Tag Archives: guest post

I Discovered a Thriving Literary Community as an American Writer in Paris (Guest Post)

1 May

I’m excited to publish this guest post about the Paris literary community by my writer friend Norma Jaeger Hopcraft, the author of The Paris Writers Circle and blogger of In Search of the American Dream. If you’ve been following me for a while now, you know I’ve written about the artist and literary community in Paris on a number of occasions, including my posts on the Surrealist movement and the The Beat Hotel. Norma reports back from her time living as a ex-pat writer in Paris, showing that the Paris literary community is still thriving today. If you’re looking to take a writing sabbatical abroad, she provides a plethora of resources for writers seeking literary community in Paris.

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When I moved to Paris one July recently, I arrived on a Thursday, took Friday to catch up with myself (I didn’t have to hurry—I had at least one year in Paris ahead of me—yes, be jealous!). On Saturday I launched myself upon the City of Light.

 

I took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower, explored the Parc du Champs-de-Mars at its foot, was offered replica Eiffel Towers in six sizes and colors by wandering, thin African young men. Then I headed for the Place des Vosges. On foot. On a hot day. When I got to the Place, I lay on my back on the grass, like a hundred other people, and gathered my forces around myself. I was 3,000 miles from home and did not have money to fly back and see a familiar face. I was on my own, knowing nobody in the entire city. In the country. In all of Europe.

 

I had found when I arrived on Thursday that my landlady, Martine, whom I first met via Skype, spoke great English. She went out of her way that first day to make me comfortable in my studio apartment in the ground floor of her home. I was famished when I arrived on her doorstep, had no Euros in my pockets. I asked her what I could do to get something to eat – I had no idea where a grocery store was.

 

I’ll never forget – she offered me the steak that she planned to cook for herself and her visiting son a few hours later. I was deeply moved but asked her to take me quickly to the nearest grocery store. I bought some pre-cooked chicken thighs and salad. Martine paid for them because my debit card didn’t work. I paid her back in Euros within the hour.

 

Her two nieces, Christelle and Daphné, lived in Martine’s house, in bedrooms upstairs. They were great 20-somethings who welcomed me and opened their hearts to me in the type of soul-friendship that’s a rare experience in the U.S.

 

Okay, so, in the Place des Vosges, laying on the grass, I had three faces I knew in Paris. I had a place to live. I had enough food. What did I need next?

 

Well, I was in Paris on a creative writing sabbatical. It was a gift to myself, not related to a university or artists’ residency. So I needed a circle of writers, incisive critiquers, who could help me improve my memoir. Finishing it was my goal for the year.

 

On that sunny Saturday in late July, I lay on the grass in Place des Vosges and prepared to meet my first Paris writers circle. The group was called Paris Lit Up, and I met them in a hot café where I trembled to purchase a Perrier. It bought me my seat in the café, but it nearly busted my tiny budget.

 

It was my first experience of English-speaking expat writers meeting in Paris. People in the critique group came from all over – Iowa, Barcelona, Berlin. We critiqued each other’s work, laughed over it, and then I went “home,” wherever that is, exhausted. When I got there, Martine fanned herself and said, “It’s so ‘ot.”

 

Two months went by with Paris Lit Up as my only writers’ circle, and then a Meetup popped up, to be held in the moderator’s Paris apartment. I was curious to see her space, and besides which, it sounded like such a nice gathering. “Meet, eat, and critique our work,” the description said. Eat together. Hmmm. That would form nice bonds, I thought, and I signed up.

 

Author Hazel Manuel led the Meetup, which still meets and is called Paris Scriptorium. People once again were from all over. Haze was from London by way of Wales and living full time in Paris. Ruth was British, married to a Frenchman. Kat was Russian, finishing a Ph.D. in English literature at the Sorbonee. Cris Hammond was an American living on a péniche (a barge) on the Seine. He’d written a book about traveling on it all over France’s 5,000 kilometers of canals and rivers. It’s funny. I loved it.

 

I ditched writing the memoir – so difficult to go back into all that pain – and wrote a novel instead, The Paris Writers Circle. It’s about four writers—four creative egos—who undergo dark days in the City of Light. Haze’s group critiqued it over the course of the year. The warmth of the bonds was fantastic, the talent for critique outstanding, and I’m still in touch with many of the participants today.

 

Then another Meetup popped up: The Paris Writers Group. It’s still meeting in a café and still running. After I left Paris, a member of Haze’s group, Graham Elliott, started a new Meetup, Paris Creative Writers. It meets in L’Amazonial Café, on Rue Sainte-Opportune, in the First Arrondissement, on Tuesday afternoons. If you Google “meetups paris writers in English” you’ll find all three groups.

 

I left Paris before I could attend Graham’s Meetup, but I never unsubscribed from his or any of the groups’ email lists. Every time a new meeting comes up, I wish like crazy that I were in Paris and could go.

 

So any writer who goes to Paris has three great critique groups in English (the fourth I’ve mentioned, Paris Lit Up, seems to be on hiatus) that they could attend, immerse in, and find the literary community that will help them improve their writing. They’ll also form bonds of friendship that will last even after they leave and there are thousands of miles between them and their friends’ familiar faces in Paris.

 

So make me jealous! Tell me you’re going to Paris and that you’ll attend any one of these groups! Leave a comment for me here or on my blog. And check out The Paris Writers Circle. One reviewer says, “If you love Paris, you’ll be swept away!” Another says, “Paris comes alive!” and “Outstanding for story appeal, character appeal, and character development.” Enjoy! And get to Paris!

Jazz for Peace

10 Dec

When my dear friend Sue, whom I’ve known since first grade, invited me to a jazz show fundraiser I immediately said yes. As I’ve been studying Jack Kerouac, I’ve been reading a lot about how he frequented the jazz clubs of Harlem and wrote jazz reviews. I’m kind of a method writer, and I like to get out and experience what I’m writing about. And of course it’s great to be able to help others just by doing something you love — listening to music and eating great food. And when I say great food, I mean they had fried olives stuffed with blue cheese! Afterwards, I asked Sue if she’d be interested in doing a little write up, and she not only agreed but was so enthusiastic about it.  Below she shares about this worthwhile fundraiser, the great music, and the cute moment we shared with people at our table:

Jack, Josie and I hurriedly rushed into the restaurant.  We finally arrived at Lura Restaurant Lounge at 949 Columbus Avenue (Duke Ellington Blvd and 106th Street), way uptown.  We were running late for the Jazz for Peace Event, the Global Alliance for Community Development’s (GACD) 2nd Anniversary Fundraiser.  Jack serves on GACD’s Board of Directors, and the three of us work for the same company in midtown, where we were rushing in from.  I was to meet my friends, Mike and Stephanie, at Lura by 7pm.  I walked in and looked around.  To my left, Steph sat alone at a table, dressed in black, buried deep in a book.  Mike was off to my right at the bar, looking directly at me and smiling. 

Josie and I gathered Mike and joined Steph at the table.  I know them; they know of each other.  The usual chatter ensued, and drinks and food were ordered.  Lura has an exceptional menu, and we had a hard time deciding what to get.  Everything looked (and was) scrumptious.  As we settled in, David McCoy, Executive Director of GACD, stood up in front of the room and talked about the work they are doing and aspire to do and the results of their labor up to that point.  One of the most inspiring initiatives that he described was the water programs GACD has designed in collecting and filtering rainwater for communities. It made one feel so proud to be a part of this great cause in some way and was an appropriate reminder of what was going on outside of the room.  He turned our attention over to Rick DellaRatta and Jazz for Peace* and, appropriately for a late October evening, they opened up with “Autumn Leaves.”

I noticed that Josie was talking to an elderly couple at the next table.  The man was keeping half-time with his hand on the table and on his knee, joking that the music was too fast for old people to dance to.  Josie, who was sitting closest to the woman, was deep in conversation, probably partly due to the fact that one could hardly hear anyone unless he or she was right next to you.  After a few moments, Josie revealed to us that this couple happened to be, in fact, the parents of the keyboardist and vocalist, Rick DellaRatta.  The man, DellaRatta’s father, had been a musician in the War, and his wife, DellaRatta’s mother, was a pianist who had played with him.  They’d been married for over 50 years.  DellaRatta’s father displayed so much insight into the music being played, the technicalities of it, how each instrument contributed to the overall sound.  The bassist plucked away, with all ten fingers at one point.  The drummer, who looked like a teenager, blew everybody away with the seeming madness of his drumming.  He paused and syncopated with so much force, yet absolute grace and control.  The saxophonist, who stood in front, slightly to the right of the stage, whenever I looked over at him, would just be standing there, still, looking out at the audience.  Every so often, you’d hear him first, the singing, soaring sounds of the sax, running up and down the octaves where his fingers, all of a sudden, were a blur, a complete contrast to his previous state of inertia.  The energy emanating from the stage forced one to stop what one was doing, or even thinking about, and to just feel the music, to let the symphony flow through you and move you.

The next day at work, Jack and I agreed that the night was too short.  Josie and I were anxious to see the pictures Mike had taken of us inside and outside the venue. 

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Please see links for more information on GACD and how you can help support them and their more-than-worthy cause to combat poverty.  Hope to see you at GACD’s 3rd Anniversary Fundraiser!

Sue J. Chang lives in Manhattan, NY in Battery Park City and publishes mixes on 8tracks.com.

* Via: On September 25, 2002 Jazz pianist and vocalist Rick DellaRatta was invited to lead a band consisting of Israeli, Middle Eastern, European, Asian and American Jazz Musicians in a concert inside the United Nations for an International audience in what is now considered one of the significant cultural events of our time. Rick named this band JAZZ FOR PEACE™ and has since performed over 800 Benefit Concerts to raise funds, publicity and awareness for outstanding organizations in need worldwide. In addition Jazz for Peace performs educational programs bringing music and Jazz back into the schools and donates musical instruments to underprivileged children. Jazz for Peace concerts have featured Rick DellaRatta along with such notable jazz artists as Paquito D’Rivera, Victor Lewis, Lenny White, Eddie Gomez, Dave Valentin, Ray Mantilla, Rick Margitza and many others. Mr. DellaRatta’s Jazz influenced orchestral composition “Permutata” was recently recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.  For more information please visit http://www.jazzforpeace.org

 

Orange Wine at Brooklyn Winery

2 Oct

When I read about orange wine, I knew just whom to ask about it: Orlando Clemente.  He took me to Brooklyn Winery, where we went on a tour of the winery and got to taste-test this hipster wine, which to me had almost an earl grey flavor.  I asked Orlando to write up a review, and he wrote this and provided the pictures you see here:

A winery in Brooklyn? Oh yes, and a great one at that. I never would have conceived the notion that wine ( let alone great wine) would be produced in Brooklyn NY! 

Brooklyn Winery  produces Rieslings, Chardonnay, an Orange Chardonnay, a fine Rosé  and a killer Pinot Noir. Believe me, all are world class.

The Riesling is crisp, refined, refreshing and will serve you well with Asian and spicy fare or just for enjoying on its own.  (I had a to drink multiple glasses).

The Pinot Noir was insane! A little darker then most Pinots, medium bodied and a blast to drink,I could not get enough of it! Glass after glass after glass was enjoyed by my beautiful drinking partner Stephanie Nikolopoulos and myself.

The Rosé was great as well. Great nose of Strawberries and candy.Great color and really delicious. A great dry but fruity Rosé

The Orange Chardonnay is unbelievable. I’ve never had anything like this before, and its hue is out of this world: it really is orange. Great nose and mouthfeel. There are so many flavors here that it will keep you entertained for some time as you try to figure them all out.

The appetizers… Mama mia! You have to come down here and try them. Duck paté, cheeses, baguette, etc. All delicious. If you love wine,and I know that you do, you must visit and enjoy the great food, wine, awesome staff and winery tour.

There is so much going on here from wine to decor, that once you’re inside… You won’t wanna leave.