Books: “The Stone Face” by William Gardner Smith
Paris has long been a refuge for the creative class in America. In the 1920s, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Josephine Baker were among its most famous alumni.
In William Gardner Smith’s novel “The Stone Face, we learn about a new wave of American exiles—those who arrive after World War II. One of them is Simeon, the novel’s protagonist, a young Black journalist from Philadelphia. The victim of a racist attack by a white bully with a stone face (hence the title) and feeling like he could “kill someone if he doesn’t leave,” he moves to Paris in the late 1950s.
To his delight, Simeon finds the City of Light is very accepting of Blacks. He falls in with a group of fellow Black exiles, gets a job churning out stories for a minor magazine, and falls in love with a young Polish Jewish refugee. Life at last seems good.
Or does it? Simeon discovers that while the French possess no animosity toward American Blacks, they treat Algerians in Paris as Blacks are treated in America—discriminated against in housing, disrespected in restaurants, and rounded up and illegally incarcerated. Simeon doesn’t like this one bit and isn’t content to sit on the sidelines.
Smith’s life closely paralleled Simeon’s. Disgusted with being treated like a second-class citizen because he was Black, he left America for good in 1960. Moving first to Paris then later Ghana, he fought the good fight against oppression of all kinds until his death in 1974.
“The Stone Face” is an undiscovered treasure—from a writer in the league of James Baldwin and Richard Wright but long been considered “minor” by comparison.
Read the novel and see how inadequate that description has been.