance masks a thriving underworld.
“...Sharpley-Whiting provides a fascinating examination of African American women who migrated to Paris to develop their artistic talent because of the restrictions imposed on African Americans in the United States during the interwar period of racial segregation … For readers of history and fiction interested in African American involvement in the diaspora during this era, this important work deserves to be among other historical works illuminating the period.” — Journal of American History
“This is a book readers will want to own. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, it is a study of racism, chauvinism, courage, talent, and the power of place … Essential.” — CHOICE
“Bricktop’s Paris vibrantly recreates and reimagines the fascinating world of Jazz Age Paris by placing black women at the center of the story. T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting gives us a valuable new perspective on Ada “Bricktop” Smith, giving her the prominence usually attributed to Josephine Baker. She also provides detailed portraits of other singers, musicians, writers, and artists who left America for the French capital. Written with enthusiasm and insight, Bricktop’s Paris underscores the importance of women to transatlantic black modernity.” — Tyler Stovall, author of Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light
“Bricktop’s Paris is a remarkable feat. Sharpley-Whiting’s book is a woman’s story about dreaming and making dreams happen. It is a political story, a story about migration, and re-creation. It is a dazzling account of bold women reshaping their lives as New Women/Modern Women and black women in Europe. A woman’s place is not only viewed in the sphere of domesticity through Sharpley-Whiting’s writing, she also reimagines the complexity of life far away from home and on stage, in the studio, and in the nightclub. She captures their spirit and desires and walks us through this history arm and arm, singing, writing, dancing, and making art. I fell in love with these women as I empathized with their struggles, some of them I knew through other writings but through Sharpley-Whiting I felt as if I knew them intimately as they made their lives count some fifty years after Reconstruction. She restores their voices and their bodies and makes them present for the contemporary reader. Brilliant!” — Deborah Willis, author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present
“Bricktop’s Paris is a marvelous book that further consolidates Sharpley-Whiting’s record of pioneering research, a meticulous archeological excavation of the artistic, cultural, political, and social contributions made by African American women in Paris during the interwar years. This was a period that increasingly linked racial advocacy with colonial emancipation and during which African American women achieved unprecedented levels of creative and personal freedom while shaping broader conversations on identity and race. Bricktop’s Paris promises to inspire a new generation of researchers and will become an incontrovertible point of reference in assessing the intellectual history of the era.” — Dominic Thomas, Madeleine L. Letessier Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of French and African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. She is the coeditor of Black France/France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness and the translator of a collection of Paulette Nardal’s essays, Beyond Negritude: Essays from Woman in the City, also published by SUNY Press.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Map of Bricktop’s Paris
Book I. Bricktop’s Paris
Introduction: The Other Americans, 1919–1939
1. Les Dames, Grand and Small, of Montmartre: The Paris of Bricktop
2. The Gotham-Montparnasse Exchange
3. Women of the Petit Boulevard: The Artist’s Haven
4. Black Paris: Cultural Politics and Prose
5. Epilogue: “Homeward Tug at a Poet’s Heart”: The Return
Appendix: “Negro Dance,” Opus 25, No. 1, Nora Douglas Holt
Book II. The Autobiography of Ada “Bricktop” Smith or Miss Baker Regrets
Foreword: Gained in Translation? Alice Randall
Preface: History’s Marginalia, Autofictional Mysteries, and a Fondness of Matters French T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting
The Autobiography of Ada “Bricktop” Smith, or Miss Baker Regrets Ada “Bricktop” Smith and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting
Glossary (Book II)
Notes to Book I
List of Archives and Libraries
Index to Book I