1910 - 1986
"I'm homosexual … How and why are idle questions. It's a little like wanting to know why my eyes are green."
- Jean Genet
Born to a young prostitute, Jean Genet was given up for adoption at birth and raised in foster homes. At 15 he was sent to Mettray Penal Colony for three years. At 18 he joined the Foreign Legion but deserted and spent the next few years in and out of prison for theft, smuggling, begging, homosexual prostitution, and sexual misconduct. At 32, while in prison he began writing his novel, Our Lady of the Flowers. When it was discovered and destroyed by prison authorities, Genet rewrote it from memory. After its publication in 1943 he followed it with Miracle of the Rose (1946), and Querelle (1947). In 1948 he was arrested a 10th time for burglary and given an automatic life sentence. Admirers of his work – Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Picasso among others – interceded on his behalf and he was freed. His autobiographical novel, The Thief’s Journal was released in 1949. The brilliance of Genet’s work was apparent; it was the subject matter that caused controversy. He wrote of the harsh gay world of the docks and seedy bars, thieves, drag queens, and outcasts without apology. After his novels, Genet reemerged as a playwright with a string of stage successes that further solidified his genius – ‘The Maids,’ ‘The Blacks,’ ‘The Balcony,’ and ‘The Screens’ are all considered classics of modern drama. Later in life he championed the causes of The Black Panthers as well as the Palestinian soldiers in Jordan and Lebanon – his final work ‘Prisoner of Love’ recounts his years with these groups. Diagnosed with throat cancer, he died in 1986 in Paris.
Sexual Orientation Gay
Gender Identity Cisgender
Nations Affiliated France United States Jordan Lebanon
Era/Epoch Information Age (1970-present)
Field(s) of Contribution
Commemorations & Honors
Obie Award for Best Foreign Play The Balcony (1960)
Obie Award for Best New Play The Blacks: A Clown Show (1961)