Ta-Nehisi Coates, Curator of 2016 Festival Albertine, Reveals Programming Lineup

October 3, 2016 | By French Culture

Five-Day Free Festival Hosted by the French Embassy’s Acclaimed Bookshop and Intellectual Hub Will Explore the Changing Nature and Importance of Identity in the U.S. and France

Speakers to Include Kehinde Wiley, Jelani Cobb, David Simon, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Thelma Golden,  Chris Jackson, Darryl Pinckney,  Nina Shaw, Claudia Rankine, Adam Shatz, Claire Diao, Jennifer Homans, Virginia Johnson, Kamilah Forbes, Thomas J. Lax, Benjamin Millepied, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, Scholastique Mukasonga, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, D’ de Kabal, Iris Deroeux, Catherine Meurisse, Denis Darzacq, Laurent Dubois, Maboula Soumahoro, Zahia Rahmani, Raphaël Confiant, and Pap Ndiaye.

All Events Will Be Streamed Live at livestream.com/frenchembassy

Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me and curator of the third annual Festival Albertine, has revealed the festival’s programming lineup, which brings together a range of American and French artists, thinkers and scholars to discuss a topic of growing relevance in both countries: what our national, social and cultural labels mean today. In the free, five-day literary festival hosted by Albertine Books, the groundbreaking bookshop operated by the French Embassy in New York, the participants will explore the ways in which the politics of race are changing in America and France in a time of both growing extremism and the rise of activist movements like Black Lives Matter; what the rise of the populist right in both countries means for national identity; and what both countries’ attitudes toward immigration have done to shape its interaction with the broader world. Presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine Books, Festival Albertine will take place November 2-6.

All Festival Albertine 2016 events will take place at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York (972 Fifth Avenue). Seating is limited and works on a first-come, first-serve basis. In order to make the events accessible across the U.S. and around the world, the Festival will stream them all live, free of charge, at livestream.com/frenchembassy. Academic institutions, booksellers and book fairs including Indiana University Bloomington, Brookline Booksmith in Boston, and Texas Book Fair will hold livestream viewing events. Organizations interested in hosting livestreams may contact the Cultural Services for details.

In curating Festival Albertine, Coates, who just returned to New York from a year in Paris, takes up a notion articulated by James Baldwin, who was born in New York and died in Paris. Baldwin’s memoir, No Name in the Street, examines the contingent nature of national identity in general,and of French identity in particular. His subjects are the Algerians living in Paris, a people who “spoke French and had been, in a sense, produced by France” and yet “were not at home in Paris, no more at home than I.” Coates explains that “Baldwin was drawing a not-so-subtle comparison with his own identity as a black American. He was also doing something more—asserting the labels we use to ascribe identity are situational. The words ‘black,’ ‘Arab,’ ‘Muslim,’ ‘American’ and ‘French’ are not bone-deep and immutable, but categories that have no meaning outside of history and events. There is something both sanguine and challenging in Baldwin’s view. It proposes that conflicts between cultures are not inevitable but the result of policies and decisions. But it also puts responsibility on people, themselves, to make the requisite changes in policy.” Festival Albertine’s focus on Baldwin’s challenge is especially timely, as the events will take place in the days leading up to the U.S. presidential election on November 8.

Coates explains, “Our vehicle for this understanding will be the arts—dance, music, literature, film, and the visual arts. These questions of identity have been tackled ad infinitum by those interested in sociology and electoral politics. But art shapes the imagination and outlines the sense of what is possible. It is art that attacks and interrogates our labels and chosen names, and reduces us to our common humanity.”

The Festival Albertine 2016 lineup features celebrated artists from multiple disciplines, as well as leading scholars and writers about culture, identity and labels. Among the Americans headlining the festival are New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb; “The Wire” and “Treme” producer David Simon; comic book author Kelly Sue Deconnick (Bitch Planet); the Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem,  Thelma Golden; novelist (Black Deutschland), editor and publisher of Random House Chris Jackson; playwright and essayist Darryl Pinckney; entertainment lawyer entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw; poet and writer Claudia Rankine (Citizen); journalist and author Adam Shatz; Cinema journalist Claire Diao; author and founding director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU, Jennifer Homans; Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director, Virginia Johnson; director/producer and the Apollo Theater’s executive producer, Kamilah Forbes; MoMA  Associate Curator of Media and Performance Art, Thomas J. Lax; and artist Kehinde Wiley. Coates has paired them with French luminaries including sociologist and anthropologist Nacira Guénif-Souilamas; author Scholastique Mukasonga, dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied; writer, director, producer and actor, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche;  rapper and spoken word artist D’ de Kabal, journalist Iris Deroeux, graphic novelist Catherine Meurisse; historian Benjamin Stora; artist Denis Darzacq; Duke University professor of romance studies and history, Laurent Dubois; Maboula Soumahoro; writer Zahia Rahmani; co-founder or the the Créolité movement Raphaël Confiant, and historian Pap Ndiaye.

“In this time of crisis and growing extremism around the world, dialogue is more essential than ever. Festival Albertine reflects the French Embassy's commitment to fostering intellectual and cultural exchange through conversation and debate,” says Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States. “We are very fortunate to have Ta-Nehisi Coates, a keen observer and major voice on issues raised by groups like Black Lives Matter in the U.S., as curator of this year’s festival. After spending a year in France, Mr. Coates returns with a fresh perspective on issues that he has investigated for years. He will examine questions of race, identity, and immigration from French and American perspectives in conversation with important artists and intellectuals from both sides of the Atlantic. The arts are a vehicle for dialogue rather division, and we hope that the festival will give rise to fruitful and inspiring discussion.”


When Will France Have Its Barack Obama?

Featuring Jelani Cobb, Iris Deroeux, Pap Ndiaye and Benjamin Stora

Moderated by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Wednesday, November 2


Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was celebrated as the advent of a “post-racial” America, coming to terms with its diversity and redefining its identity. At the end of his second term in office, the political debate on both sides of the Atlantic revolves more than ever around issues of identity, of common values, and inclusion of minorities. Reflecting both countries’ singular histories, journalists Iris Deroeux and Jelani Cobb and historians Pap Ndiaye and Benjamin Stora will debate issues regarding political representation of minorities and explore how these questions figure among the challenges facing liberal democracies today. They will discuss the differences in construction of identity in France and the United States, and will explore what specifically allowed for Barack Obama in the U.S. and how a similar evolution could happen in France.

From the Margins to the Mainstream:

High Art vs. Low Art in France and the U.S.

Featuring Kelly Sue Deconnick, D’ de Kabal, Catherine Meurisse and David Simon

Moderated by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Thursday, November 3


In the past twenty years we’ve seen television move from the realm of pedestrian art to the realms of the auteur. And yet even as comic book movies dominate commercially, comics in America have yet to escape the image of being the property of teen boys. Moderated by Ta-Nehisi Coates, producer David Simon (The Wire), graphic novelists Kelly Sue Deconnick (Captain Marvel) and Catherine Meurisse (La Légèreté), and spoken word artist D’ de Kabal (Chants Barbares) will look at how and why certain art forms—from television to comic books and slam poetry—move from low art to high art. They will also explore how those same art forms are considered within the realms of French and American culture.

Blacklisted: From Hollywood to Paris

Featuring Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, Claire Diao, and Nina Shaw

Moderated by Kamilah Forbes

Friday, November 4


Hollywood has long been criticized for its lack of inclusion of filmmakers, actors, and professionals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Initiatives to tackle this issue have emerged following the #OscarsSoWhite polemic. Conversely, one might wonder whether the French film industry, which has a strong tradition of supporting African, Middle-Eastern, Asian and Latino-American cinema, accurately reflects the cultural diversity within its own borders.  Panelists Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, Claire Diao and Nina Shaw consider how the complex and diverging histories of each country have impacted their respective film industries.

Europe and America in the Black Literary Imagination

Featuring Laurent Dubois, Scholastique Mukasonga, Maboula Soumahoro and Darryl Pinckney

Moderated by Chris Jackson

Saturday, November 5


This panel will look at how black authors on both sides of the ocean have engaged the country and culture on the other side. Is France an escape for black authors? Is America the land of individual expression and opportunity? After the Second World War, prominent African-American authors such as Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes made Paris their home. French authors have themselves long been fascinated by the United States, and New York in particular. This common interest has fed many authors’ writing, both thematically and stylistically. Laurent Dubois, Darryl Pinckney, Maboula Soumahoro and Scholastique Mukasonga will reflect on this mutual fascination and ponder how it has impacted their own work and influenced literature more broadly. But how substantive is this connection? Is it myth or reality?

Art, Race & Representation

Featuring Denis Darzacq, Kehinde Wiley, Thomas Lax and Nacira Guénif-Souilamas

Moderated by Thelma Golden

Saturday, November 5

7:30 PM

Artists Denis Darzacq and Kehinde Wiley, curator Thomas Lax and sociologist Nacira Guénif-Souilamas explore race and representation in contemporary art through practice and process in a conversation moderated by Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Every Name in the Street

Featuring Raphaël Confiant, Zahia Rahmani, Claudia Rankine, Jacqueline Woodson

Moderated by Adam Shatz

Sunday, November 6


This panel will look at literature, both here and in France, and how it engages the work of identity in our era of political extremism and activist movements such as Black Lives Matter in the U.S. or the Nuit Debout in France.

Considering language as a site of political struggle, and a reflection of the social constructions that shape our worldview, the authors will discuss the intersections between identity, language and politics. What is the role that literature plays in challenging our preconceptions and reimagining society?

Race, Equity, and Otherness in Ballet and Society

Virginia Johnson and Benjamin Millepied

Moderated by Jennifer Homans

Sunday, November 6


Co-presented by the Center for Ballet and the Arts, New York University

Made possible by Michele and Timothy Barakett and Cheryl and Blair Effron

Recently, ballet companies have been denounced for uncritically perpetuating traditions at odds with contemporary society and notions of racial diversity, equality, and social justice. In France, Benjamin Millepied is actively trying to push back against racial stereotyping in the ballet; meanwhile, in the United States, the recent rise of Misty Copeland as the first black female principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre has thrust this decades-old debate into the spotlight. However, in both societies, ballet traditions run deep and those who may have the most to gain from reevaluating ballet’s traditions and labels—minorities and dancers of color—are some of its staunchest supporters. Virginia Johnson, Benjamin Millepied, and historian Jennifer Homans discuss race, equity, and otherness in ballet, against a larger backdrop of identity politics in American and French society today.

About Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer, journalist and educator. A national correspondent for The Atlantic, he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly regarding African-Americans. Following his 2008 memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, he released the bestselling book Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction. Coates just completed a year in Paris on a writing fellowship.

About the Participants

Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche is a writer, director, producer and actor whose five films include Derniers Maquis and Les Chants de Mandrin. He has garnered prizes from the Cannes and Berlin film festivals, as well as the Prix Jean-Vigo. His most recent film, Histoires de Judas, was released in France last year.

Jelani Cobb has contributed to The New Yorker since 2013 and writes frequently about race, politics, history and culture. A former associate professor of history and director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, his forthcoming book is entitled Antidote to Revolution: African American Anticommunism and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1931-1957.

Raphaël Confiant is an activist for the Creole cause and founded with Jean Bernabé and Patrick Chamoiseau the Créolité movement and became the first Martiniquan writer to publish a novel in Creole. Confiant received many awards including the 1991 Prix Novembre for Eau de Café. His latest novel, Madame St-Clair; Reine de Harlem was published in 2015.

Iris Derœux is a U.S. correspondent for the website Mediapart. She writes about the evolution of the American Left and contemporary social issues, from antidiscrimination law to Black Lives Matter. In 2016, she produced a series of programs for Mediapart on race relations and activism in France and the U.S.

Denis Darzacq is a photographer whose work positions marginalized bodies in urban space in ways that comment on social restrictions. Winner of a 2007 World Press Photo prize, he has published numerous books and exhibited internationally. His work can be seen at the Pompidou Center and the French National Contemporary Art Fund among other collections.

Kelly Sue DeConnick is best known as the author of comic books like Marvel’s Captain Marvel, the Eisner-nominated mythological Western Pretty Deadly and the dystopian science fiction hit Bitch Planet. DeConnick and her husband, Matt Fraction, currently develop television for NBC/Universal as Milkfed Criminal Masterminds, Inc.

D’ de Kabal is a rapper, actor, writer, director and slam artist who creates art that explores the intersection of these disciplines. He is the founder of Spoke Orkestra, the Bouchazoreill slam event and the multidisciplinary theatre company R.I.P.O.S.T.E., and the creator of a dozen plays. His first book, Chants Barbares, was released in 2010.

Claire Diao is a Franco-Burkinabe cinema journalist (Screen Africa, SoFilm, Bondy Blog, Canal +). Diao is founder of the Quartiers Lointains program, which showcases short films in France, the U.S., and some African countries. Her book on emerging French filmmakers with a multicultural background will be published by Au Diable Vauvert.

Laurent Dubois is a professor of romance studies and history and the faculty director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. He is the author of six books, including Avengers of the New World, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History and The Banjo: America’s African Instrument.

Kamilah Forbes is a director/producer and the historic Apollo Theater’s executive producer. She was associate director of Raisin in the Sun (2014), among other Broadway shows, and is the recipient of an NAACP Image Award and a Tony. Forbes is a co-founder and artistic director of the urban arts nonprofit Hi-Arts.

Thelma Golden is Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem.  Appointed by President Obama to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, she also chairs the 2015-16 New York City Cultural Institutions Group and was appointed to the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission. Golden received the 2016 Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence.

Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, sociologist and anthropologist, is a professor at the University of Paris VIII. She writes on migration, ethnic visibility and racialization and sexualization in postcolonial Euramerica. She authored or co-authored Des Beurettes and La république mise à nu par son immigration, and is the vice president of Paris’s Islamic Cultures Institute.

Jennifer Homans is the author of Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet and is currently writing a book on the life and work of George Balanchine. She founded and directs the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU, where she is also a Scholar-in-Residence. Homans holds a Ph.D. in Modern European History and was a professional dancer.

Chris Jackson is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of One World, a just relaunched imprint of Random House. His own writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, The Paris Review, and Callaloo among other places. Jackson is a native of New York, where he currently resides.

Virginia Johnson, Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director, was a founding member and principal dancer with the company for over twenty years. A second career in journalism provided the opportunity for her to create and serve as editor-in-chief of Pointe magazine from 2000-2009. She returned to Dance Theatre of Harlem as artistic director in 2010.

Catherine Meurisse is an illustrator and comics artist. She recently authored the acclaimed comics album La Légèreté, which invokes life after the Charlie Hebdo attacks that victimized her friends and colleagues. Her illustrations have also appeared in numerous French newspapers and magazines as well as in children’s books.

Pap Ndiaye is a pioneer of Black Studies in France. A specialist in the social history of minorities, he is the author of La Condition noire, Les Noirs américains: En marche pour l'égalité and, recently, Histoire de Chicago, co-authored with Andrew Diamond. Ndiaye is also a professor at Sciences Po.

David Simon is an author, journalist, and the creator of The Wire, The Corner, Treme, Show Me A Hero, and the upcoming HBO series The Deuce. The author of two books of narrative non-fiction, "Homicide" and "The Corner," Simon is a 2010 MacArthur Fellow

Nina Shaw is a founding partner in the entertainment law firm of Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano. Named to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” repeatedly and to Ebony Magazine’s 2012 “Most Influential African Americans,” she received Essence Magazine’s 2016 Black Women in Hollywood Power Award.

Benjamin Stora is a historian whose work centers on North African—specifically Algerian—history. He is board president of France’s National Museum of the History of Immigration and author of works including Histoire de l'Algérie, A History of Jewish-Muslim Relation (with Abdelwahab Meddeb) and Les Mémoires dangereuses. He has also served as a historical advisor on films, including the Oscar-winning Indochine.

Scholastique Mukasonga fled Rwanda and settled in France two years before the Tutsi genocide, in which she lost 27 of her family members. She is the author of three autobiographical works: Cockroaches, La femme aux pieds nus (Barefoot Woman) and L’Iguifou.  Her novel Our Lady of the Nile won the Ahmadou Kourouma and Renaudot prizes.

Darryl Pinckney, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of one novel, High Cotton, and two nonfiction works, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy and Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature. He has collaborated with Robert Wilson on an adaption of Daniil Kharm's The Old Woman.

Thomas J. Lax was appointed Associate Curator of Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art in 2014. For the previous seven years, he worked at The Studio

Museum in Harlem, where he organized over a dozen exhibitions as well as numerous screenings, performances and public programs. In 2015, Thomas was awarded the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement.

Benjamin Millepied is a world renowned choreographer, dancer, and rising filmmaker. His ballets are in the repertory of major dance companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, which he directed from November 2014 to February 2016. Benjamin choreographed and starred in the award winning film Black Swan. He co-founded ARTFORM and founded the L.A. Dance Project.  

Zahia Rahmani is a writer who has worked for contemporary art institutions including the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Jeu de Paume in Paris and Vila Arson in Nice. She is currently visiting professor at NYU’s Gallatin School and directs a research program at the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art. She is the author of France, Story of a Childhood, among other texts.

Claudia Rankine is a poet, playwright and video artist. Her poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric won the National Book Critics Circle Award, among other distinctions, and is the only poetry collection to be a New York Times nonfiction bestseller. Rankine is Chair of English at the University of Southern California.

Adam Shatz, a former literary editor of The Nation, is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books and contributor to The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. He has reported from Algeria, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon and has been a visiting professor at New York University. 

Kehinde Wiley’s paintings reside in the collections of over 40 museums worldwide. Situated as a descendent in a long line of portraitists, including Reynolds, Gainsborough and Ingres, Wiley engages their visual rhetoric of the heroic, powerful and sublime to represent urban black and brown people. He holds a MFA from Yale University.

Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for her memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING.  Currently serving a two year term as Young People’s Poet Laureate, she is the author of more than thirty award-winning books for children and young adults. Her most recent adult novel is New York Times Bestseller, ANOTHER BROOKLYN.

About Festival Albertine

Inaugurated in 2014 in the newly-opened Albertine Books, Festival Albertine has quickly become a vital summit for discourse between leading French-speaking and American thinkers, and has cemented Albertine Books’ reputation as New York City’s hub for French-American intellectual exchange. In its first two years, the festival has tackled topics ranging from the state of feminism to the future of journalism to efforts to combat climate change. Author, journalist, and cultural critic Greil Marcus curated the 2014 festival, which featured “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, filmmaker Olivier Assayas, author Mary Gaitskill, graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, and Fields Medal-winning mathematician Cédric Villani. Festival Albertine 2015 enlisted innovators including National Book Award winner Judith Thurman, Performa founding director RoseLee Goldberg, author Adam Gopnik, Ethiopian-American novelist Dinaw Mengestu, and The New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly to curate a variety of discussions. Participants included The New Yorker editor David Remnick, graphic novelist Phoebe Gloeckner, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and author Margo Jefferson, and author Katie Roiphe, who were joined by French-speaking voices including Mauritania-born film director Abderrahmane Sissako, Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud, and cartoonist and film director Riad Sattouf.

Sponsorship Credits

Festival Albertine is made possible with major support from The Recanati-Kaplan Foundation, Ford Foundation, Susannah Hunnewell, Air France, Van Cleef & Arpels, Institut français, and the Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University.

Generous support is provided by Champagne Pommery and The Carlyle.

About the Cultural Services of the French Embassy

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy promotes the best of French arts, literature, cinema, digital innovation, language, and higher education across the US. Based in New York City, Washington D.C., and eight other cities across the country, the Cultural Services brings artists, authors, intellectuals and innovators to cities nationwide. It also builds partnerships between French and American artists, institutions and universities on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, through its bookshop Albertine, it fosters French-American exchange around literature and the arts. www.frenchculture.org

About Albertine Books

Described by The New York Times as a “sumptuous, swaddled nest where book lovers can roost,” Albertine, the French Embassy’s reading room and bookshop, is a haven dedicated to bringing to life French-American intellectual exchange. It holds 14,000 titles from 30 French-speaking countries, both in French and in English translation. Albertine offers the most comprehensive selection of French-language books and English translations in the United States.

Housed within the historic Payne Whitney Mansion, headquarters of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, the bookshop and cultural space provide unprecedented access to a previously private mansion featuring a stunning new design by one of France’s most celebrated modern architects, Jacques Garcia.

Since Albertine opened in September 2014, the Embassy has welcomed thousands of visitors eager to explore French literature and culture. It has become a veritable must-see destination in New York City. Albertine also provides a venue for cross-cultural programming all year long, with discussions exploring culture through both a contemporary and global lens. Every month French, Francophone or American writers, as well as artists, illustrators, scholars and entrepreneurs are invited to discuss various topics. www.albertine.com

Press contact: Blake Zidell or John Wyszniewski at Blake Zidell & Associates:

718.643.9052, blake@blakezidell.com or john@blakezidell.com

Ta-Nehisi Coates at Albertine Books, 2016
Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

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