A photo journal from the Summer 2019 Maison Baldwin writer-in-residence
I am on cloud nine here in Saint-Paul de Vence, as a writer in residence with La Maison Baldwin, celebrating James Baldwin and this program that was established for young Black writers in his honor.
I am writing every single day for myself, working on the sequel to my award-winning debut novel Book of Addis: Cradled Embers -- which I haven't done at all in the past year that I've lived in L.A.! I'm also thrilled to rediscover that I'm still in love with Addis and these characters and their journeys! It's only torturous to write when I'm putting undue pressure on myself to finish. When I just zone out here on the balcony of La Maison Baldwin and live with these characters, telling their story is a JOY.
When I'm not writing on my amazing balcony at La Maison Baldwin in the mornings, I'm at Le Tilleul, just down the road, getting these words in before the sun gets too high in the sky. It's flowing out of me now.
I'm in love with this town! It is probably not anything at all like the town Baldwin knew, but I'm finding so much comfort knowing that the cobblestone and the views and the narrow streets and the trees are still the same. James Baldwin was here! And so am I.
This is not the key to the Secret Garden but to the Maison Baldwin residency house! But yeah basically it's the Secret Garden key...
James Baldwin sat here! This is the bar and restaurant at La Colombe d'Or, a famous and longtime hotel with an incredible history of its own. This is Hélène Roux, whose family has owned the restaurant for three generations. Hélène's mother was great friends with Baldwin, and every day when she would come home from school, he would be sitting in this room. She would tell him what she learned in school and he would tell her what she *really* should be learning. (Can you imagine?) It was so wonderful to hear her stories of the "Jimmy" that she knew and loved.
Pictured here at the Colombe d'Or are Maison Baldwin co-founders Hélène Roux and Shannon Cain, and Hélène's husband Steve. Hélène told me that Jimmy would entertain his friends here, including Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte, Josephine Baker, Gore Vidal, Miles Davis and more when they came to visit him! Inside the hotel there is an amazing collection of art, from Picasso to Cesar to Matisse, and a history of resistance to the Nazi occupation here. So much history! But what was truly special for me was to sit and hear Helene's memories of James Baldwin. What a gift! I am truly overwhelmed with gratitude for this special day.
This wonderful Saint-Paul de Vence escape from America has allowed me such perspective and distance to continue my novel about an Igbo-American enslaved girl who escapes and starts a revolution in the 1790s. I'm excited about the revolution that's taking place on the page and where these characters are growing to in this next book. In a world of utter chaos, it is glorious for a writer to know that everything bends to the one with the pen. We can make whole new worlds and expand the imaginations of our readers and their concepts of what's possible. That's how you change the world.
I am immensely grateful to La Maison Baldwin for a wonderful residency! I have solidified the sequel to Book of Addis ONLY because of this space and time to write. I hope the work honors Baldwin in whatever possible way it could.
Brooke C. Obie is the internationally acclaimed author of the Black revolution novel Book of Addis: Cradled Embers, which won the 2017 Phillis Wheatley Award for First Fiction at the Harlem Book Fair, the 2017 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award for Fiction and the 2018 Independent Writers Award from the Accra International Book Fair. Brooke has an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction from The New School, where her thesis, which became Book of Addis, was a 2014 finalist for the Fulbright Fellowship. She has attended Columbia University's writer's workshop in Paris, France in 2012, where she began work on Book of Addis and was a 2016 Callaloo Fellow at Oxford University where she began work on the sequel, Book of Addis: Burning Plains. Follow her on social media @BrookeObie and at brookeobie.com.