Anita Reynolds, born in 1901, was “a smart, upper-class, sexually unrepentant black woman at a time when there was precious little model for that.” So writes Patricia Williams in her Foreword to Reynolds’s remarkable memoir, which we’ve just published as American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World. The memoir—discovered by the literary scholar George Hutchinson in the Howard University archives and never before published—recounts Reynolds’s repeated flouting of boundaries national, racial, social, and sexual; the great many people she met around the world; and all the fun she had along the way. Reynolds’s own Foreword, a quick outlining of the full story she’ll tell, is below.
I scarcely noticed the group of German tourists sitting at the table next to mine on the hotel terrace overlooking the Caribbean until one of them leaned over to me and asked in English: “How long did it take you to get that wonderful tan?”
I gave out just the slightest sigh and answered by rote: “About four generations.”
My questioner turned back to his companions and translated. In the ensuing conversation, I thought I heard the word “Nigger” tossed about.
At that particular time, I was fuming over calls to impeach the black United States ambassador to the United Nations for daring to suggest that our country was less than ideal in its handling of human rights issues here, and I was not in any mood to tolerate any racist remarks.
However, I bit my tongue and said nothing; they were, after all, guests at my husband’s hotel. But it did enter my mind to tell them of the fate of the last white man who called my father “Nigger.” He was killed by a blow from a shoe.
The mind wanders to pleasanter times. Paris in the ’30s. Montparnasse and St.-Germain-des-Prés, where the artists and writers flocked in never-ending numbers. I was an asteroid then, in orbit about the brilliant stars: Breton, Derain, Matisse, Picasso, Brancusi, Max Ernst, James Joyce, Hemingway, Carlos Williams. Perhaps, I thought, some of their genius would rub off on me. Perhaps a word of encouragement.