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Regards croisés sur les Afro-Américains

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Claude Julien

Tributes from friends and colleagues

A Tribute and a photo portfolio

William Ferris

Texte intégral

1I first met Michel Fabre in 1978 when I was teaching in the Afro-American and American Studies Programs at Yale University. Michel was a legend among my colleagues who admired his fine biography The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright and his encyclopedic knowledge of Afro-American writers. Michel and his wife Geneviève were doing research at Yale in the Beinecke Rare Book Library, and we often discussed my plans to move from New Haven to Oxford, Mississippi, to direct a newly created Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. The Fabres were very interested in the Center, and both agreed to serve as international advisors to its programs. Thus began a friendship that has enriched my life over the years in more ways than I can count.

2Michel impressed me with his quiet, thoughtful presence. He listens intently to the person with whom he is speaking, and he does so with a wry smile and a gleam in his eye. Behind his smile I knew that ideas were churning. From our first meeting at Yale I felt that Michel was a kindred spirit, and each time we have visited—in New Haven, Oxford, Paris, Moscow, and Washington—magical worlds have unfolded.

3During the fall of 1979 I spent a week in Paris lecturing as part of a two-month lecture tour in Europe that was organized by the United States Information Agency. I had the honor of visiting Michel’s seminar at the University of Paris where I spoke to his students. Michel’s seminar dealt with black writers and folklore, and the students were deeply engaged with writers like Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison. After the seminar Michel invited me to have dinner in his home where he and I helped Genevieve prepare the meal. We peeled pears in the kitchen and spoke about how we might work together in the future.

4Being in Michel’s home was an especially moving experience for me. After a lovely dinner, Michel took me into his office and shared some of the priceless photographs, letters and manuscripts he had gathered during his research over the years. He opened each file lovingly and explained the significance of its contents. Showing me his correspondence with Margaret Walker Alexander, he said “Margaret probably doesn’t even remember writing me these letters, but I keep them and treasure them.”

5During the summer of 1979, Michel and Genevieve came to Oxford for their first of several visits at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. They arrived with their student Sylvie Marchand, who had decided to enroll in the Center’s undergraduate major in Southern Studies. As he descended the steps of the small commuter plane at Oxford airport, Michel looked around and remarked “C’est vraiment le bout du monde là!”

6For the next week, we explored the countryside around Oxford. We swam in Sardis Lake and then got stuck on a muddy road driving back to Oxford. The next morning we enjoyed hot biscuits served by Louise Smith at Smitty’s Restaurant. After breakfast, Michel was surprised and pleased to see that local bookseller Richard Howorth carried both English and French language editions of William Faulkner’s work at Square Books. In a gesture toward his homeland, we spent an afternoon in Paris, Mississippi, where we both visited with a local farmer and admired the community’s tiny post office.

7Several years later Michel and Genevieve returned to Oxford as Ford Foundation Visiting Professors of Southern Studies at the Center. During their stay, they led seminars for visiting faculty who taught at black and women’s institutions in the Deep South.

8On one memorable Oxford evening we were invited to dinner at the home of John and Regan Hailman. John writes a regular column on wine for the Gannett newspaper chain and has also written a book on the wines of Thomas Jefferson. His wife Regan is a gourmet chef, and together they created a Jeffersonian dinner with the appropriate wines in honor of their French guests.

9While teaching in Oxford, Michel introduced me to the Memphis literary worlds of his old friends Levi and Debbie Frazier. Through their Blues City Cultural Center the Fraziers use theatre to enrich the lives of prison populations in West Tennessee. They had corresponded with Michel for many years and were thrilled to have him nearby.

10In 1991, Michel and I traveled to Moscow where we both spoke at a symposium on Richard Wright that the Center for the Study of Southern Culture cosponsored with the Gorky Institute of World Literature. While in Moscow drama critic Maya Koreneva gave our group a tour of the Kremlin and recalled how as a child her father took her to stand outside the hotel where Paul Robeson was staying in Moscow. To their delight Robeson opened his window, walked onto the veranda, and sang several spirituals for his admirers below. Michel listened quietly then mentioned how much Richard Wright had admired Robeson.

11In 1992, Michel organized a historic conference at the University of Paris-Sorbonne on “Blacks in Europe”. The conference focused on black expatriate artists in Paris and was inspired by Michel’s book From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980. The weeklong event was cosponsored by the American Studies Program at Columbia University, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, the Dubois Institute at Harvard University, and the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Over 500 speakers and visitors came from all over the world to attend a rich venue of programs that featured Ernest Gaines, Henry Louis Gates, Danny Glover, Kenneth Kinnamon, and Julia Wright. Richard Wright’s widow Ellen Wright joined Michel at a ceremony commemorating the home where she and Richard Wright had lived in Paris. The final night of the conference Ellen and her daughter Julia invited me to join the Fabres for dinner in her home. Over dinner we spoke of Malcolm X, for whom Julia’s son is named, and I mentioned my friendship with Alex Haley and the importance of his Autobiography of Malcolm X. Late, that night, Julia called me at my hotel to say she had just read in the New York Times that Alex had died. It was a sad note on which to leave Paris after a program that reflected both the scholarly interests of Michel and the esteem in which all of the participants held him.

12This past year Michel and Genevieve visited me in Washington at the National Endowment for the Humanities and recalled the many happy times we have shared over the years. We promised to again gather at their kitchen in Paris, to peel pears together, and share other adventures in the future. Michel’s vivid imagination, his keen wit, and his amazing knowledge of the black experience are unique. Far more than a friend, Michel is my soul mate, and I am proud to join many other voices in saying thanks for all he has done to make this world a better place.

Lafayette County, Miss., 1979. Photo by Bill Ferris, University of Mississipi Special Collections

With Ellen Wright and Herbert Gentry, Paris, 1992. Photo by Bill Ferris, University of Mississippi Special Collections

With (right to left) Stirling Stuckey, Dominique Marçais and Claude Julien. MELUS Europe, Orléans, 2000. Photo by Héliane Ventura

Oxford, Miss., 2000. Photo by Hazel Rowley

With Sonia Sanchez and Geneviève, Tours, 2002. Photo by Christiane Julien

Table des illustrations

Légende Lafayette County, Miss., 1979. Photo by Bill Ferris, University of Mississipi Special Collections
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4176/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 307k
Légende With Ellen Wright and Herbert Gentry, Paris, 1992. Photo by Bill Ferris, University of Mississippi Special Collections
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4176/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 207k
Légende With (right to left) Stirling Stuckey, Dominique Marçais and Claude Julien. MELUS Europe, Orléans, 2000. Photo by Héliane Ventura
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4176/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 169k
Légende Oxford, Miss., 2000. Photo by Hazel Rowley
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4176/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 205k
Légende With Sonia Sanchez and Geneviève, Tours, 2002. Photo by Christiane Julien
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4176/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 502k

Auteur

University of Mississipi

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2003

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540