Valery Larbaud
Paris: Flammarion, 1998.
540 pages

Grand Prix de la Biographie de l’Académie française

Born in Vichy in 1881, the only son of a wealthy pharmacist who owned the Vichy Saint-Yorre hot springs, Larbaud grew up in a very privileged environment. But his over-protective mother made it difficult for him to acquire any kind of independence, financial or emotional, and being a sickly child, he was often alone with his books. An avid reader, he began writing and translating at an early age, having discovered some of the world at eighteen, while traveling throughout Europe with the sales representative of the family firm.

He would later elect to live in England, Spain, and Italy, where he would satisfy his yearning for languages, and remain far away from a stifling family environment. He produced a number of translations – most of the works of Samuel Butler, some Coleridge, Leopardi, Ramon Gomez de la Serna, Gabriel Miro, James Joyce, Italo Svevo… – and also created one of the best known literary figures of the twentieth century, the South American billionaire A.O.Barnabooth, a very well educated dilettante with a pronounced taste for women and travel. All too often Larbaud was identified with Barnabooth, and though they shared a taste for European and American (North and South) literature, they lead very different lives – Larbaud was a scholar and writer who could often be found in his library, where he could study the human nature he rendered so well in his novels, fromEnfantines to Amants, heureux amants…

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Max Jacob
Paris: Flammarion, 2005.
511 pages

Prix Anna de Noailles de l’Académie Française, 2006

Poet and painter, a Jew converted to Catholicism, a homosexual always fighting to keep his flamboyant tendencies at bay, he was friend with some of the most well-known artists and writers of his time, from Pablo Picasso to Amedeo Modigliani, from Jean Cocteau to Guillaume Apollinaire.

Born in Brittany in 1876, he lived between Paris and Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire most of his life. Saint-Benoît was his refuge, away from the temptations of the city: there he lived in the shadow of the basilica, a secular among the monks of whom he shared the daily routine. In Paris he was more of the mundane Max, who loved to entertain, and to be the center of attention of younger poets, while keeping up with his publishers and patrons. In both places, no matter what, he wrote – poetry, prose, meditations – and painted, illustrated, drawn. As a poet, he was the one who gave a modern twist to the prose poem, his Dice cup being one of the manifesto for XXth century poetry.

At the end of the thirties, he retired for good in Saint-Benoît, where he was arrested in February 1944, and sent to the Drancy camp at the outskirts of Paris following orders of the Gestapo, but died of pneumonia before he could be deported to a German death camp.

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Philippe Soupault
Paris: Flammarion, 2010.
471 pages

“Poet, wanderer, traveler, protester,” Philippe Soupault, co-founder of the Surrealist movement with André Breton and Louis Aragon, always set himself apart, sometimes willingly, sometimes inadvertently. Never liking the spotlight, he remained in obscurity, neglecting to prepare his own posterity…

Co-author with Breton of The Magnetic Fields, one of the seminal works of the XXth century, he is a poet – and will be all his life – but also a novelist, who explored through his prose the transformation of the society in the twenties and the thirties. As a journalist he unveiled for the French readers the rise of the Nazi power, the troubles of the Soviet state, and, as the head of Radio-Tunis, denounced the excess of colonial tyranny. Accused of spying, he was tortured and imprisoned by the Regime de Vichy in Tunis. When he escaped he sought refuge in Algeria, rallying the General De Gaulle. From there, he crossed the Atlantic, spending the next few years in the United States, as an agent of the France Libre, writing, and teaching literature. Back in France right after the war, he continued his wandering life, a journalist and a poet, who went on the trail of Rimbaud in Yemen and on the one of Schweitzer at the heart of Africa. He died in Paris, in March 1990, having never stopped writing poetry, and to encourage others to read it.

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