T. Denean Sharpley-WhitingAug 26, 2017
African American Women in Paris between the Two World Wars
SUNY Press 2015
When Dorothy Sterling wrote her book about nineteenth-century black women in America, she stated in the introduction that the book was not a definitive history of black women but a sourcebook to lead others to "compile a complete history." And while a complete history of black women has not yet been written, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting has added to the history of black women in Bricktop's Paris: African American Women in Paris Between the Two World Wars and The Autobiography of Ada Bricktop Smith, or Miss Baker Regrets (SUNY Press, 2015). Sharpley-Whiting does two things with this book; she appeals to the scholar and the mystery reader. The first part of the book captures the multi-life history of twenty-five African American women who lived in Paris as artists, singers, club owners, poets, and writers. Sharpley-Whiting's stories illustrate how travel and place were transformative for black women despite the length of their stay in Paris. She says, "the book is a moment in time." In this book, we get to go into that world, a world where they were honored and treated not by the color of their skin, but by their talents. We get to meet many different women along the way. Some stayed for a long time, while others could only stay several months before returning back to the United States. By the end of the 1930s, their time was over. The second part of Bricktop's Paris is a noir mystery, titled The Autobiography of Ada Bricktop Smith, or Miss Baker Regrets. Sharpley-Whiting illuminates the lines of fact and fiction in the autobiography of Ada Bricktop Smith. The novel explores the black and feminine perspective of image, self-possession, and self-exhibition. The novel takes us to Paris with black American women in salons and saloons crossing boundaries with purpose, and discovering they are the wealth of the nation. Josie Baker and Bricktop what are they up to? And who did it? Bricktop's Paris was an American Library in Paris Book Award Long List selection and a Choice 2015 Outstanding Academic Title. Sharpley-Whiting is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies and French at Vanderbilt University where she also chairs African American and Diaspora Studies and directs the Callie House Center for the Study of Global Black Cultures and Politics. She publishes an academic murder mystery series under the nom de plume Tracy Whiting. She also teaches a course on Detective Fiction at Vanderbilt. The first novel, an academic cozy-thriller set in the South of France with Professor Havilah Gaie, is titled The 13thFellow: A Mystery in Provence (BooksbNimble Press, May 2015). She has completed the second mystery in this series, Paris A-Go-Go (Books nimble Press, forthcoming 2016), and is currently at-work on a scholarly volume, A Quartet in Four French Movements: A Voodoo Queen, A French Romantic, a Poet, and an African Ethnologist, as well as a family history. She is on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association (2014-2018).