Hélène Cixous Biography

(French Feminist Writer and Philosopher Best Known for Her Article ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’)

Birthday: June 5, 1937 (Gemini)

Born In: Oran, Algeria

Hélène Cixous is a Jewish-French author from Algeria, who is known for her participation in the feminist movement of France. Having lost her father at a young age, the family had to go through the turmoil of alienation not just in Algeria, but also in Paris. Always interested in teaching, she got her teaching degree in English literature, and has worked for several prestigious universities in France. This accomplished writer’s works show heavy influences of the ideas and works of Irish-English author James Joyce, world-renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and her mentor Jacques Derrida. Initially, more general in style, this author’s writings became increasingly feminist towards the end of the 1960s. She got actively involved with the students’ revolution in France, and founded a university called ‘Paris VIII’. At the same university, this visionary writer introduced the first ever women’s studies PhD programme in the history of Europe. This writer has authored more than six collections of essays, twenty-three books of poetry, and several acclaimed articles and plays. The French writer has won innumerable accolades including the French order of merit, ‘Légion d’Honneur’, and the Brazilian award of the ‘Southern Cross’. Famous institutions across the world, such as ‘Georgetown University’ and ‘University of Wisconsin’, amongst several others, have conferred honorary doctorates upon this remarkable author.
Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In June

Age: 86 Years, 86 Year Old Females


father: Georges Cixous

mother: Eve Cixous

Born Country: Algeria

Writers Feminists

Founder/Co-Founder: Paris 8 University

Childhood & Early Life
Hélène Cixous was born on June 5, 1937, to French physician Georges Cixous and his Austro-German wife Eve, in Oran, a city in the French colony of Algeria.
When Hélène was just eleven years old, Georges died of tuberculosis, which was ironically his topic of research. To fend for the family, which consisted of the little girl and her brother Pierre, Eve started working as a midwife in Algeria.
In 1955, she joined the ‘Lycée Lakanal’, a school in Paris, to prepare for her university entrance examinations. The next year, the young woman started preparing for her ‘agrégation’, which is a teacher’s eligibility examination in France.
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Cixous began teaching at a school in the French town of Arcachon, in 1959. The following year, she met Jean-Jacques Mayoux who helped the writer with her thesis on English writer James Joyce.
Two years later, in 1962, this talented author started working at the ‘University of Bordeaux’ as an assistant teacher. The same year, she made acquaintance with Jacques Derrida, a philosopher who too helped her learn more about writer Joyce.
Cixous travelled to the US in 1963, where she studied Joyce’s manuscripts, working along with psychoanalytical theoretician, Jacques Lacan. After two years of research on Joyce, she returned to France and was appointed as an assistant teacher at the ‘University of Sorbonne’.
In 1967, ‘Le Prénom du Dieu’ (‘God’s First Name’), Hélène’s first fictional work, was published. After the book’s success, this exceptional writer was appointed as a professor, without a PhD, at the ‘University of Nanterre’.
Edgar Faure, the Minister of Education in France, gave her the responsibility of starting ‘Paris VIII’, in 1968. This experimental university teaches unusual subjects like urban planning, psychoanalysis, geopolitics, and gender studies.
The same year, she started a journal titled ‘Poétique’, with the help of French scholars Tzvetan Todorov and Gérard Genette. She also released her thesis titled ‘L'Exil de James Joyce ou l'Art du remplacement’ (‘The Exile of James Joyce, or the Art of Displacement’) in 1968.
In 1969, she published her second book of fiction, ‘Dedans’ (‘Inside’), based on the death of her father.
The feminist author published a collection of essays called ‘Prénoms de personne’, in 1974. The book features works on famous psychoanalysts and writers like Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe and James Joyce.
In 1975, this brilliant writer authored the book ‘Portrait de Dora’ which received critical acclaim. Meant for the theatre, it was enacted successfully at the ‘Théâtre d’Orsay’, for almost a year.
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During the same time, her writings became more and more feminist in their style, and ‘Le Rire de la Méduse’ (‘The Laugh of the Medusa’) was published.
During 1976-1979, she published works like ‘La Jeune Née’, ‘La Venue à l'écriture’, ‘Révolutions pour plus d'un Faust’, ‘Ananké’, and ‘Le Nom d'Oedipe. Chant du corps interdi’.
During the 1980s, the prolific writer wrote popular books like ‘With ou l'Art de l'innocence’, ‘Le Livre de Promethea’, ‘La Prise de l'école de Madhubaï’, and ‘L'Heure de Clarice Lispector’.
In the next decade, from 1990-1999, this amazing feminist published works like ‘Jours de l'an’, ‘Beethoven à jamais’, ‘ou l'éxistence de Dieu’, ‘Osnabrück’, ‘L'Histoire (qu'on ne connaîtra jamais’, ‘On ne part pas, on ne revient pas’, and ‘Photos de racines’.
In the 2000s, Hélène wrote books like ‘Tours promises', 'Double Oubli de l'Orang-Outang', 'Cigüe', 'Les Naufragés du Fol Espoi', and 'Le Voisin de zéro : Sam Beckett'. She also wrote the famous 'Portrait de Jacques Derrida en Jeune Saint Juif', which focuses on the works of her mentor, Jacques Derrida.
Major Works
Of all her feminism-centric works of fiction, theatre and essays, Hélène Cixous is most known for her book ‘Le Rire de la Méduse’, written in 1975. The book was translated from French to English the next year, by writers Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen for ‘Signs’, an American journal that focuses on feminism. The book employs the rhetoric of allusions to talk about feminism and the acceptance of bisexuality.
Awards and Achievements
Cixous was felicitated with the French literary award ‘Prix Médicis’, for her fictional work, ‘Dedans’, in 1969.
In 1989 Hélène was honoured with the ‘Southern Cross of Brazil’ for her extensive studies on the Russian-Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, and her works.
She was awarded the ‘Légion d’Honneur’, one of the highest French orders, in 1994, by the 21st President of France, François Mitterrand.
She has also been presented honorary doctorates by several esteemed institutions like ‘Queen’s University’, ‘Georgetown University’ in Washington D.C., ‘University of Wisconsin’ and ‘Northwestern University’, Chicago.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1955, the Hélène got married to Guy Berger, who was a teacher of philosophy.
The couple had a daughter, Anne-Emmanuelle, in 1957, and a son, Stéphane, three years later. Stéphane died as an infant and the next year, another son, Pierre-François, was born.
The writer and her husband got divorced in 1964, after nine years of marriage.
In 2000, this writer gave away all her works to the 'Bibliothèque nationale de France', and this French library dedicated a section to her collection of manuscripts. The following year, the same collection of books was displayed at the 'Brouillons d'écrivains', a literary exhibition held at the library.
This prolific writer, along with French modern thinkers, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, is known as one of the mothers of the famous ‘poststructuralist feminist theory’.

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