Black Léonore of Aquitaine

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:00 AM
Diplomat Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Lorelle Semley, College of the Holy Cross
“Black Léonore of Aquitaine” will be a historical fiction about an enslaved girl who becomes a free woman of color in Bordeaux and struggles with the promise and limits of emancipation after the French Revolution. The novel draws upon my current book project “Bordeaux, Forgotten Black Metropolis,” a historical study of Africans and Antilleans in Bordeaux from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Although black migration often is portrayed as a post-World War II phenomenon in France, thousands of free and enslaved people of color passed through or resided in Bordeaux during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I have chosen the figure of a woman who gained her freedom, had ties across the Aquitaine region, in France, and beyond, to capture how some people of color lived in Bordeaux for decades witnessing and contributing to changes in the city. The turn of the nineteenth century also reveals the particular history of Bordeaux as a center not only for bourgeois merchants but also for revolutionaries who eventually fell from power. Meanwhile, the allusion to the medieval queen Eleanor is purposeful because I imagine Léonore living a long life, experiencing profound highs and lows, and serving as a bridge across time and space in a tumultuous Atlantic world. During this period of revolution and its aftermath, people of color occupied multiple roles as domestic and shipping laborers, artisans, students, and artists, more visible in everyday life, yet lost to the historical memory of the city and a broader French empire. Léonore’s story will provide more than an alternative history of a black Bordeaux. This type of dramatic history will help me write a better history of Bordeaux, of France, and of French empire by offering insight into gaps in the record, not only with more information, but also with art.
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