Raymond Queneau (kuh-noh), novelist, poet, critic, editor, playwright, filmmaker, philosopher, mathematician, and painter, is regarded as one of the most audacious and ingenious French writers of the twentieth century, with a career spanning the period from Surrealism to the New Novel. Queneau was born in Le Havre at the beginning of the twentieth century. His mother was Josephine Mignot; his father, a businessman, was Auguste Queneau. After completing his studies at the lycée in Le Havre, Raymond Queneau went on to the University of Paris in 1920 and took his degree in philosophy in 1926. That same year he was called to military duty in Algeria and Morocco.
A year later he returned to Paris, where in 1928 he married Janine Kahn, sister-in-law of André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement. In 1934 they had a son, Jean-Marie, who became a painter. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Queneau took jobs that allowed him a meager income: He worked in a bank, gave private lessons, sold paper tablecloths to inexpensive restaurants, translated books from English into French, and did some journalism, writing a column called “Connaissez-vous Paris?” (Do you know Paris?) for the daily Intransigeant, from 1936 to 1938. In 1938 he became a reader at the prestigious firm Gallimard, which had already published four of his first five books, all novels, and would produce most of his subsequent works.
Queneau’s editorial career was briefly interrupted when he was drafted in August, 1939. Serving in small provincial towns, he was promoted to corporal just before being demobilized in July, 1940. Queneau then returned to Paris. Despite the hardships of World War II, this period was one of intense literary production. In addition to his editorial duties at the Gallimard publishing house, where he became general secretary, he collaborated on clandestine publications and wrote a weekly column for Front National until 1945. He received his credentials as a professional journalist in the same year; however, he was to remain at Gallimard for the rest of his life.
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