FROM WW II TO THE END OF THE 20th CENTURY

Jean-Paul Sartre dominated intellectual climate of France more than any other writer in history during “the Saint Germain-des-Prés years,” the fiery decade of Cold War politics, existentialist philosophy, literature, and jazz when Paris was emerging from the nightmare of the Nazi Occupation.  Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre’s “essential love,” was her own woman as well -- writing The Second Sex, conducting a love affair with Nelson Algren, and winning the Prix Goncourt for The Mandarins.

Albert Camus edited the leading Résistance newspaper during the Occupation, when he and Sartre became best friends, but they split publicly in 1951 over their positions on Stalinist Russia, sparking the major cause célèbre of the era.

Jean Genet wrote his first novel Our Lady of the Flowers, a lush poetic eulogy to violent criminals, transvestites, and gay sex.  Boris Vian’s racially charged crime novel I Spit on Your Graves caused a scandal. Marguerite Duras hosted Résistance meetings in her flat during the Occupation and following the war had one literary triumph after another   -– The Seawall, The Square, Moderato Cantabile, The Lover  ….   

Samuel Beckett lived in Paris for most of his eighty-three years, surviving a near-fatal stabbing and a narrow escape from the Gestapo in 1942, and wrote almost all his greatest works in French.

Eugène Ionesco, a Romanian who wrote in French, became a star thanks to his Absurdist comedy The Bald Soprano, which has been playing at a little theater in the Latin Quarter for more than fifty years.

Georges Perec was the Paris-born novelist of the dazzling La Vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User’s Manual).  Patrick Modiano, another Parisian, is haunted in his work by the national nightmare of “les années noires,” the dark years of the Occupation and the Nazi death camps. 

Richard Wright, author of the best-selling Native Son and Black Boy, settled in Paris in 1947.
Young James Baldwin, the first of Wright’s fellow African American writers to follow, two years later, found himself as a writer, and as a man comfortable with his gayness, in Paris.  He set his early novel Giovanni’s Room in the city.
Chester Himes
’s amazing career as a detective novelist also took off here.

Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs stayed in what became known “the Beat Hotel.” In 1960, Naked Lunch, Burroughs’s a phantasmagoria of sex, drugs, and violence, joined a long list of books to be published in Paris first because censorship laws in the States made them too hot for American editors to handle.

Julio Cortázar, the Argentinean novelist and grand master of the short story, lived here for more than thirty years to his death in 1984 and set many stories in Paris, including the enigmatic “Blow-Up,” the spark for Antonioni’s film. Many Latin American writers, most of them deeply influenced by Surrealism, studied and worked in Paris, including Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa.