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Black Man Abroad: The Poetic Life of James A. Emanuel
From Tuesday 16 February 2016
To Sunday 17 April 2016

Location : The American Library in Paris

Category : Library Exhibits

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Poetry is imortant because reading it, and certainly writing it, brings the whole man and woman into activity.  A person reading a new poem expects to encounter unusual combinations of familiar words...We might claim that reading or writing poetry could lead to revolutionary thought. Dictators keep their eyes on libraries, and in our truly thoughtful moments we know why.
— James A. Emanuel



The Library is pleased to dedicate an exhibition on one of America's greatest poets and academic scholars, James A. Emanuel. An often overlooked figure of American letters, his fame did not equal the enormous output of his work. Through his lifetime, Emanuel published 400 poems and 13 volumes of poetry, including an autobiography called The Force and the Reckoning. He was a well-respected teacher who influenced a whole generation of students and poets. In 1999, he was one of the first to match jazz music and haiku poetry through his collection of poems Jazz from the Haiku King.

The exhibition will present photos of his family and friends, engravings made by his close friend and collaborator, Godelieve Simons, and books of poetry from the Library collection, including from fellow poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Don Lee, and Bob Kaufman.

About the author

Emanuel was born in 1921 and raised in the small town of Alliance, Nebraska, which he left at the age of seventeen and never returned. He worked at a variety of jobs and served as a foot soldier in the Philippines in WWII. He did his undergraduate studies at Howard University and graduate work at Northwestern University and Columbia University.  He chose to focus on Langston Hughes for his thesis, a poet whom he considered his mentor.

He later became a professor of African-American poetry at City College of New York (CUNY). Through his extensive travels to Europe in 1980s, he also taught at the University of Grenoble, the University of Toulouse and the University of Warsaw.

In 1984, he moved permanently to Paris after his only child, James Emanuel Jr. , committed suicide in 1983 as a result of racism-motivated police violence. Once called the "black dean of Paris," his time in the city was rich with collaborations with artists, musicians, poets, and other writers. He conducted poetry readings and lectures up until just a couple of years before his death in 2013 at the age of 92.   


This exhibit is organized by the American Library in Paris with curatorial and research assistance from Catarina Stamou.

Access to the exhibit is free to Library members, as well as users with a Library day or week pass. Visit the membership page for details.