Two of the interests that fuel my cultural life are my love of France and the African diaspora.

When I saw the From Left to Write call for posts about The Black Count, by Tom Reiss, I immediately thought of both those interests.

The Black Count is a biography of General Alexandre Dumas, father of the novelist who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

I’ve just started reading the book and I’m intrigued. From Left to Write is a community of bloggers who write posts inspired by a book selection each month. Here is my reflection:

When I was in elementary school we had French lessons as part of our curriculum. I was nine years old and had no idea how rare it was to take a second language at that age. It was simply part of school.

Our teacher, Mme. LaBiche, became one of my favorite people. I loved studying French and learning about French culture. And she was a sweet teacher and a native French speaker. Starting French then, hearing it pronounced correctly and taking it for another nine years, was an incredible and useful gift in my life. I’ve used my French on a trip to Canada, France and Guadeloupe as well as in conversation with French speakers here at home.

Mme. LaBiche also was of African descent. I knew little about world geography and the French empire then, so I thought all French speakers were from France. And I’m sure she had lived in France at some point, but as I grew older and learned more about France and its overseas departments, I wondered if she were from Guadeloupe or Martinique or another former French colony.

By the time I began to understand all the possible places where there would be native French speakers, I also had become intensely interested in learning about the African diaspora. Beginning with a summer in Charleston, South Carolina, where I first heard Geechee accents and throughout my undergraduate years, I began to learn about all the influences and legacies of African slaves around the world.

In graduate school (both my degrees are in English literature), my interest in the Diaspora led me to focus on Caribbean literature and I began to read more about the region, including Haiti, the birth place of General Dumas.

l was struck by the incredible history of a slave rebellion that birthed Haiti, the first black republic, especially since I had learned nothing about it during my history classes as a child.

During grad school I was able to participate in a study abroad trip to Barbados and Guadeloupe, which was perfect for my passions. One of my dreams is to eventually visit Haiti as well as a Francophone nation in Africa, perhaps Senegal or Cote d’Ivoire.

In a way these dreams of seeing the African diaspora and speaking French sync up well together. And it is a blessing to think back to my elementary school years and how Mme. LaBiche opened up possibilities for us.

*Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Black Count, by Tom Reis to participate in this From Left to Write blog club.

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