Monday, 3 May 2021

TRANSLATOR SHARES HER PASSION FOR HAITIAN CREOLE

Marleen Julien speaks with palpable passion when discussing Haitian Creole. A  specialist in interpreting and translation, with some 15 years of experience, she describes herself as an advocate who’s dedicated to promoting the language and culture of Haiti.

Currently based in Paris, France, Julien worked for the Haitian government and the United Nations for more than a decade, and during that time, she “witnessed an alarming and widespread issue regarding the quality of Haitian Creole materials,” she says.

The experience led her to focus on helping Haitians access information in their mother tongue, and she set out on a mission to improve the Haitian Creole translation industry's standards, she told SWAN

In 2004, Julien founded Creole Solutions (in Chicago) to provide translation services and support to organizations that serve Haitian communities. For her, this was more than just a new business venture; rather, it was her “life's calling”, she says, as she recalls building the business “from the ground up”.

She says she is continuing to expand Creole Solutions' capabilities, ensuring that she “leverages every possible tool available to promote her native tongue”. She translates and publishes short stories that promote literacy and critical thinking among children in Haiti's remote areas, among her activities. Of Haitian heritage, Julien has also focused on development, and her university degrees include a master's in International Development from the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).

The following interview, conducted by telephone and email, is part of SWAN’s series about translators of Caribbean literature, done in collaboration with the Caribbean Translation Project.

SWAN: In 2004, you founded Creole Solutions to provide translation services and support to organizations that serve Haitian communities. Can you tell us about the reasons and the motivation behind this project?

Marleen Julien: I played the role of translator and interpreter for the Haitian Consulate in Chicago since 1998. There was a great need for qualified Haitian Creole language professionals and reliable linguistic resources at that time.

Organizations and individuals were constantly reaching out to me for help with translation and interpretation services. So I started helping pro bono. I eventually became a freelance translator and interpreter for many organizations. There were, however, minimal resources for Haitian Creole translators. In 2004, I founded Creole Solutions to fill that gap.

SWAN: You speak several languages, including English, French and Haitian Creole. Where and how did you begin learning languages?

M.J.: Language learning has always been like second nature to me. I grew up in a multilingual and multicultural environment in the United States.

As children, my parents made French music, books, and movies accessible to my siblings and me. I studied French in high school and college.  When I moved to Paris for my graduate studies, that allowed me to take my French to the professional level.

My parents also made sure that we were fluent in Haitian Creole. My mother only spoke in Haitian Creole with us. My father always bought whatever materials he could find in Creole because he wanted us to read, speak, and write correctly. I began to become an expert in Haitian Creole when I worked for the Haitian Consulate.

SWAN: How did your interest in translation begin?

M.J.: I would say I have been practicing translation since childhood. My family moved around a lot, and every few years, I had to adapt to a new linguistic and cultural environment. I was already interpreting for family and friends by the time I was in the sixth grade.

SWAN: You've translated and published "short stories that promote literacy and critical thinking amongst children in Haiti's remote areas". Can you tell us more about this?

M.J.:  I have two boys. I wanted to teach them Haitian Creole as early as possible. One of my biggest challenges was finding Creole books for their age. So I started translating children's stories to read to them.

In 2020, I started sharing the stories with a not-for-profit organization based in Haiti to use as a part of their literacy program. These stories are valuable resources for the children because I have adapted them to the Haitian language and culture.

SWAN: You've also worked on adapting international fables into Haitian Creole. What are some of the linguistic challenges of such adaptations?

M.J.: In all of my adaptations, I incorporate Haitian expressions and proverbs. So one of my biggest challenges is finding the correct adage to relay the message. I recently translated the Panchatantra (ancient Indian fables) story of the Mice and the Elephants. The lesson was: a friend in need is a friend indeed. I incorporated the Haitian saying "Zanmi lwen se lajan sere", which means that friends who are far away are wonderful for a rainy day.

Another challenge is envisioning the fables for a contemporary audience. When I translated the (Brothers Grimm) classic Four Clever Brothers, I replaced the dragon with a gangster who kidnapped a wealthy landowner's daughter. Children in Haiti are not familiar with dragons, but kidnapping is something they are familiar with because it's in the news.

SWAN: How important is translation for today's world, and especially for schoolchildren?

M.J.: In Haiti, the schools do not have many resources. Furthermore, most of the limited resources they have are either outdated or in the French language. This lack of resources is a significant barrier to learning. From my experience, translating and adapting for students in their language and culture allows them to understand the concepts better.

The translated and adapted materials prepare them to become better students and empower them not only for themselves but also for their country and the world.

SWAN: In the Caribbean, as in other regions, it sometimes feels as if countries are divided by language. How can people in the literary and education spheres help to bridge these linguistic "borders"?

M.J.: No language medium is shared universally by all Caribbean peoples. However, we have a shared history and identity. I began to appreciate Jamaican Patois better when I learned how its syntax was very similar to that of Haitian Creole. Both languages have roots in the Fon language. With translation and education, we will realize that we have lot of in common. This realization will lead to a desire to learn more about each other's languages.

SWAN: How do you see your translation projects evolving to reach a wider audience?

M.J.: I'm glad you asked that question. I'm working on a project that I'm very excited about because I know that it will achieve this exact purpose. It's a transformational project that will not only enlighten, educate and empower people, it will also serve to bridge the linguistic gap by sharing our common human experiences across the globe.

It's my latest book, and I'll be launching it this summer. I'm looking forward to sharing it with the world. – SWAN

Photos: Marleen Julien by Walter Aleman Photography and Events; the cover of one of Julien’s translations into Haitian Creole. 

Follow The Caribbean Translation Project on Twitter: @CaribTranslate.

Friday, 23 April 2021

PANDEMIC GIVES NEW SIGNIFICANCE TO WORLD BOOK DAY

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have been turning to books to help them get through lockdowns and forced isolation. This is one reason that World Book and Copyright Day has particular significance in 2021.

“During the last year when most countries have seen periods of confinement and people have had to limit their time spent outside, books have proved to be powerful tools to combat isolation, reinforce ties between people, expand our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity,” stated the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which organizes the annual event each April 23.

The agency’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay, added that “it is the power of books that we all need right now, as we are reminded of the fundamental importance of literature - as well as the arts - in our lives.”

The purpose of the Day is to promote the enjoyment of books and reading, as well as to support authors, publishers and others in the industry, according to UNESCO. The first World Book Day was designated in 1995, and since then celebrations have taken place all over the world “to recognize the scope of books - a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures,” the agency said.

Officials point out that April 23 is a symbolic date in world literature, as this is the date on which several legendary authors, including William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, all died.

“This date was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors…, encouraging everyone to access books,” UNESCO stated.

With education being a part of its mandate, the agency urged people to “take the time to read on your own or with your children”, both during April and the rest of the year.

“It is a time to celebrate the importance of reading, foster children's growth as readers and promote a lifelong love of literature and integration into the world of work,” UNESCO said.

While reading in some countries has doubled over the past year, there are still many people who do not have access to books because of poverty, illiteracy, conflict or other reasons. Some organizations, including at the UN level, are working to improve the situation with literacy projects and book-donation schemes.

“The power of books must be fully harnessed. We must ensure their access so that everyone can take refuge in reading, and by doing so, be able to dream, learn and reflect,” Azoulay said.

Meanwhile, authors and others working in the arts sector have seen their activities dry up during the pandemic, as literary festivals, conferences and a range of cultural events have been cancelled. Writers, too, have had to try to escape via books.

Photos: Books at two independent bookshops in Paris, France.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

THREE KENYAN DESIGNERS RECEIVE BUSINESS SUPPORT

Hamaji

Three Kenyan designers have been chosen to participate in an international programme that will assist them in increasing their global market presence, expanding their supply chain and scaling up their production.

The three - Hamaji, Suave, and Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa - will participate in the “Accelerator” programme of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a Geneva-based flagship venture of the International Trade Centre, itself a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.  

The designers will be supported in sourcing new products and developing their production team as well, the EFI said. It added that all three “share a commitment to sustainability”, using “reclaimed and organic fabrics to create their collections” and drawing inspiration from their country and upbringing in Kenya.

This is the EFI’s second Fashion Accelerator programme, following the launch in 2019 to provide selected designers with mentoring and brand development from the EFI team and industry experts.

Funding comes from the European Union via the Brussels-based African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), of which Kenya is a member.

“I feel hugely honoured and extremely excited … to have this opportunity to expand my knowledge and be mentored in the development of my brand in a sustainable approach with international and local expertise in Kenya,” stated designer Louise Sommerlatte of Hamaji, one of the three selected ventures.

Sommerlatte created the brand in 2017, aiming to preserve “ancient textile traditions and nomadic craftsmanship whilst empowering local small-scale artisans in Africa”, according to the EFI. Hamaji means “nomad” in coastal Swahili, and the brand bills itself as “Made for the Wanderer”.

Meanwhile, leisure lifestyle concern Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa said that their selection was like “an answer to a prayer” and came as “a strong statement of encouragement”.

Founded in Nairobi, the brand comprises casual and semi-formal wear, and it experiments with “modern techniques, innovative fabrics and traditional methods”.

Creator Katungulu, who studied fashion in the United Kingdom, notes that she is influenced by her upbringing and surroundings, and she recalls being introduced early into the artisanal crafts world through her late grandmother, who ran a curio shop.

The brand says it has focused on “working with community groups within the region to make contemporary interpretations of traditional aesthetics.”

The founder of Suave, Mohammed Awale, said he was “overjoyed” and “looking forward to learning from the vast EFI network."

Awale established the brand in 2013, inspired by trips to Gikomba Market, the largest open-air market in East Africa. There, the story goes, he dug through piles of discarded denim outfits, finding source material for most of the bags the company would make.

“What started as a tiny operation with two staff members slowly blossomed into a fully-fledged brand that is attempting to end the cycle of unwanted garments ending up in landfills,” the company says.

It adds that some 100,000 tonnes of used clothing enter Kenya every year, mostly from the United States. Generally, after consumers and dollar stores take their pick from clothing donated to charities, the rest is exported to Africa.

“This is where we come in,” the brand states. “Over the years, we have established contacts with numerous vendors who notify us whenever they have an excess of items that haven’t been purchased in a while. These clothes would normally end up in a landfill, but they can still fulfil a purpose when they’re repurposed and given a new lease of life.”

That new “lease of life” is as trendy, colourful bags that range from backpacks to totes.

As the accelerator programme continues, the mentoring of the selected designers is being done remotely because of the Covid-19 pandemic, said an EFI spokesperson.

“We have planned masterclasses with leading industry experts on Zoom, and the EFI Accelerator team regularly meet the designers also over Zoom or phone to provide all the other support implied in the programme,” the spokesperson told SWAN via email.

She added that later in the year, the EFI hoped to organize an internship in a production facility in East Africa.

Simone Cipriani, founder and head of the EFI, said that through education and mentoring, the organization was seeking to “equalise the playing field, giving exposure to the incredible talent that exists on the continent.”

Cipriani added that the EFI Accelerator programme focuses on the specific needs of African fashion brands, with a business development approach that prepares its beneficiaries to become investment ready. The aim is to provide support to “accelerate their business in the global marketplace,” he said.

For the 2021 - 2022 round, the Accelerator Programme is inviting emerging brands based in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Kenya, Mali and Uganda to join their "mission".

For an article about the beginnings of the EFI, see:

http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ethical-fashion-champions-marginalised-artisans-from-south/

Photos provided curtesy of the brands. Top to bottom: Hamaji, Katush by Katungulu Mwendwa, and Suave.

Monday, 15 February 2021

CELEBRATING 30+ YEARS OF A CARIBBEAN ANTHOLOGY

By Elizabeth (Betty) Wilson

The University of Maryland’s Latin American Studies Centre will host a virtual belated celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ground-breaking collection Her True-True Name: An Anthology of Women’s Writing from the Caribbean on Feb. 18. This is being spearheaded by Prof. Merle Collins, poet and prose writer from Grenada, whose work appears in the anthology. 

Published in 1989, near the beginning of the era of Gender Studies and Women’s Studies, Her True-True Name was the first anthology of prose writing by Caribbean women and the first to include non-English-speaking writers. The title is taken from an extract in the text by the Trinidadian writer Merle Hodge.

For the celebration, the renowned Guadeloupean writer Simone Schwarz-Bart - whose work also appears in the anthology - points out that sometimes it is not until the end of a person’s life that you discover who that person really is, her true-true name.

This seems to apply to the anthology as well. Although it was at the top of the list of texts chosen for the “20 Selected Titles List” in the UK for Feminist Book Fortnight in 1990 and named by the librarians of the New York Public Library as one of 100 books recommended for young readers in the same year, it is only in retrospect that we, the editors, recognized its historical importance.

There have been several excellent Caribbean anthologies since, and while Her True-True Name is now out of print, the attention and excitement generated by this virtual event attest to its importance and impact. 

Conceived as a response to our interest in having a Caribbean-wide publication of writing by women, the editors, my sister Pamela Mordecai and myself, set about trying to select the “tiny sample” which 200 pages would permit. We eventually found room for 31 writers from 13 countries, from Cuba in the north to Belize and Guyana on the South American / Caribbean mainland. 

The introduction to the text details some of the challenges we encountered in those days before “calls for submissions”, cell phones and the internet. We were both on the staff of the University of the West Indies, Mona, and blessed to know personally many writers and scholars at home and in the wider Caribbean - who spoke French, English, Creole and Spanish; their input was a source of contacts and encouragement.

We also knew the artist, Sharon Chacko, whose batik “Metamorphosis” (1986) appears on the cover. Sadly, the inclusion of writers from the Dutch-speaking Caribbean had to wait until 1992, when we were guest editors for a special issue of The Literary Review (Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey), “Women Poets of the Caribbean”, where they were included.

The Feb. 18 celebration promises to be a full and rewarding day of readings by writers from the anthology, and presentations by scholars on the work of Caribbean writers from the different language areas included in the text. There will be interpreters for these papers and for the discussions. The organizers have tried to include as many writers as possible and have taken great care to preserve and honour the cross-Caribbean nature of the text.

We are so grateful to Merle Collins and her team, and I am excited to invite you to this free virtual event.

For more information:

Photos (top to bottom): The cover of Her True-True Name; Prof. Merle Collins (photo by A. McKenzie).

Friday, 5 February 2021

TRANSLATING A FRENCH CARIBBEAN WRITER IN SPAIN

Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé has long been one of the most widely translated Caribbean authors, following the international success of books such as Ségou (Segu) and Moi, Tituba, sorcière (I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem).

Now the translation of her novels is seeing a surge since she won the New Academy Prize in Literature, or the “Alternative Nobel”, in 2018.

Last month, Spanish publisher Impedimenta released La Deseada (Desirada, 1997) in a vibrant, eye-catching edition that has been garnering attention from the media and readers. This comes on the heels of two of Condé’s books published in English translation in 2020 - Le fabuleux et triste destin d’Ivan et d’Ivana / The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana (translated from the French by Condé’s husband Richard Philcox, who has done most of the English translations of her novels) and La belle créole / The Belle Créole, translated by Nicole Simek. Publications in other languages also hit bookstores throughout the year.

La Deseada is translated by Martha Asunción Alonso, a Spanish writer, poet and translator who holds a PhD in French Studies from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She has translated two previous books by Condé for the same publisher, both receiving positive reviews in the Spanish press as well.

Asunción Alonso has taught in metropolitan France, the French Caribbean, Albania and Spain, and is currently a professor at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. As a writer herself, she brings a poetic sensibility to her translations (her poetry has received several awards in Spain), and she is particularly mindful of linguistic rhythms and musicality, as she told SWAN. She also focuses on writing that has a feminist perspective, something very present in Condé’s work.

The following bilingual interview, conducted by email, is part of SWAN’s series about translators of Caribbean literature. It is done in collaboration with the Caribbean Translation Project, which aims to promote the translation of writing from and about the region.

SWAN: You speak several languages - Spanish, French, English - and you’re familiar with Welsh, Catalan, Guadeloupean Creole, German, Italian and Albanian. Where and how did you begin learning languages?

Martha Asunción Alonso: El español es mi lengua materna. El francés es mi lengua de adopción elegida (decidí estudiar Filología Francesa y doctorarme en Estudios Franceses con una tesis sobre literaturas antillanas). El resto de idiomas que mencionas en la pregunta he ido conquistándolos, en mayor o en menor medida, a lo largo de mis periplos vitales, lecturas, experiencias… 

Soy española y en mi país, junto con el español, conviven varias lenguas cooficiales que siempre me han interesado. He intentado, por lo tanto, leer algo de literatura y consumer cultura en todas ellas.

Como profesora, he vivido en las Antillas francesas y en Albania. Allí me familiaricé con las lenguas autóctonas. Aunque mis conocimientos de criollo guadalupeño y de albanés son muy básicos.   

SWAN: How did your interest in translation begin?

M.A.A.: Siempre me he sentido muy atraída por la diversidad, por las culturas y las lenguas diferentes a las de mis orígenes, Supongo que el interés por la traducción, en ese sentido, siempre me ha acompañado.

No obstante, tengo un par de recuerdos infantiles fundadores que, me parece, tienen mucho que ver con mi vocación de traductora. Por ejemplo, éste: de niña, fui de vacaciones con mi familia a un pueblo de Cataluña fronterizo con Francia. Conocí en la playa a otra niña, francesa, y sentí una gran frustración porque no lográbamos comunicarnos del todo. Quizás entonces nació mi deseo de ir hacia los demás, de acercar diferencias y encontrar la manera de entendernos, de estar más cerca y compartir a pesar de todo.   

SWAN: Can you tell us more about your translation of Maryse Condé’s work? Were there any particular challenges with the language?

M.A.A.: Traducir a una creadora como Maryse Condé, con una voz tan personal y tan permeable a aportes de toda procedencia, es un viaje apasionante. Creo que se necesita estar aún más atenta de lo normal en la fase de exégesis del texto, previa a toda traducción, para no dejar escapar ningún eco o guiño a otros textos, otras voces, otros géneros e incluso otras disciplinas artísticas. En Condé se imbrican creativamente muchos idiomas, músicas, ritmos y sustratos culturales, que nos hablan de la vida nómada y del espíritu abierto, tolerante y humanista de la autora. Es un gran reto dar a escuchar, ver y sentir todo ese imaginario híbrido en la versión española.

SWAN: How important is translation in today’s world?

M.A.A.: A pesar de la tendencia a la globalización, la labor de las traductoras y de los traductores de todos los campos posibles es capital. Sin traducción, no sabríamos nada los vecinos y, en consecuencia, tampoco sabríamos nada del mundo ni de nosotros mismos. Viviríamos en una soledad y en una ignorancia insoportables.

SWAN: In the Caribbean, as in other regions, it sometimes feels as if countries are divided by language. How can people in the literary sphere help to bridge these linguistic "borders"?

M.A.A.: La literatura es siempre un lugar de encuentro, una herramienta para acercar orillas construyendo puentes y hermanando.   

SWAN: As a writer yourself, can you describe some of the skills you bring to translation?

M.A.A.: El hecho de haber escrito, sobre todo, bastante poesía quizá me haga estar más atenta a retos rítmicos, a la musicalidad del lenguaje y a la dimensión lírica de los textos que traduzco. 

Photos (from top): The cover of La DeseadaMartha Asunción Alonso, photographed by Gustavo Gómez.

Follow the Caribbean Translation Project on Twitter: @Caribtranslate.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

A FRENCH EDITOR PAYS TRIBUTE TO ICON ANGELA DAVIS

Renowned activist and intellectual Angela Davis turned 77 years old on Jan. 26, marking more than five decades of her fight against systemic racism and inequality.

January 2021 also marks fifty years since she appeared before a court in California to declare her innocence after a legendary manhunt and arrest. With sympathisers around the world mobilising to demand her freedom, she was eventually acquitted of the charges of “aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder” in 1972, following a 16-month incarceration.

Since then, Davis has been an emblem for social justice and has never stopped speaking out. In 2020, her long history of activism saw another chapter when she joined protests across the United States - in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and other acts of police brutality. Magazines such as Vanity Fair wrote articles about her, and she has been profiled in numerous other publications. 

Last autumn in Paris, her face blazed from massive posters on newspaper kiosks around the city. The iconic image - huge afro, serious eyes, mouth open in speech - confronted pedestrians, motorists and bus passengers as they travelled through the streets of the French capital.

The posters were announcing a special edition of a new, independent magazine that had devoted its second issue to Davis. Titled Légende, the quarterly magazine is the brainchild of Eric Fottorino, a former editor of the left-wing newspaper Le Monde. At a cost of 20 euros per copy, the publication is not cheap; yet many people bought the Davis issue. According to Fottorino, the magazine had several thousand subscribers by the end of the year.

The figures perhaps indicate the special place Davis holds in the French popular imagination, a place usually reserved for venerable rock stars. In 2018 for instance, when she spoke at a university in Nanterre, just outside Paris, her mere presence elicited deafening applause.

Légende contains contributions from writers such as Dany Laferrière, Gisèle Pineau and Alain Mabanckou, reflecting on what Davis has meant to them, and it recapitulates the events of more than 50 years ago - detailing Davis’ membership of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, and her activism in the civil rights movement before and after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968.

It also recaps the incident in 1970 that pushed her to international attention: guns she had bought were used by high-school student Jonathan Jackson when he took over a courtroom to demand the freeing of black prisoners including his brother (George Jackson), and left the building with hostages, including the judge.

In a subsequent shootout with police, the perpetrator, two defendants he had freed and the judge were killed, and Davis was arrested and charged following a huge manhunt, although she had not been in the courtroom when the hostage-taking occurred.

These events are captured in bold photographs and illustrations throughout the 90 pages of the magazine. There’s the reproduction of the “wanted” poster, for instance, with the public being warned that Davis should be considered “possibly armed and dangerous”; there are pictures of Davis in handcuffs, and later being freed; of her with family and friends, including writer Toni Morrison; of her lecturing at universities and public events.

Légende ends with an image of Davis standing in the back of a convertible, wearing a mask against Covid-19, her right hand raised in a fist - while nearby, a protester holds a sign that reads “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE”.

To learn more about how the magazine issue evolved, SWAN interviewed editor Eric Fottorino. Below is a shortened version of the interview, which took place at Légende’s offices in Paris.

SWAN: Why did you choose Angela Davis for this issue?

Eric Fottorino: Because when we decided to do this second issue of Légende, there had been the death of George Floyd in the United States, and there’d been in France the demonstrations regarding Adama Traoré, and as we wanted to feature a woman, we choose Angela Davis - to remind people of her work and to show that the combat she fought in the Seventies, and later, for civil rights and feminism is still going on. We thought it was important to speak about Angela Davis’ past at the present time, whether that’s in the United States or France. Quite often we think that the present can only be explained by what’s happening now, but it is essential to know the history.

SWAN: She has spoken of how important international and French solidarity was for her when she was arrested and incarcerated. Can you explain why French supporters took up her cause?

E.F.: For the generation of the Seventies, she incarnated a struggle, a dream for justice, and also exactly the opposite - she embodied a female victim of injustice, but one who would fight with all her forces, energy and intelligence. And for France, that was important because she had studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, and so she received a great deal of support in intellectual circles, whether from Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, or Louis Aragon, and also from the Parti communiste français (PCF). She was the subject of a powerful poem by Jacques Prévert as well. So, she had intellectual and political support. There were marches, too, and we have a photo of one of these in which her sister (Fania) marched with Aragon in the streets of Paris, protesting for her freedom.

I think that all these elements made her a popular figure in France, and the famous cry “Free Angela” that could be heard in different countries around the world was taken up in France too. Besides, when she was liberated, she did a tour - to say thanks but also to make it clear that she wasn’t giving up the fight. She appeared on the big literary programs of the time, such as “Apostrophe”, and also in the studio of France Inter and the big public radio broadcasters. She was a huge presence, and then later a popular French singer, Pierre Perret, made a song about an individual who was the victim of racism, and one could see Angela Davis’ story in it, even if he didn’t specifically dedicate the song (Lily) to her.

SWAN: How about the political newspapers of the time? What role did they play?

E.F.: She had the support of the socialist newspapers like L’Humanité, but it must be remembered that the Parti communiste was among the strongest parties in the Seventies, with about 25 percent of the vote. It was even stronger than the Socialist Party. So, the support from people like Aragon (who was a member of the Parti communiste français) sent a huge symbolic signal.

James Baldwin, who supported her as well, was a writer who was very well known in France. He was not a popular author, but, in intellectual and literary circles, Baldwin was someone whose voice carried weight because he had lived for some time in Paris, and the fact that he wrote that Open Letter to his Sister Angela (An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis, 1971) stayed in people’s memory. (The translation by Samuel Légitimus is reproduced in the magazine.)

SWAN: Did you try to speak with Angela Davis for the issue?

E.F.: We tried but she was very busy, and I think she was also quite tired at the time we made the request. But this wasn’t a necessity for us in writing about her life and the past. Of course, if she had been available, we would have interviewed her, but we didn’t think it was indispensable. In a certain way, her actions, and her life, speak for her.

SWAN: Some Black French thinkers say that there is a sort of fascination and veneration in France for African Americans, including Angela Davis. How would you respond to that?

E.F.: In France, social justice fighters aren’t necessarily black, so there hasn’t been emblematic figures like in the United States with Angela Davis, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King and others.

It’s true that in political life in France, Black people have had a limited space, and sometimes people outside France say that there has not been a black minister or anyone prominent, but they don’t know about Christiane Taubira or Kofi Yamgnane. So, it’s not true that people like that haven’t existed. What is true is that there is no huge emblematic political leader like Angela Davis here.

(Ed: Fottorino has helmed another publication that examines the subject of being black in France, titled Être Noir en France.)

For an article about Davis’ visit to France in 2018 to commemorate the 1968 workers movement, see: http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68/

Photos - top to bottom: the cover of Légende; Angela Davis in Paris (A.M./SWAN), and Eric Fottorino in his office (A.M./SWAN).