Florence Ladd

reads from

The Spirit of Josephine:
A Family Reunion in Paris

This event includes a book signing


February 10, 2014
8:00 PM


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store is pleased to welcome FLORENCE LADD, author of Sarah's Psalm, for a reading of her latest book, The Spirit of Josephine: A Family Reunion in Paris.

This contemporary novel opens in the Pigalle apartment of African American Violet Fields, a singer in Paris music halls and cabarets in the latter half of the twentieth century. The story, set in Paris, offers rearview snapshots of racial treatment in the U.S., reflections on aspects of living abroad, social mobility of blacks, and the dynamics at a family reunion.

Inspired by the life and legend of Josephine Baker, Violet is visited occasionally by the ghost of Josephine. Violet’s real-life visitor and confidant is her former manager Jean-Louis Duval, who dismisses Violet’s reports of Josephine’s visits. Instead, he encourages her to focus on immediate matters: her health and her scattered family.

In Louisville, Kentucky, Violet grew up with a brother, Hampton, and a younger sister, Marie, from whom she is estranged. Marie has two adult daughters, Faith and Hope. Violet and Marie have lost contact with Hampton, missing in action since the Korean War.

Violet’s niece, Hope, comes to Paris to find Violet as well as to embark on a show business career in the City of Light. Hope’s arrival stirs Violet’s memories of life in Louisville and incidents that fractured their family. The death of Violet’s father and the implication of her brother, Hampton, in his death is one such incident.

Increasingly curious about the disappearance of Hampton, said to be in Russia, Violet launches a search for him. Locating Hampton is the prelude to the renewal of family connections.

Hope is the catalyst for a theatrical reprise for Violet in a Christmas show. After decades of separation, Violet is united with her sister and brother when they come to Paris to see her show. The reunion is an occasion for Hampton and Violet to reflect on family experiences, their racial treatment in the United States, and versions of expatriate life in France and Russia, respectively. Marie, who is living “the American dream” in Louisville, represents change and social mobility in the USA.

Throughout the novel, Josephine visits Violet. Her visits will remind some readers of the cultural influence of Josephine Baker. The final visit mirrors an episode at the end of Josephine Baker’s life.

Florence Ladd
Florence Ladd

Florence Ladd

Florence Ladd, writer, psychologist, and social critic, is the director of Radcliffe College's Bunting Institute, renowned as the largest and most unique multidisciplinary center of advanced studies for women scholars, artists, and activists. For many years she has studied gender and social issues, housing and urban development, and conditions that influence the status of black women in the United States and abroad. Ladd served as the associate executive director for Oxfam American prior to joining Radcliffe. She has taught at Simmons College, Robert College, the American College of Girls in Istanbul, and Harvard University's Graduate School of Education and Graduate School of Design. She was associate dean of M.I.T.'s School of Architecture and Planning and later Dean of Students at Wellesley College. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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