Authors, Books, Chateau Vincennes, Festival America, First Peoples, Hector Tobar, Louise Erdrich, Paris, Toni Morrison, Travel, Writers

Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich in Chateau Vincennes


Amada and I, the two Latinas in Paris,  just returned from Chateau Vincennes where we spent the day attending the huge “Festival America: Literature and Cultures of the Americas,” that took place throughout this past weekend.

A couple of weeks ago we saw a poster in the metro of a big old truck with Festival America-looked interesting, to writers such as we are, so we got on the internet and found their website.

We shrieked when we read that this years guest of honor was Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize recipient for her novel “Beloved.” She also has a Nobel Prize in Literature. Louise Erdrich, author of 14 novels, including “The Plague of Doves,” was also going to be there as well as Hector Tobar, another Pulitzer Prize winner and Los Angeles Times Journalist. He is the author of “The Barbarian Nurseries.” 

First we had to find out how to get to the Chateau-pretty easy with the Paris Metro website and iPhone app. It’s about 30 minutes away. We made our way there on Friday afternoon and visited the Chateau itself, royal home of Charles V, and famous for housing the Marquis de Sade in one of its prison cells. (PS- This place has one of the best audio guides I’ve ever rented-very detailed). 

by Edward S. Curtis-1903 
The festival took place in the center of town, in front of the Hotel Del Ville (City Hall) among white tents with a yellow tee pee. Now the tee pee is there as part of the First Peoples exhibition. 

The festival commemorated  the 520th anniversary of the discovery of the American continent by devoting a series of discussions, screenings, and 8 photography exhibits with the theme of the First Peoples, Inuits, and Indians North and South.

Now back to Toni Morrison. When she entered the stage, via wheelchair, she received a standing ovation. It was a very crowded auditorium with people standing alongside the walls and aisles.( I don’t think they have fire codes like the USA). 
Toni Morrison
Everything was conducted in French, with interpreters by the English speaking authors, so I had to wait until the applause died down to understand what was said.  It was noted that she is 81 years old and has been writing for decades. Ms. Morrison has a soft high pitched voice, very pleasant and resonant.  Her gentle lovely response:

 “My mind is alive, I am alive, and I can make other people alive too, through writing…”

 She credited Carlos Fuentes, Marquez, and James Baldwin as some of her influences. 

Louise Erdrich was also on stage with her interpreter.

She commented that she attended a presentation by Toni Morrison decades ago. “…I remember the first time I heard you…at Dartmouth…you read a piece of Beloved. I experienced this surge…this power of writing, so visceral…you gave me the grace and freedom to write.” 

To which Ms. Morrison commented, “…reading Louise’s first book was love at first sight…the purity of her words…” caught her attention. 

Unfortunately, we could not find the panel where Hector Tobar spoke, but I’m sure I can see him back in Southern California. (Did I mention that the programs were all in French too?)
There was more to the discussion on Ms. Morrison’s writing, but frankly it was hard to follow since the discussion was in 3/4 french (with the questions asked in French with no English translation) and 1/4 English. 
After the presentation we looked for Ms. Morrison, among the throng of people, so we could get our book signed. Alas, she was gone. Louise Erdrich though did stay,we had our books signed and had a chance to tell her how much we love her work. 

I’m glad Amada and I took a chance and attended the festival. What I came away with was that contemporary writers are influenced by other great writers, it is important to read great literature, and you have to remain faithful to your voice and write because you are driven to write, not for prizes or accolades, but to get the story inside of you out there in the best possible way. Now I know I didn’t have to go to France to hear that, but it sure made for a cool adventure.