Christian Bourgois: French publisher of English writers

Wednesday 02 January 2008 01:00 GMT

Christian Bourgois, publisher: born Antibes, France 21 September 1933; married first 1958 Agnes Troubl (two children, marriage dissolved), secondly Dominique Kaszemacher (two children); died Paris 20 December 2007.

The French publisher Christian Bourgois was responsible for bringing a huge and eclectic collection of works from authors of many nationalities, including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi and Salman Rushdie, to French and Canadian audiences.

Bourgois was born in 1933 in Antibes, southern France. He graduated from Sciences Po (the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris) in 1954, part of the same intake as Jacques Chirac. When it came to further studies, his father, a marine officer, feared that his son's preferred Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) seemed to be a "nest of leftists". Bourgois was therefore directed towards the Ecole nationale d'administration (ENA), a usual route into the French civil service. He did not relish the prospect of this conventional path and, in 1959, left the education system to join Ren Julliard and his eponymous publishing house.

In the same year, he married Agnès Troublé, an art student, who later became the fashion designer Agnès B. Although their marriage only lasted three years, she retains the B for Bourgois in her name and designer label .

On Julliard's death in 1962, Bourgois took over the management of a publisher which was soon to attract internationally known authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, whose earliest collection of short stories Pas de Lettre pour le Colonel (No One Writes to the Colonel) was published in French in 1963 but would not appear in English for another five years.

When Julliard was bought by Presses de la Cité in 1966, Bourgois decided to set up Christian Bourgois Editeur independently, together with the writer Dominique de Roux, whose own La mort de L.-F. Cline ("The Death of Cline") was one of their first productions. The Bourgois publishing house was spurred by the May 1968 Paris uprising, which saw a surge of interest in social sciences and related subjects, causing a significant growth of his list in those areas.

Around the same time, when the literature of the American beat generation was crossing the Atlantic, it was Bourgois who courageously brought the voices of Ginsberg (Kaddish, 1967) and Burroughs (La Machine Molle/Soft Machine, 1968) to French readers. His most controversial decision was to publish The Satanic Verses (1989) by Rushdie, despite fatwa threats to the life of the author and those who translated and published the book in other countries.

Between 1968 and 1992, Bourgois published around 1,500 titles under the 10/18 paperback imprint, including some 500 completely new works. Following a disagreement with company management in 1992, he set up independently once again, this time with his second wife, Dominique. He continued to attract new and established names, including British authors such as Amis and Kureishi. In recent years a group of 21 books by and about J.R.R. Tolkien, including The Lord of the Rings, have been stars of the Bourgois catalogue. Dominique Bourgois will continue to run the publishing house and look after the catalogue of books which represents Christian Bourgois's legacy to the literary world.

In December 2005, a two-month exhibition opened at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, titled "40 ans d'édition", which celebrated Bourgois's 40 years of publishing and highlighted the French and foreign authors he had discovered. Asked about his successes, he replied with characteristic modesty: "I simply knew how to use the opportunities and chances which were offered to me and to listen to advice."

Marcus Williamson

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