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FrancoFiles S02E09: France-Amérique Magazine – From French Resistance to Cultural Diplomacy

FrancoFiles S02E09: France-Amérique Magazine – From French Resistance to Cultural Diplomacy

Published on May 18, 2021

Episode S02E09 – May 18, 2021

France-Amérique Magazine – From French Resistance to Cultural Diplomacy

On this episode of FrancoFiles, we speak with the director of France-Amérique, Guénola Pellen, on the magazine that is a steady and unshaking voice for the Francophone and Francophile community in the US. Founded in 1943 by French exiles, France-Amérique was born into an era of restoration that called for strong Franco-American friendship. Acting as a transatlantic liaison, the magazine brought news, culture and ideas from across the ocean to communities alike. It quickly gained a strong footing and flourished, keeping its original purpose of cultural diplomacy while exploring creative avenues of storytelling. Today, the publication is bilingual and catches the eye of a linguistically diverse audience due to its stunning cover illustrations and exclusive interviews. Sit back and enjoy the story of France-Amérique explored by FrancoFiles and Guénola.

TRANSCRIPT


[00:10] Andrea Fort - From the Embassy of France in the United States this is FrancoFiles, a podcast where we explore the unique relationship between France and the US. My name is Andrea and I will be your host. Welcome Francophiles. Today we chat with Guénola Pellen, the director of the only French American bilingual publication in the United States, Magazine France-Amérique, which was founded in 1943 by French exiles, during a very restorative time for our two nations, a period that called for unity across all sectors. Since then, France-Amérique has cultivated a diverse following of American Francophiles and French readers, who share one common desire to learn the ins and outs of French culture and news, in a style accommodated to readers of both languages and curated to give them new avenues to learn from one another. Known for their emblematic cover illustrations, France-Amérique draws readers to forward-thinking articles that stay true to its founding diplomatic desire to curate Franco American friendship. So join Guénola and I as we retrace a tale of France-Amérique and explore its purpose today.
Guénola, I am excited to know more about France-Amérique, we are partners, we share similar audiences. And we actually have a common history. But one of the things that makes this magazine so unique, and I want you to tell us about it, are its origins that go all the way back to 1943. And actually claims to be born of the French Resistance. Can you walk us through its history?

[01:57] Guénola Pellen - Of course. It’s quite a story. So I’ll try to sum it up in the outline France-Amérique was created in 1943 by French exiles in New York, whose will was to sensitize the American people to the French cause. It was a French language weekly newspaper published by a group of Charles de Gaulle sympathizers on Fifth Avenue in New York. Its funding mostly came from the Free France Delegation, along with bankers and local industrials, such as the Baron de Rothschild who also founded the title. In one of the first issues, you can read a cable from the General de Gaulle that was published on the first page saying in substance and in translation… “I wish good luck to France-Amérique, I am sure that your newspaper will contribute to inform our friend America of what France wishes and what friends can do. It will also help reinforce between our two countries the friendship which is essential to victory and to the reconstruction of the world.” So throughout World War II, France-Amérique published weekly accounts of actions undertaken by resistant groups in France, so whenever a bomb detonated in a movie theater in Lyon, when a train derailed between Besançon and Belfort, or when seven German officers got killed in Paris, or when the convoy was attacked in Rouen, a powerline cut near Dijon. This was all covered in the paper. And this study was published in a section called La France qui resiste. France-Amérique also published some dispatches from French citizens who had managed to escape to the US. So you could read some excerpts from underground forbidden newspapers, which were secretly published in France and in Switzerland. After the end of the war, the communication between France and the US became much easier at the time France-Amérique launched a new section called Coeur fidèle, liens renoués, faithful hearts and reconnected links. And we published stories of lovers and families who had been separated by the war, and were finally reunited. The paper also covered French war Brides, those women who engaged to American GIs, and they were interviewed when getting off the boats in New York. And when they first met their American in-laws for the first time, we also later published stories about les bébés GI so in a way it was positive journalism ahead of its time.

[04:39] Andrea - That is fascinating. Its origins go further than just the French Resistance, like you said, I mean, it goes from French Resistance and playing this role in diplomacy, if you will. And then eventually becoming this influential channel of information. And then like you said, positive journalism and I’m really interested in what that dual coverage looked like?

[05:03] Guénola - What happened is after the war, and in the post war era, and in the following decades, there was a time of acceleration for the French American relation. It became increasingly easy for people and also for IDs to travel from one continent to another. So at the time, you could find a great number of French writers who traveled to the US. And in France-Amérique, we published articles, essays, short stories, and novels by amazing writers, such as Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Paul Claudel, Joseph Kessel, Jules Romains, André Breton, or Simone de Beauvoir to name just a few of them. Simone de Beauvoir actually wrote an exclusive series of Chronicles for the magazine that were based on our first day in the US, and she discussed things like the place of women’s writing in France. She also wrote a piece titled “What is Existentialism?” where she answered the questions from American readers willing to understand in brief, the essence of this philosophy, but my favorite piece from Simone de Beauvoir series for France-Amérique is definitely her literary report on California, entitled “Poetry and Truths of the Far West” which she beautifully describes as a land of legend that belongs to the past of all humanity and to its dreams. So this is a sort of high journalism and literature one could find in the paper at the time. On the side, France-Amérique also reviewed newly released French books in a section that was called la vie des idées. And we published easy-to-read stories in French for teachers and students in America. The fun fact is, it’s still something we do today. We have a section dedicated to translated French books, whether they be essays, fiction, comics, or children’s books. And we also published a biannual French education guide that is listing state by state, every French language schools and classes offered through North America.

[07:22] Andrea - Incredible. It’s obvious to me that France-Amérique from its origins has been a bridge between two cultures. And it still is, in fact, as even an educational resource for those who want to know more, who want to learn more about French culture, perspectives from both sides really can do this with France-Amérique. I thought this was very interesting, that France-Amérique was also part of the International edition of Le Figaro, which is a French newspaper. And that went on for quite a long time.

[07:57] Guénola - Yes. So what happened is that the Le Figaro group eventually bought the title. And in the 60s France-Amérique became an American extension of Le Figaro or ‘Le Fig’, like its readers like to call it their their published columns on French politics and French economics, which were mostly written by journalists from the from Le Figaro, but also some international news in French, written by the AFP, Agence France Presse. And the newspaper at the time became very popular among French expats. One of the reasons you have to bear in mind that French newspapers were arriving several days, if not weeks late. So, for example, in the 70s, when a French newspaper announced with great pride probably that Le Concorde supersonic plane was to make its first transatlantic crossing Paris to New York in just three hours and a half... By the time a Frenchman from the San Francisco Bay read these news in a French daily edition like Le Monde, the Concorde would have had time to make the round trip between Paris and New York more than 600 times. The news from France were incredibly slow to reach the French expatriate audience. So France-Amérique by being printed and distributed on the US soil, gave the French expatriates their weekly dose of international news. It was also the last link that attached them to their previous life in France. Aside of the big news, there was a local news section that was created, which addressed the needs of the growing French community of the US. So this section in particular was written by local journalists based in the US and it covered the everyday life of French expatriates. So you could find portraits from French business owners in the US. You could find some reports from the political meetings, like the wants of the assembly of French citizens abroad, or report from the evenings of the Order of the Compagnons du Beaujolais in San Francisco, who became famous for organizing dinners where the wine flows like water. Their motto says it all. It’s something like, “let’s empty the barrels!”

[10:35] Andrea - That sounds that sounds fun.

[10:37] Guénola - Yes. And last but not least, the newspaper also gave practical advices especially to help the French expatriates settle in the US gave some intercultural insights, something we keep on doing today.

[10:51] Andrea - Exactly, yes. And I have to say at the embassy, the whole friends from the US network is also you know, they play a part in diffusing this information, but I think is so special is that with France-Amérique, from the very beginning, has been this crucial source of information that extended past maybe there was like limitations, you know, that really was close to the people was a way to provide information about local initiatives community. You know, I think anyone that is listening, that is an expat or from a different country knows how important that is to know what your fellow citizens are doing in the country in the same culture, language, and location that you yourself are experiencing.

[11:53] Andrea - And then just a question about distribution, because you did mention New York you mentionned San Francisco, its origins were in New York, were there other major cities or, you know, how did find some like become sort of diffused at large? In the US?

[12:07] Guénola - Yes. France-Amérique was indeed based, founded, created in New York, but there was an office in San Francisco. And there was an office in Washington, DC as well. Most importantly, we had correspondence everywhere throughout the country. At some points France-Amérique also absorbed a newspaper called le Courrier des Etats-Unis, which was founded on the west coast, and which was aimed really at the university people, and teachers and students. So it was all in French. But since we absorbed this newspaper, we also decided to be to cover education and the French language, even more than before,

[12:58] Andrea - I see. And speaking about French language, so I want to fast forward now to more modern France-Amérique. France-Amérique today is fully bilingual, which is, I think, incredible. I mean, if you flip through their magazine, or your website, you have information in English, and in French and equivalent, you know, you really can find equal pieces written in both languages. So why did France become fully bilingual? Or what prompted that decision?

[13:30] Guénola - So when I became editor-in-chief, back in 2012, I actually dreamed of widening the distribution of the magazine to the American audience, but we could not do it because we were French language newspaper, published in French only. So having a bilingual magazine meant to me that it was possible to interest and to gather both communities, the Francophone, and the Anglophone community. So I wished to grow the readership, because the French speaking community in America is large, but it is also limited, especially compared to the great number of Americans who love French culture, but who don’t necessarily master the French language. At the time, I met Americans who told me it’s a shame I would like to read your magazine, but my French is not good enough. It would be very handy if you guys had a bilingual edition. So we heard these requests. And this wish of becoming bilingual actually came true in 2015. When France-Amérique absorbed France Magazine, France Magazine was a beautiful quarterly publication, dedicated to French lifestyle. It was published in English for an American audience. The title was supported by the French Embassy in Washington DC for a long time. So when it was decided that France-Amérique was to absorb France magazine, we had literally less than a week, something like maybe four or five days to rethink the whole layout and find translators. So, yes, because we were a monthly issue, and we’re about to close our monthly issue. So it was a crazy time. But it was also very exciting. Because not only did we become bilingual that year, but we also decided to open our pages even wider to art, fashion and lifestyle pieces in order to meet the demands of the former France Magazine subscribers, who were very attached to that. That’s when we started doing regular profiles and interviews of big French names from the fashion and the design world. So bilingualism marked a turning point in the history of the magazine. And today we have more than 80% of the readers of France-Amérique, who are Americans or French-Americans. So at the time, we doubled our audience. And just an interesting addition is that the magazine also became a great tool for people to improve their French or their English, it goes both ways and to improve the language in a fun way. Because that’s really how we progress best in language.

[16:40] Andrea - What have you observed that Francophiles like to read and interact with? And then maybe a follow up question to that is, do you feel like perspectives have changed about American and French culture over time?

[16:55] Guénola - That’s that’s a very interesting question, because bilingualism is actually a challenge for a publication like ours, because Francophiles are not one monolithic group. So what our readers have in common is that they all love France and French culture, but they do differ in how this admiration was born. Some spent a week in Paris on their honeymoon, some 50 years ago, and they just fell in love with Montmartre and Le Louvre while others discovered France through study abroad programs or through expatriation also, among francophiles who read the magazine, some are still drawn to eternal France, the very image of the Frenchman was his baguette like walking down cobble- streets in Paris, you know, with wearing a beret, just like in a in a photograph by Robert Doisneau, really. But younger Francophiles... They tend to move more toward innovation, business, fashion, current Affairs, and French language. So what we do is we try to accommodate all these different profiles and different expectations. So we do write about young entrepreneurs, women in tech, we write about people of color, who are fighting against racism in both countries, and people challenging the myth of a colorblind France. And we try to reflect all these different backgrounds and sectors. For instance, in our last issue, we interviewed Kahina Bahloul , who is France’s first imam. And we also did the portrait of Aurélie Jean, who is an internationally recognized authority on algorithms. So creating each issue of the magazine is an interesting balancing act. But I make sure that there’s something interesting to read for everybody.

[19:03] Andrea - I’ve seen that and I can completely attest to that. Every article I’ve seen is very eye grabbing and captivating either the title the person invited, there really is something for everyone. And now we’re going to shift to you. And maybe you can tell us a little bit of yourself, your role in France-Amérique. You are the Director, but what many of your readers or listeners may not know is that you’ve also been part of France Amérique for quite a time.

[19:31] Guénola - In a nutshell. I started at France-Amérique as an intern back in 2009. As part of my Master’s in journalism from the Sorbonne University in Paris. At the end of my internship, I was lucky enough to be hired by France-Amérique first as a versatile journalist before being put in charge of their culture section and later on becoming editor in chief, and then another 10 years later, director of the publication. So it was a, it was a long way to go, I still really enjoy doing this job first, of course, because you deal with passionate daily tasks. But also I’ve really enjoyed the fact of being able to cross the ocean. And it may sound like, like a metaphor. But it is a real pleasure to travel very regularly between France and the US. And it really is a privilege even more nowadays. So I am now based part time in Paris, after living in New York for the best 12 years. And part time in the US, the best thing is not having to choose between one country or the other, but actually to embrace the two of them.

[20:56] Andrea - Wow, that’s lovely. And I can say that you as a person, you’re really are symbolizing France-Amérique as you as you travel from one country to the other.

[21:23] Andrea - And I’m curious, you know, we talked about what Francophiles like to read but I’m curious about your perspective, yours or your staff in delving into these French American topics. Very diverse palette of topics has it brought you or your staff to see your country or the US in a different light?

[21:42] Guénola - Well, it forces you to stop trusting general ideas or stereotypes about Americans, but also about the French, for example. by interviewing an American publisher, who chooses to edit French literature, you realize how curious Americans are about the relationship between France and its former colonies. So we knew that those subjects appealed to an American audience. So we chose to give a lot of space to post-colonial and Francophone literature, in all its diversity. So we do monthly reviews of writers like the Moroccan novelist, Meryem Alaoui, who wrote about the daily life of prostitutes in Casablanca. We also published Kaouther Adimi, who is another female writer who was born in Nigeria, we did review Nathacha Appanah, from Mauritius. So as you can tell, we make as much room for women as we can. We also interview American professors and historians, who we think can bring a fresh new take on the French national narrative, because they analyzed the France history, your society, through this American prism. So what usually comes out of this intercultural take is that our two countries share a very common love for the democratic ideals, but also that their respective historical roots can lead to very different interpretations of freedom, equality and fraternity just to echo the national French motto. So look at how France and the US manage the pandemic. In France, there was a nationwide lockdown where decisions were taken in Paris by a centralized state. And I may be wrong, but I believe that in the US, Americans would never have accepted the idea of Washington imposing a national lockdown for months and months over, probably because of, as a result of federalism. There are similarities on both sides, especially in people’s response to the current events, for instance, on the anti-vaccine movement or on the anti-mask movement, but also in the demonstration against police violence and racism in this type of serious crisis situations. These are key times for a culture to evolve. For example, we noticed that more and more Americans are beginning to realize the interest of institutionalized solidarity, whereas at the same time in France, people begin to notice that there may be some benefits in more local decision making. So hopefully, out of this pandemic our democracies will go stronger.

[25:02] Andrea - That is the hope. And I do want to thank you for that fascinating insight of how both countries are overlapping in some ways and opposing in others, but can meet in the middle. And speaking of the pandemic, I want to know what’s it been like for a magazine like yours to continue working during the COVID crisis? And working from home? How has that been?

[25:25] Guénola - Yes. That’s an interesting question. Again, I thought it was going to be a hard time. But luckily, we are a tech savvy team. And we were already using remote work partially before, with contributors leaving everywhere in America and Europe. So in the end, the transition was seamless. But it made us rethink some of our processes to improve the way we work as a team. But I have to say we do miss our gorgeous office space in Chelsea. And, and we do miss the regular get-togethers as we are not only colleagues, but we’re also a group of friends.

[26:09] Andrea -So how would you describe your staff? Are you all bilingual? You know, what does that office space look like or interaction look like?

[26:18] Guénola - So to describe the staff, I have one word, cosmopolitan. And naturally, we have a lot of bilingual French people, or francophones Belgian, Canadian, as well. And the whole staff has the commonality to have lived both in America and France, and to understand both cultures very well. So our team is mainly split between New York and Paris, with correspondents everywhere in the US, Canada and France. And we have very eclectic backgrounds, which makes the essence of our publication, pretty rich and international. And we really can’t wait to meet over there. Like, we can’t wait for it.

[27:04] Andrea - Yes, it’s gonna be a great time to all get together and share your experiences. There’s nothing like, you know, seeing people and seeing your colleagues in person. And then, you know, from this chapter of France-Amérique history. What are we going to see in the future, you know, what, what kind of projects or movies is France-Amérique making that we can all look forward to?

[27:30] Guénola - So we are super excited about all the possibilities that the digital represents in terms of audience reach, we can now target any Francophile worldwide. And we’d like to appeal to more millennials, and Generation Z, who enjoy using apps. While we noticed that baby boomers continue to enjoy their print edition, even more. So good news is we will be launching an app in the fall. And we are also expanding our partnerships with prestigious institutions, and also new markets, such as Canada. So technology is enabling us to reach new audiences everywhere. And we’re also looking to support causes close to our heart, such as social entrepreneurship, women initiatives and climate actions, because we believe our role as a media is to give a voice to people trying to make the world a better place. So our future is full of great promises. Really!

[28:35] Andrea - Yes, I think that’s that seems like the right move. And my last question for you, what have been your favorite stories, France-Amérique, that you’ve covered or that your staff has covered? And what would you recommend to our listeners?

[28:52] Guénola - I really enjoyed covering the different French speaking communities of New York, like the Senegalese community in Harlem, in a neighborhood called Little Senegal, which brings together a lot of West African immigrants from Senegal, of course, but also from Mali, from the Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso. I also got to spend time with the Hatian community in Flatbush in the neighborhood of Brooklyn who have their own radio, Radio Soleil, and also with the French community of the Upper East Side in Manhattan, or the other French community, who is actually in Park Slope Brooklyn. So this is like an interesting patchwork of Francophone backgrounds. And I think it’s a great way to apprehend differences between all these different group profiles and geography. For example, the French community of the Upper East Side is said to be closer to the French elites, and the French community in Brooklyn, of course, to be more on the creative side, it’s a bit of a stereotype, but it happens to be pretty true. I was lucky enough also to meet a large number of brilliant people, among which many artists, either famous, like actors and musicians, but also diplomats. And one of them was Stéphane Hessel, who I met in New York in 2011. So a year and a half before his death, and Stéphane Hessel, was a former resistance fighter. He was deported to the camps, and he later became an important diplomat of the United Nations. And he was a true Peacemaker. He was also a great writer and a great poet who was known and read France-Amérique for decades. So he was a great man with an incredibly romantic life and definitely a great encounter.

[30:59] Andrea - I want to thank you again, for your time here your time speaking with us, talking to us about France-Amérique history and its modern approaches to today’s news, and I encourage all our Francophiles to pick up pick up the magazine pick up France-Amérique, go online, check out their website, I promise you have a lot of fun perusing through the content, and just seeing how unique it is to be able to read in French and in English. As always, thank you for listening to Francophiles. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, subscribe and review us and make sure to drop us a comment about what makes you a Francophile. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @francofilespod can visit our website for more information. to indulge in more stories about French American culture. Check out our partner France-Amérique magazine. Stay tuned Francophiles, and until next time, à bientôt.


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