The Center for French and Francophone Studies

©PHOTOPQR/L'EST REPUBLICAIN ; LIVRE - RENTREE LITTERAIRE - LIVRE SUR LA PLACE - 37EME EDITION - LITTERATURE - ROMAN. Nancy 13 septembre 2015. Christophe BOLTANSKI. PHOTO Alexandre MARCHI. (MaxPPP TagID: maxpeopleworld904316.jpg) [Photo via MaxPPP]




At the end of the month, we have the pleasure of welcoming the writer Christophe Boltanski, with his American translator, Laura Marris, and the religious anthropologist, Emma Aubin Boltanski in a series of bi-lingual readings and a film screening.

Christophe Boltanski is known as a new, significant voice in the genre of the “true novel.” His book, La Cache  [The Safe House], is a remarkable first-person narrative, a family saga, and an original twist on the memoir of anti-semitism in Vichy France — across generations.  Figures in the novel include artist Christian Boltanski whose pieces are on exhibit in the Nasher Museum, and Luc Boltanski, the sociologist. In 2015, the novel won major literary prizes in France, the Prix Fémina and le Prix des prix littéraires.

Boltanski will present and discuss his novel in tandem with his American translator, Laura Marris. Her translation will appear with University of Chicago Press in 2017.

Boltanski is also known for his writing for the Parisian newspaper, Libération, and today for the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, and the online review, Rue 89. His journalistic work has taken him from Palestine to Malaysia, the Scottish reaches of Europe to Congo, resulting in a series of essays : Sept Vies de Yasser Arafat [7 Lives of Yasser Arafat 1997], Chirac d’Arabie [Chirac of Arabia: 2006], and his most recent, Minerais de sang : les esclaves du monde moderne [Blood Minerals : Slaves of the Modern World, 2014].

Laura Marris lectures in creative writing at Boston University. Her other translation projects include Louis Guilloux’s Le Sang noir [Blood Dark], as well as the poetry of Duke’s own Paol Keineg, Abalamour : Because or Down with Love.

Emma Aubin-Boltanski, at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales, Paris, works on religious practices of the Middle East, and their interrelations, especially in the Lebanon. Her books include: Penser la fin du monde (2014), and Pèlerinages et nationalisme en Palestine. Prophètes, héros et ancêtres (2007). In recent years, she has turned to the tool of film, and made several ethnographic documentaries. She will screen her latest, Catherine ou le corps de la Passion, [film in Arabic with French or English sub-titles] followed by a Q & A session.



This week Geraldine Smith, French journalist, writer, and Chapel Hill-er,  presents her latest book.

Returning to Belleville where she had lived for years, she investigates how her neighborhood has been radicalized politically. Why did a part of the city long known for its diverse, immigrant communities became a place of extreme violence? Smith takes us to ground zero of the social crisis in France today, and gives us direct contact with the residents : shopowners, teenagers, school-children.

Part report, part family chronicle, Smith grapples with the limits of the French model of social integration, as well as with her own disillusionments.

Written after Charlie Hebdo and November 13, and published just before this summer’s attacks, Smith’s book offers an intrepid, personal look at what is happening to French public life, and its far-reaching consequences.

Mark the rentrée by joining Géraldine Smith in a bi-lingual discussion around her book : Wednesday, Sept. 14, noon-1:30 pm, Forum for Scholars and Publics, 011 Old Chem. Building, West Campus.


For links to interviews in French, see the interview with Alice Kaplan in Contreligne, as well as in Le Petit Journal of Canal Plus:


Geraldine Smith is also co-author of an award-winning biography of the Central-African “emperor” Bokassa, published in 2000, and of a book on black France, Noir et Français!, released in 2006.





August 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Welcome back to campus where a variety of events await you, and a set of invited guests will join us this semester.


To start us off, journalist and local author Geraldine Smith will share her book, La Rue Jean Pierre Timbaud (april 2016) a brave chronicle of her Parisian neighborhood – the place of her dreams of social integration à la française, the site of most of the 2015 attacks, and the communities where the limits of this social model are now terribly apparent. Sept. 14, noon-2pm, FSP.


Christophe Boltanski, novelist and journalist, will join us September 28-30 to discuss his two latest books. La Cache, the surprise of last year’s literary season – the first “true novel” and family saga of this accomplished family, including sociologist Luc Boltanski, and artist Christian Boltanski whose work can be seen at our own Nasher Museum. Sept. 28, 5-7 pm, FHI, Bay 5.

His investigation of the mining industry in post-colonial Africa Les Minerais de sang will be the subject of a lunchtime conversation and debate with Stephen Smith, AAAS.  Sept. 30, noon-2 pm, FSP.


Emma Aubin-Boltanski, anthropologist, at the EHESS, will present her anthropological documentary on a contemporary Lebanese mystic. Catherine ou le corps de la Passion, in Arabic with French, English sub-titles, is an unblinking look at the daily practices of a minority Christian community in today’s Middle East. A screening and multi-lingual Q & A. Sept. 29, 5-7 pm, The Link, Bostock Library.


Check back for fuller details about September’s activities, and word on those for October and November.

But first things first, join us for our ritual pot d’accueil in downtown Durham, Friday, Sept. 9, 5-7 pm, on the rooftop terrace of Hotel Durham.







In the wake of the July 14 attack, it’s hard to remember that Nice is a relative newcomer to France.   The city was still a separate state some hundred and fifty years years ago – unlike any other major French town — becoming French only when Napoleon III negotiated with Italy over who would take over. When the song, Nissa la Bella, was played this past weekend in New York to support the city, you could still hear Italian amid strains of Niçois dialect.

It’s good to remember that Nice is still Italian to its core; many of its buildings constructed by Italians, many of its neighborhoods with men and women born in Italy who call themselves now Niçois.

Anyone discovering the city can see, in fact, a Mediterranean one, the coral and yellow street fronts, the sea lapping along miles of its streets. But it’s Mediterranean most of all because of its people, with some 6 percent coming from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, as well as Italy.

These Niçois are not the migrants typecast by the obsessive, fearsome headlines. Nor are they the post-colonial generation who left North Africa and West Africa to work in Europe. They are the thousands of inhabitants akin to the some 30 from Maghrebi families who were killed on Bastille night. They are the face of France today.

It’s all the more important to recognize this city as the political polemics over who is responsible for these attacks and who is in control of policing them continues to intensify.

Nice is a stronghold of the far Right, Front National, whose symbolic figure and attack dog, Stéphane Ravier, was quick to denounce the French government for its handling of the attack. Ravier is himself a first generation Frenchman who reneges on his own heritage when making the aggressive case against immigration; his Italian-born mother, bringing the riches of Mediterranean culture into their France.

With debate over terrorism shrill, and the political fight over the upcoming election daunting, it’s encouraging to consider what Nice has survived in past struggles.

Christiane Taubira, former Socialist Minister of Justice, just did, writing about the multi-cultural city that has endured earlier shock waves of terror.

We may think first of combats around and following the Algerian war, when thousands of Algerians began arriving in Mediterranean cities.  But Taubira digs deeper in living memory, to the summer of 1943 and the final paroxysm of deportation of Jews and children . She remembers the activism of Moussa Abadi, born in Syria who, together with his companion Odette Rosenstock, brilliantly built an underground network to save hundreds of Jewish children from death.

So do I. When I walked the streets of Nice, researching the Marcel network, I was alive to the polyglot energy of its neighborhoods, so many voices of the South that echoed with other Mediterranean towns.   Here were people involved in the scrappy boisterous experience of international civic life in the Vieux port or Ariane just as strongly as the Promenade des Anglais that had attracted so many English and other adventurers from Chekhov to Bono. I liked to think that it was exactly this chaotic, dangerous, multi-lingual, multi—everything of a city that inspired James Joyce to imagine Finnegan’s Wake as he too ambled the streets, in 1922, “along the swerve of the shore and the bend of the bay.”

As we step back in the summer heat, in Durham, at Duke, as in Nice, and now St. Étienne-du-Rouvray, as elsewhere in France, I think this history can help us to take heart. It reminds us that other Niçois, of other Mediterranean backgrounds, have confronted waves of terrifying sectarian and racist violence before. Facing great loss, they stood their ground, and acted resolutely with cunning. Critical imagination – and humor – helped them prevail together.

This July and August, as many attempt to make sense of the murderous behavior and hateful discourse so as to respond to this challenge usefully, there is something to be gained by taking stock of Nice’s history and all the people – creative, activist – who make up this city.










This week, we welcome back our colleague and fellow Dukie, French writer and journalist, Philippe Lançon.

On Wednesday, April 20, he’ll be speaking on the vital force of reading and writing in the face of terror attacks.  His talk “Comment lire et écrire après un attentat” takes place at 5 pm in Rubenstein Library’s Holsti-Anderson Room, 153. Lançon will speak in French; an English synopsis will be provided, and the Q & A will also be conducted in English. A reception to welcome back our colleague will be held thereafter.

Lançon will be speaking on a subject he knows all too well. A contributor to the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, he was participating in the editorial meeting the morning of the attack in January 2015; he came out, injured, and ready to write again a week later with his characteristic elegant precision, and wit.


Lançon’s writing as a critic of literature and the arts is widely known and respected; for his work in Libération and XXI, he has won the Hennessy award as well as the Lagardère Journalist Award. Lançon has a particular interest in the fiction of Spanish America, especially Cuba.

Lançon is also the author of several novels and short stories, including L’élan (2013) and Les îles (2011), publishing playfully under a pseudonym as well.

In 2010, Lançon taught 2 courses on French literature and politics at Duke in the Dept. of Romance Studies when, he was a dedicated denizen of Bostock Library, spending long hours using its collections. He first came to Duke as a Media Fellow to the Dewitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at the Sanford School for Public Policy, now part of the Franklin Humanities Institute.

His talk is co-sponsored by the Center for French and Francophone Studies, the Dept. of Romance Studies,  the FHI, Media and Journalism Initiative, and Duke Libraries.





The semester began with a dialogue on last year’s legacy of terror in Beirut, Paris, and Bamako. With faculty from UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, the group sought to raise as many questions as to provide answers:

Prof. Zeina Halabi: what of the liberal cultivation of individuality that cultivates the memory of some victims of these attacks – those in Paris — and not others – those in Beirut, and Bamako?

Prof. Anne-Gaëlle Saliot: how to analyze the government’s declaration of a state of emergency in France honestly? The proposal to strip French bi-nationals of citizenship on conviction of a terrorist act?

Prof. Amadou Fofana: what of the youth of Mali and other West African countries exposed to new and alien forces of propaganda.

Read more :

In the wake of the latest attacks in Burkina Faso, the questions raised by the panel resonate more strongly.



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Today we remember the journalists who were killed last year.  All those who with them, recognize the human right to speak out, to speak in jest.

Tears come.

This week President Obama also shed a few out of indignation about guns hijacking the principle of freedom.  The proliferation of weapons is spreading terribly in the States, in France, as in many so-called open societies; and with it, the scourge of young people choosing to express themselves with a “kalach”.

Still “gauloiseries” will keep coming too.

The comic outlook that tests limits.  The humor that risks offending others, the type of critical spirit that writer Philippe Lançon remembered of the editorial meeting on January 7 in the first piece he wrote after surviving the attack:

The challenge now is to stay open-minded.  It is tough in the climate of hyper security still new to France, and with the news this morning of another incident in Paris, in the “Goutte d’Or” neighborhood in the XVIIIe district.   The choice to think critically and resist fatalistic, sectarian thinking is the courageous one.


Helen Solterer

Professor, Dept. of Romance Studies

Director, Center for French &Francophone Studies

On November 13-15, a class from Duke University led by Deb Reisinger held a pop-up exhibit in “our Bull City” space: Resettlement Journeys: Central Africa to Durham. This exhibit was part of a service learning course called “Issues in global displacement: voix francophones”.

To know more follow the link:

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