This essay maps out a six-year literary transformation of Paris noir from 1957 to 1963 that overlaps with the Algerian war for independence from France (1954–1962). In this journey that transits from Parisian utopianism to postcolonial criticism, from Richard Wright and James Baldwin's love songs to racially liberal Paris to William Gardner Smith's shrewd attack on French colonialism, the trope of interracial romance undergirds both the construction and the questioning of a colorblind Paris. I argue that as African American expatriate writers included North African characters and decolonization issues in their fiction, they struggled to reconcile the coexistence of a colorblind and a colonial Paris. The two-faced city is located in the periphery of expatriate fiction, in Wright's lesser-known novel The Long Dream (1958) and its 1959 sequel, “Island of Hallucination,” an unpublished roman à clef and his only long work of fiction set in Paris, in James Baldwin's short story “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” (1960) rather than his celebrated Paris novel, Giovanni's Room (1956), and in the understudied author William Gardner Smith's last novel The Stone Face (1963). The essay highlights telling differences in how each author grappled with French colonialism, and how they echoed and reversed each other's writings to position themselves vis-à-vis the so-called City of Light. Together, their narratives demonstrate how Algerian Paris surreptitiously came to displace France and Europe as a model of liberation for African American writers.
Skip Nav Destination
Laila Amine; The Paris Paradox: Colorblindness and Colonialism in African American Expatriate Fiction. American Literature 1 December 2015; 87 (4): 739–768. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-3329578
Download citation file: