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, a French radio station commissioned Genet to write about his experience as a juvenile delinquent. He sent back a piece about his youth 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 wondered if regulating that strange other world wouldn’t simply prevent future children from discovering their essentially criminal nature in the way that he had. 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.


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

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.