The Criminal Child offers the first English translation of a key early work by Jean Genet. In 1949, in the midst of a national debate about improving the French reform-school system, a French radio station commissioned Genet to write about his experience as a juvenile delinquent. He sent back a piece about his youth that was a paean to prison instead of the expected horrifying exposé. Revisiting the cruel hazing rituals that had accompanied his incarceration, relishing the special argot spoken behind bars, Genet wondered if regulating that strange other world wouldn’t simply prevent future children from discovering their essentially criminal nature in the way that he had. The radio station chose not broadcast Genet’s views.
“The Criminal Child” appears here with a selection of Genet’s finest essays, including his celebrated piece on the art of Alberto Giacometti.
The translators Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman will discuss Genet's work, introduced by Edwin Frank.
Jean Genet (1910 – 1986) was a French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but he took to writing while in prison. On the strength of his work he found himself acclaimed by Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, whose advocacy secured for him a presidential pardon in 1948. His major works include the memoir The Thief’s Journal, the novel Our Lady of the Flowers and the plays The Balcony, the Maids, and The Screens.
Charlotte Mandell is a translator of French literature. She has published numerous translations of writers including Jean Genet, Guy de Maupassant, and Gustave Flaubert. She has been awarded a translation prize from the Modern Language Association and the National Translation Award in Prose. Her translation of The Magnetic Fields by André Breton and Philippe Soupault will be published by NYRB Poets in fall 2020.
Jeffrey Zuckerman is an editor and translator from the French. He is the digital editor of Music & Literature and his recent translations include Ananda Devi’s Eye Out of Her Ruins and Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus. Zuckerman’s writing and translations have appeared in Best European Fiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, and Vice.
Edwin Frank is the founder and editorial director of the New York Review Books Classics series and the author of Snake Train: Poems 1984-2013.