Jean Genet Biography

Jean Genet was a French playwright, novelist, essayist, poet, and political activist. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family life, achievements, etc.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 19, 1910

Nationality: French

Famous: Quotes By Jean Genet Poets

Died At Age: 75

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Born Country: France

Born in: Paris, France

Famous as: Novelist

Subscribe to Riddle Puddle

Family:

father: Frédéric Blanc

mother: Camille Gabrielle Genet

Died on: April 15, 1986

place of death: Paris

Cause of Death: Cancer

City: Paris

More Facts

awards: 1961 · The Blacks: A Clown Show - Obie Award for Best New Play
1960 · The Balcony - Obie Award for Best Foreign Play

Continue Reading Below

Subscribe to Riddle Puddle

Jean Genet was a French playwright, novelist, essayist, poet, and political activist. Born to a prostitute, Genet started his life as a vagabond and a petty thief. However, his writings in prison revealed his true forté. He was patronized by writers such as Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre. Some of his most prominent works were the novels ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’ and ‘The Thief's Journal’ and the plays ‘The Balcony,’ ‘The Screens,’ and ‘The Maids.’ In his later life, Genet turned into a political activist, championing the cause of Palestinian refugees. He suffered from throat cancer toward the end. He was found dead in a hotel room in Paris and was suspected of having fallen and fatally hit his head. He is still remembered as a prominent figure of the Theater of the Absurd and the Theater of Cruelty movements.

Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Childhood & Early Life
Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Top
Detention & Military Service
  • At 15, he was sent to a strict reform school named the ‘Mettray Penal Colony.’ He was detained there from September 2, 1926, to March 1, 1929. In his work ‘Miracle of the Rose’ (1946), Genet provided a detailed description of his detention.
  • At 18, he joined the ‘Foreign Legion’ of the military. However, he received a dishonorable discharge due to indecency, after he was caught engaging in a homosexual act.
  • Following this, he spent some time as a vagabond, a thief, and a male prostitute in European cities such as Barcelona and Antwerp. His 1949 work ‘The Thief's Journal’ offered a detailed account of the same.
Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Top
Writing in Prison
  • In 1937, Genet returned to Paris, France, and was continuously getting in and out of prison due to various offenses, such as theft, fraud, and obscenity. While in prison, he wrote his first poem, ‘Le condamné à mort.’ Around the same time, he wrote the novel ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’ (1943) in ‘Fresnes Prison.’ Soon, Genet got acquainted with writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who loved Genet’s writing. Through Cocteau’s contacts, Genet got his novel published.
  • He wrote ‘The Miracle of the Rose’ (1943) in ‘Santé Prison.’ It was an autobiographical work that mingled depictions of prison life with religious imagery. He continued with the same theme in ‘Funeral Rites’ (1945) and ‘Quarrel of Brest’ (1946).
  • In 1949, when Genet faced a life sentence after 10 convictions, Cocteau and other luminaries, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso, requested the French president to pardon his sentence. Genet was forgiven and never returned to prison.
Top
Further Writing & Political Activism
  • ‘The Thief's Journal’ (1949), was published soon after and narrated Genet's experiences in the European crime scene of the 1930s.
  • Genet also wrote the drama ‘The Maids’ (1948), which explored the relationship of good and evil through the actions of two maids. His drama ‘Deathwatch’ (1949) narrated the relationship of three prisoners.
    Continue Reading Below
  • In 1950, Genet directed the movie ‘Un Chant d'Amour.’ It was a 26-minute film shot in black and white and showcased the homosexual fantasies of a gay male prisoner and his warden.
  • This was followed by the dramas ‘The Balcony’ (1957), ‘The Blacks’ (1959), and ‘The Screens’ (1961).
  • Sartre wrote on Genet's miraculous transformation from a vagrant to a writer, titled ‘Saint Genet’ (1952), published anonymously as part of the first volume of Genet's complete writings. Genet was so massively affected by Sartre's analysis that he stopped writing for the next 5 years.
  • Between 1955 and 1961, Genet wrote an essay titled ‘What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet.’
  • In the late 1960s, he wrote a homage to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, student leader of the French unrest of May 1968. Following this, Genet started participating in politics. He took part in protests against the poor condition of immigrants in France.
  • In 1968, Genet was censored in the U.S. They later refused to grant him a visa. In 1970, he was invited to the U.S. by the ‘Black Panther Party.’ He stayed there for 3 months. During this time, he delivered lectures, attended the trial of ‘Black Panther’ leader Huey Newton, and wrote for their party’s journals.
  • Later, he stayed in Palestinian refugee camps for 6 months and even met Yasser Arafat secretly, near Amman. Based on his experiences, Genet wrote a memoir named ‘Prisoner of Love.’ The book was published posthumously.
  • Genet supported Angela Davis and George Jackson. He was also a supporter of Daniel Defert and Michel Foucault’s ‘Prison Information Group.’ He joined hands with Foucault and Sartre to draw attention to police brutality against Algerians in Paris.
  • In his 1977 article ‘Violence et brutalité,’ published in ‘Le Monde,’ Genet showcased his support for the ‘Red Army Faction’ (RAF) of Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader.
  • Genet visited the Palestinian refugee camps in Shatila, located near Beirut, on September 19, 1982. Israel’s Lebanese allies had massacred the Palestinians stationed there, just 2 days earlier. He published his own eye-witness account of the horror in ‘Quatre heures à Chatila’ (‘Four Hours in Shatila’).
  • At a 1983 exhibition on the same massacre, arranged by ‘International Progress Organization’ in Vienna, Austria, Genet read from this work, after Austrian philosopher Hans Köchler requested him to do so.
Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Top
Family, Personal Life & Death
  • It is believed Genet was emotionally attached to a tightrope walker named Abdallah Bentaga. However, after Abdallah’s suicide in 1964, Genet sank into depression and even attempted suicide once.
  • Later in his life, Genet suffered from throat cancer. On April 15, 1986, he was found dead in his hotel room in Paris. It is assumed Genet had fallen on the floor and had hit his head. He remains buried in the ‘Larache Christian Cemetery,’ Larache, Morocco.
Top
Legacy
  • Genet remains to be one of the greatest contributors of the Theater of the Absurd and the Theater of Cruelty movements. His works, with dominant themes of homosexuality, crime, and sadomasochism, have been adapted for the screen too.
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film, the 1982-released ‘Querelle,’ was based on Genet’s ‘Querelle of Brest.’ Tony Richardson’s ‘Mademoiselle’ was based on one of Genet’s short stories. Genet’s plays ‘The Balcony’ and ‘The Maids’ were also made into movies.
  • In 1972, David Bowie released the single "The Jean Genie,” named after Genet. A promo video of the song, released later, showed the song set to a portion of Genet's movie ‘Un Chant d'Amour.’
Top

See the events in life of Jean Genet in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Jean Genet Biography
Author
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
Website
- TheFamousPeople.com
URL
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/jean-genet-4308.php
Last Updated
- January 20, 2020
Jean Genet

People Also Viewed

Marjane Satrapi
(French, Iranian)
 
Romain Gary
(French)
 
Patrick Modiano
(French)
 
Jean Cocteau
(French)
 

Alphonse Daudet
(French)
 
Alfred de Vigny
(French)
 
Paul Verlaine
(French)