A Personal Geography Examining Why American Expatriate Writers Lived in Paris and Madrid

Stan West
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For the last 150 years, writers from throughout the United States have written from Spain and France, many of them finding a special home in Paris and Madrid. One could roughly divide them by centuries – 19th-century American expatriate writers like Henry James, Edith Wharton and Frederick Douglass; 20th-century writers like Sam Boynes Jr., James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Rose Jourdain, and Barbara Chase-Riboud; and 21st-century writers like Kai El Zabar, Pat Westheimer, Lawrence Schmiel, Miles Marshall, Dr. Tyler Stovall, and Dr. Gerald Honigsblum. The most famous American expatriate writers lived in Madrid or Paris between World War 1 and World War II such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound, and Langston Hughes. They were called the “Lost Generation” first by Stein, who coined the phrase, then by literary scholars who sought a way to describe disaffected American writers who fled to Europe between the two world wars seeking a freer environment. They came from different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and political persuasions. They were rebels with perhaps good cause. They seemed to shun the seemingly homogenous White Anglo Saxon Protestantism of the United States for a more diverse European cultural and literary milieu. I focused on representatives of both groups of writers. I selected women and writers of color in each group. Thinking out loud, I wrote about them while also writing about myself. It appeared that in the last century and a half, expatriate writers that came from North America had a common inspiration. They appeared to be running from and running to something. It seemed that most found something unique and invigorating in traveling, living, and writing abroad. I believed they intersected in ways few scholars have been able to capture precisely; although I conceded many academicians and popular authors have written volumes on many of the celebrated North American expatriate writers of the “Lost Generation.” Some of these expatriate writers directly or indirectly addressed the question, “What is an American?” There was evidence of this in interviews and writings about the American expatriate writers, and by some of their European colleagues. In surveying a few selected American expatriates and even some French and Spanish counterparts, I discovered an assortment of responses. I made other discoveries, too, that helped me understand why I wanted to travel with my sons and later my uncle to find replies that might answer personal and philosophical queries. To thread all of these answers, I wove a family fabric and showed how we addressed the question.

Keywords: American, Expatriate, Writers, Paris, Madrid
Stream: Books, Writing and Reading
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , , What is an American?

Stan West

Adjunct Professor, English Department, Columbia College Chicago
Chicago, IL, USA

Stan West received his MFA in Creative Writiing in May, 2007 from the University of New Orleans. His thesis was on American expatriate writers in Paris and Madrid. West holds a Masters in the Teaching of Writng from DePaul University. A former foreign correspondent for the San Francisco-based Pacific News Service, West remains a working journalist, reporting for WNUA 95.5 FM Chicago, a Clear Channel Broadcast, Inc. radio station. A documenataran who co-coordinates the Oak Park International Film Festival and the Columbia College Film Series on Poverty and Privilege, West has authored and co-authored several nonfiction books. He also teaches writing, television and first-year seminar at Columbia College Chicago.

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