We first collaborated with Darren Walker, the passionate and articulate President of the Ford Foundation, on a groundbreaking exhibition entitled Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today at Colombia University's Wallach Art Gallery in New York. It shed new light on black models in the arts throughout history and was so successful that it was exported to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. With characteristic rigor and enthusiasm, Darren made sure to assemble the best team possible to work on this project, and like a true Francophile, even travelled to Paris for the opening. We talked about the role of art in creating an empathetic society (10:42), philanthropy as a catalyst for social change (15:02), controversial funding sources (20:55), the Notre Dame Cathedral fire (18:19), his favorite Francophone artists (24:10), the African diaspora (28:08), and more.
The amazing thing about Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker, is that he knows more about France than many French people. It’s as if this podcast was made for him. You can ask him a question about anything, from the Statue of Liberty to French pop music, and he will give you an eloquent, informative and captivating answer. When he arrived at the French Embassy’s building on Fifth Avenue for this interview, we had just begun major renovations. We basically met in a storage room, between two cabinets and a sofa propped on its side. Let’s say, this is what added to the informal nature of the conversation. We talked about the intellectual exchange between France and America (2:10), the role of the president in both countries (24:30), Montaigne (3:34), Romain Gary (12:40), and Bastille Day. (31:50).
Visual artist Mickalene Thomas seems to have artwork everywhere, from the Moody Arts Center in Houston to the Brooklyn Museum and Paris. One morning in June, Mickalene and her partner and muse, Racquel Chevremont, joined me at Albertine, the French bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The three of us talked at length about how Mickalene reinterprets famous French paintings; about the visibility of black women in the arts; Mickalene and Racquel’s love for Dior and French butter; and the role that Paris plays for African-American artists.
Jonathan Galassi has been at the helm of the legendary publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux—one of the most literary publishers in the U.S.—for more than 30 years. He is the Antoine Gallimard of America, if you will. He’s also an eminent translator of Italian and French poetry and a poet himself. Jonathan Galasssi walked over to my apartment one spring morning, carrying a giant tote bag of French poetry. We talked about French and American poetry (6:33), how French authors get published in the U.S. (16:05), Michel Houellebecq (20:35), and his favorite spots in Paris (29:34). It was a wonderful and poetic morning, as you’ll hear in this episode.
Adam Weinberg is the Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art—one of the most important museums in the United States. I met him when I first arrived in New York, during his own Arts and Letters award ceremony, which we had organized at our bookstore, Albertine. It was then that I first discovered that, despite his grand title, Adam is an extremely generous, down-to-Earth person. In this episode, we candidly broach some very controversial topics, including cultural appropriation (17:00) and funding in the art world (5:03). And of course, we also spoke about cultural life in France (15:18).
When I started as Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, everyone told me that I had to meet Claire Messud—that she was quintessential Francophile intellectual, not to mention author of six works of fiction. We conversed about what it means to be a citizen of the world (2:04), literature (4:45), Flaubert (5:20), Algeria (7:20), and feminism (9:50)—as well as her memories of childhood vacations in the south of France (20:12). It was like talking with a friend, as you’ll hear now. C’est parti.
I met Liesl Schillinger, the literary critic and translator, 11 years ago. I had just been appointed as a negotiator for France at the UN Security Council in New York. As a critic for The New York Times, she was invited to every book party in town, and she generously took me to every one. Here we talked about translation (4:55), French books (13:54), and secret recommendations for visiting France (19:58). She also surprised me by declaring her love for the most unexpected French singer (21:17).
David Sedaris––one of the best-known American humor writers and radio personalities––has written extensively about his time in France. No one skewers the French like he does. He's written about our language, especially our weird gendered words, living in a village in Normandy, and shopping at unusual Parisian boutiques. He came to my apartment one afternoon and we talked about his French teacher (15:40), the different types of humor on each side of the Atlantic (2:43), his love for certain French words (16:44), our health care system (25:15), and his dislike for the French habit of kissing (29:57).
Dee Dee Bridgewater is a star in France. With three Grammys and a Tony Award under her belt, she represents the quintessential American jazz singer in my country. This talented singer-songwriter and actress came over to my apartment on a Sunday afternoon––exhausted from rehearsals, though you never would have guessed it––with her fluffy dog Daisy. We talked about Marseille (27:15), her favorite French songs (24:20), feminism (14:56), and racism on both sides of the Atlantic (09:05).
David Sedaris––one of the best-known American humor writers and radio personalities––has written extensively about his time in France. No one skewers the French like he does. He's written about our language, especially our weird gendered words, living in a village at Normandy, and shopping at unusual Parisian boutiques. He came to my apartment one afternoon and we talked about his French teacher (15:40), the different types of humor on each side of the Atlantic (2:43), his love for certain French words (16:44), our health care system (25:15), and his dislike for the French habit of kissing (29:57).
The Thing About France is a podcast that takes you inside the minds of American cultural figures who stepped outside their country and came back wiser. By hearing the personal stories of prominent artists and professionals who immersed themselves in France—whether intellectually or by living abroad—we’ll gain insight into how our countries are the same, and how they differ, on pressing topics including Me Too, climate change, and cultural appropriation—and much more.