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Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681373614
Pages: 128
Publication Date: January 21, 2020

The Criminal ChildSelected Essays

by Jean Genet, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell and Jeffrey Zuckerman

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An NYRB Classics Original

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, Radiodiffusion Française commissioned Genet to write about his experience as a juvenile delinquent. He sent back a piece 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 bitterly denounced any improvement in the condition of young prisoners as a threat to their criminal souls. The radio station chose not to 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.


Genet’s multifaceted and wildly original aesthetic is embodied in associative takes and close reads . . . Also enthralling are reflections on the inner void, queer life, disease, and death . . . Essential for followers of Genet, inquisitive general readers, and enthusiasts of 20th-century avant-garde French writing.
—Diane Mehta, Library Journal

[This book is] united by Genet’s signature probing prose and his fascination with morality, misfits, and art. . . . Throughout, Genet is a deft, sensual, and outrageous critic—in regards to theater, he proclaims, ‘A performance that does not act on my soul is vain.’ Fans will be pleased with this gathering of Genet’s inimitable reflections on art, life, and his muses.
Publishers Weekly

The title essay is a classic work from the great Genet on the institution of French education and what we should do about juvenile criminality. It’s a pioneering essay, much of which is still quite relevant today.
—Andrés Barba, PEN America

[T]his text provides crucial insights into Genet’s way of thinking.
—John Gray, The New Statesman

Genet consistently broke lyrical conventions, creating a narrative approach as a stream of his unique consciousness, unexpectedly poetic. The collection 'The Criminal Child' examines homosexuals' connection to crime, punishment, and our own queerness. His language, provocative and queer, reminds us that Genet was his own creation.
—Mark William Norby, Bay Area Reporter

Genet’s sense of language [moved] seamlessly from street argot to the sublime. . . . Genet’s poetry drew me to write; his imagery drew Robert [Mapplethorpe] to the camera.
—Patti Smith, The Paris Review

Beside [Genet], Henry Miller is but a cheerfully smutty college sophomore, Sade a dilettante aristocrat of eccentric habits, Gide a genteel old lady sedately cultivating nightshade in her little kitchen garden.