An American Reborn in Paris

Isabel Wilkerson brilliantly chronicled the journey of black Americans from South to North in The Warmth of Other Suns. But the 15 years of work and the sudden fame it brought upended her life. The cure: an odyssey of her own

by Isabel Wilkerson
isabel wilkerson image
Photograph: Ambroise Tezenas

At that moment, I loved Paris as much as I ever could, yet I would have to make peace with what I would never get from it. I would never be a backpacking college student living on baguettes and café au lait in Montparnasse. I was on a different path, the one that was intended for me, the one that I made for myself. And had I not taken that path, I wouldn’t be who I am and wouldn’t have had the honor of writing my book. For me, in the end, there were no other suns. Yes, Wright and my parents and millions of other black Americans had needed to escape to freer soil. But, as Wright learned, perhaps too late, the sun had been within him all along, and whatever he had done—whatever any of us do—had come to be because he had willed it into being, and the sun, it turned out, had been within him, and within each of us, all along.

Richard Wright’s Paris

Sleeping

Hotel Bel-Ami,chic, modern, on a quiet side street ($280 to $850 a night; hotel-bel-ami.com).

Hotel Saint-Germain-des-Prés,a classic with a tiny elevator that carries guests to gabled rooms ($225 to $430 a night; hotel-paris-saint-germain.com).

Hotel Trianon(where I stayed for the first few nights), 1 bis et
3, rue de Vaugirard ($140 to $290 a night; paris-hotel-trianon.com).

Eating and people watching 

Café de Flore,a historic gathering place, 172, boulevard Saint-Germain (cafedeflore.fr).

Les Deux Magots,where Wright welcomed Baldwin to Paris; across from the church (lesdeux magots.fr/index.php).

Brasserie Lipp,where Wright and Baldwin ended their friendship; 151, boulevard Saint-Germain (groupe-bertrand.com/lipp.php).

Café Tournon,a favorite of Wright’s, across from le Jardin du Luxembourg (cafetournon.com).—I.W.

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