Thanks to the re-opening, after extensive renovation, of Tangier's legendary bookstore Librairie de Colonnes, a certain amount of high-powered literary and cultural talent has gathered in this city on the Strait. Tahar Ben Jelloun. Juan Goytisolo. Pierrre Bergé.
And John Hopkins and Lucy Melbourne, who joined us today for an impromtu round table on the expatriate writing experience, especially the genre that links them – Americans in Morocco.
John Hopkins, author of The Tangier Diaries, spent 1962-1979 chronicling his encounters with literary greats Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and others, while teaching at the American School of Tangier. As Hopkins said today, all aspiring writers should keep a diary, otherwise all those wonderful encounters and anecdotes might be gone, forever.
Lucy Melbourne lived in Morocco more recently (including 2005-2007 as a Fulbright scholar), and wrote of her experience in An American In Morocco. Lucy, professor of English and world literature at Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been back in Morocco presenting her new book, Voices of Moroccan Youth.
The small group of Moroccans, Americans, and Europeans who gathered at the Legation were treated with a chance to revisit Tangier in one of its heydays, the '60s, when newly-independent Morocco was absorbing this once-international city full of artists, writers, and sundry foreigners seeking the exotic. John Hopkins has lost none of his flair for description, providing fun details on life visiting with Paul and Jane Bowles (the toy phone dangling out the window, providing communication – "come up for dinner!" – between upstairs and downstairs apartments).
Lucy Melbourne, living between post-9/11 US and Morocco, spoke of the dissonance often apparent when she returned to the US, especially on such matters as the religious extremism and terrorism which has afflicted both countries. Both she and Hopkins spoke of the rich oral and musical traditions in Morocco, coloring attitudes towards literature.
American writers in Tangier – in our own little way, we're happy to keep the tradition alive. And with three culturally active, internationally-oriented bookstores and two annual book fairs, this city shows that it still cares about the written word.