In 1979, just out of college, Heather Neff moved to Paris. The city was in a state of transition from the challenges posed by immigration, a rising influential youth movement, and the urgent need to protect and preserve the artistic masterpieces and historical buildings that reflected French culture. Deeply thrilled by her interactions with people from around the world and the uncountable opportunities to explore art, literature and music, Neff came to identify Paris as the "city of her soul." The poems in this collection capture some of the most powerful moments and meaningful interactions in Neff's life--experiences that have formed the basis of a lifetime as an author.
Heather Neff shares some of her thoughts about The Paris Hours.
What made you decide to leave the U.S. and travel to France at twenty-two?
During my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan I took a number of film classes and became deeply enamored of the French New Wave. Like most Americans, I had grown up believing Paris to be a glamorous place, but the films made by directors such as Godard and Truffaut revealed the darker underside of the city. I was fascinated by the Paris that balanced precariously between its fraught colonial past and its emerging postcolonial identity. Paris was a city flooded with North Africans, Southeast Asians, and people from Sub-Saharan nations. Paris was also a "sanctuary city" for many fleeing conflict in other parts of the globe. I embarked to Paris hoping to learn about the world. I had no idea how much I would soon learn from the extraordinary people I met and the cultures they shared with me.
What did you do during your time in Paris?
I had the privilege of working as an au-pair in a position that offered me the opportunity to enroll in classes at the University of Paris. My classmates came from places as distant as Argentina and Iran, South Korea and Greece. We formed deep bonds as we experienced life in the city. We cooked together, shared the stories of our lives, and helped each other through homesickness.
At the same time, I used every free moment to haunt Paris' incredible museums, go to the theater and attend as many concerts as I could. I became a true "flaneur," walking every inch of the city to observe the character of the neighborhoods and the deep traditions of French life.
Most importantly, I fell in love, got married, perfected my French, wrote poems and music, and sketched out the framework of my first novel, Blackgammon.
Over the years I have continued to visit this "city of my soul," traveling with my family, students, and even alone.
I will be eternally grateful for my Paris hours. They have inspired, guided, and strengthened me over the entire course of my life.