How does the fiction/non-fiction divide, which organizes bookstores and best-seller lists, shape the domain of the written word? How do readers distinguish factual from fictional representations and discourses, and what is at stake in this separation? In what ways are fact and fiction interwoven? This international conference, focusing on the French and American contexts as well as literary theory more broadly, examines the categories of fiction and non-fiction, and the boundary between them, as a point of departure for a dialogue on the kinds of truth we find in literature.  It also investigates the place of fiction and narrative form in non-fictional discourses that are usually placed outside the realm of literature. In addition to panels on the history, forms, and reception of fictional and factual writing, the event emphasizes literary practice through discussions with contemporary writers.

Organized by Alison James (University of Chicago) and Luc Lang (École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy) with the participation of Emmanuel Bouju, Aleksandar Hemon, Jeanine Herman, Jean-Louis Jeannelle, Lola Lafon, Françoise Lavocat, Maria Anna Mariani, Donald Nicholson-Smith, Aude Rouyère, Marianne Rubinstein, Luc Sante, and Jennifer Scappettone.

Papers in French and English.


Friday 13 November, 8:45 a.m.–5:00 p.m. 

Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts

915 E 60th Street. Chicago, IL 60637, room 802 (see map)

Friday 13 November, 6:00-7:20 p.m. 

Seminary Co-op Bookstore

5751 South Woodlawn Avenue (see map), Chicago, IL 60637

Reading and panel discussion: “French Literature in the United States: Trends, Translation, Reception” 

Saturday 14 November, 9:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m. 

Logan Center for the Arts, room 801

Event sponsored by:

The France Chicago Center

The Franke Institute for the Humanities

The Center for International Studies (Norman Wait Harris Fund)

The Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy

The Workshop on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Modern France and the Francophone World

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate in this event should call 773.702.8481 for assistance.

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Friday 13 November, 8:45 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Logan Center for the Arts 802

8:45 a.m.        Coffee

9:15-10:00       Alison James and Luc Lang, Welcome and Introduction

10:00-12:00     Session 1: Borders of Fiction/Frontières de la fiction

  • Françoise Lavocat (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3), “Fact and Fiction: A Boundary in Play.” Introduced by Esther Van Dyke (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).
  • Jennifer Scappettone (University of Chicago), “Pinocchio, Unbuilt: The Hypertextual Venice of Robert Coover.” Introduced by Michele Kenfack (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).
  • Emmanuel Bouju (Université Rennes 2/Harvard University): “Dans la boîte miroir: douleur fantôme et stéréométrie des temps dans The Lazarus Project.” Introduced by Ji Gao (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).

12:00-1:00       Lunch break

1:00-2:30         Session 2: Narrative, Fiction, Knowledge/Récit, fiction et savoirs 

  • Introduced by Bastien Craipain (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).
  • Marianne Rubinstein (Université Paris Diderot – Paris 7), “Writing Economics”/“Comment on écrit l’économie.”
  • Aude Rouyère (Université de Bordeaux),“Fiction du droit. Fictions de droit.”

2:30-3:00         Coffee break

3:00-4:30         Session 3: Author Roundtable

  • Moderated by Alison James
  • A discussion with Aleksandar Hemon, Lola Lafon, Luc Lang, and Marianne Rubinstein

4:30-5:00         Reception

6:00 p.m.        Panel discussion at Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL 60637. French Literature in the United States: trends, translation, reception

  • Moderated by Aleksandar Hemon
  • With the participation of Jeanine HermanLola LafonLuc Lang, Donald Nicholson-Smith, and Luc Sante


Saturday 14 November, 9:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Logan Center 801

9:00-9:30         Coffee

9:30-12:00       Session 4: Factual Literature?/Littératures factuelles?

  • Jean-Louis Jeannelle (Université de Rouen), “ ‘Nous savons tout, les uns et les autres et les uns des autres’ : conviction et littérature factuelle.” Introduced by Linsey Sainte-Claire (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).
  • Maria Anna Mariani (University of Chicago), “Why Autobiography is a Double-Crosser.” Introduced by Chiara Nifosi (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).
  • Alison James (University of Chicago), “Speaking Facts: Paradoxes of the Literary Document.” Introduced by Caitlin Hoff (graduate student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures).

12:00               Closing remarks

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Related event

French Authors in Translation discussion at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL 60625

Saturday, November 14, 2015

5:00–6:00 p.m

With Jeanine Herman, Luc Lang, Lola Lafon, and Donald Nicholson-Smith



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Participant Bios

Emmanuel Bouju is Professor of Comparative Literature at the Université Rennes 2, a senior member of the  l’Institut Universitaire de France and a Visiting Professor at Harvard University. He leads the activities and publications of the Groupe phi: Littératures sous contrat (2002), L’engagement littéraire (2005), Littérature et exemplarité (co-edited with A. Gefen, G. Hautcœur et M. Macé, 2007) and L’autorité en littérature (2010) – works all published with the Presses Universitaires de Rennes. He also co-directs  (with Catherine Coquio and Lucie Campos) the collection “Littérature Histoire Politique” published by Classiques Garnier. He is the author of  Réinventer la littérature: démocratisation et modèles romanesques dans l’Espagne post-franquiste (with a preface by Jorge Semprún, PUM, 2000) and of La transcription de l’histoire. Essai sur le roman européen de la fin du vingtième siècle (PUR, 2006). His next book, forthcoming in November 2015, is Fragments d’un discours théorique. Nouveaux éléments de lexique littéraire, to be published by Éditions Nouvelles Cécile Defaut.

Aleksandar Hemon is a fiction writer, essayist, and critic. He is the author of several books: The Lazarus Project (Riverhead Books, 2008)which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award; The Question of Bruno (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2000)Nowhere Man (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2002), which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love and Obstacles (Riverhead Books, 2009), The Book of My Lives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013); The Making of Zombie Wars (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015); and Behind the Glass Wall (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Born in Sarajevo, Hemon visited Chicago in 1992, intending to stay for a matter of months. While he was there, Sarajevo came under siege, and he was unable to return home. Hemon wrote his first story in English in 1995. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003 and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation in 2004.  He has been named a Chevalier des arts et des lettres by the French government.

Jeanine Herman is a French–English translator who lives in New York City.  She attended Berkeley and Columbia and is a Chevalier in the French Order of Arts and Letters.  Her translation of Les Écrits de Laure by Laure, Bataille’s great love (Colette Peignot), was published by City Lights Books in San Francisco in 1995 (Laure: The Collected Writings).  Jeanine Herman  has translated works of anthropology by Pierre Clastres (The Archeology of Violence, Semiotext(e)) and Francoise Héritier (Two Sisters and their Mother, Zone Books) and works of psychoanalysis and literary criticism by Julia Kristeva (The Powers and Limits of Psychoanalysis: The Sense and Non-sense of Revolt, vol. 1; Intimate Revolt, vol. 2; and Hatred and Forgiveness, vol. 3, Columbia University Press).  For the Kristeva books, she used the essential and invaluable Language of Psychoanalysis by Laplanche and Pontalis, a dictionary of psychoanalytical terms translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Like Donald, she has moved in recent years from translating nonfiction works (on the social sciences, psychoanalysis, art criticism, etc.) to translating literary fiction (Eric Laurrent, Kettly Mars, and soon Balzac). Her translation of Julien Gracq’s Reading Writing (En lisant en écrivant) was a finalist for the French-American Translation prize in 2006 (and “briefly noted” in The New Yorker). She has translated essays for The Museum of Modern Art in New York and art reviews for Artforum International Magazine for the past twenty years. For seven years, she worked at Zone Books, a small publisher of mostly nonfiction books, many of them in translation. She has had residencies at Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, Lannan Foundation in Marfa, Texas (2013), and Villa Gillet in Lyon, France (2009), where she gave translation workshops at the ENS (École Normale Supérieure) on Julien Gracq and Francis Ponge. Her most recent translation is Savage Seasons by Kettly Mars (University of Nebraska Press), recipient of a French Voices award.

Alison James is Associate Professor of French at the University of Chicago. She specializes in modern and contemporary French literature, in particular the Oulipo, experimental poetry and prose, connections between literature and philosophy, representations of the everyday, and the documentary impulse in literature. She is the author of Constraining Chance: Georges Perec and the Oulipo (Northwestern University Press, 2009), and of articles on  Louis Aragon, Jacques Roubaud, Harry Mathews, François Bon, Clément Rosset and Jacques Rancière. With Christophe Reig, she edited the collective volume Frontières de la non-fiction: L’esthétique documentaire et ses objets (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013), and she has directed journal issues on the playwright Valère Novarina (Littérature, no. 176, 2014, with Olivier Dubouclez) and on the theme of literary formalism (L’Esprit créateur, 2008).

Jean-Louis Jeannelle is a Professor at the University of Rouen. He is the author of Cinémalraux : essai sur l’œuvre d’André Malraux au cinéma (Hermann, 2015), of Films sans images : une histoire des scénarios non réalisés de “La Condition humaine” (Éditions du Seuil, coll. “Poétique,” 2015), of Résistance du roman : genèse de “Non” d’André Malraux (CNRS Éditions, 2013), of Écrire ses Mémoires au XXe siècle : déclin et renouveau (Gallimard, coll. “Bibliothèque des idées,” 2008) and of Malraux, mémoire et métamorphose (Paris, Gallimard, 2006). He has also edited several collective volumes, in particular the issue of the “Cahiers de l’Herne” Simone de Beauvoir with Éliane Lecarme-Tabone (2012) and Modernité du “Miroir des limbes”: un autre Malraux, with Henri Godard (Classiques Garnier, 2011). He directs the online journal Fabula-LHT (

Lola Lafon, with a French, Russian and Polish background, was raised in the equally diverse cities of Bucharest, Sofia and Paris. N.R.V, among others, published her first short stories between 1998 and 2000. Her first three novels were published by Flammarion: Une fièvre impossible à négocier (2003), De ça je me console (2007) and Nous sommes les oiseaux de la tempête qui s’annonce (2011). These titles were nominated for several French literary awards, and tackle several ideological themes such as capitalism, antifascism, utopia or feminism. Lola Lafon is politically engaged in several collectives addressing feminist questions and concerns; she also runs writing workshops aimed towards underserved or disadvantaged youth populations. For the release of each of her novels, she organizes a series of concert-readings tours.  We are the Birds of the Coming Storm, an insurrectionary and feminist tale dealing with the Chicago Haymarket events, was translated into English by David Ball and published by Seagull Books in 2014.  La Petite communiste qui ne souriait jamais (Actes Sud, 2014) was featured in more musical literary events and received ten literary awards. It will be published in the US by Seven Stories Press in May 2016.

Luc Lang is the author of several prize-winning novels and collections of stories, including Mille six cents ventres (Fayard, 1998; Prix Goncourt des lycéens), Les Indiens (Stock, 2001), Onze septembre mon amour (Stock, 2003), La Fin des paysages (Stock, 2006), Cruels 13 (Stock, 2008), Mother (Stock, 2012), and L’Autoroute (Stock, 2014). The English edition of Cruels 13, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith as Cruel Tales from the Thirteenth Floor, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2015. Luc Lang has also published essays on the visual arts and theoretical texts on the novel, including Délit de fiction (Gallimard, 2011). He currently teaches aesthetics at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy.

Françoise Lavocat is Professor of Comparative Literature at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. She has also been a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2014–2015), and is currently a member of the Institut Universitaire de France (2015–2020). She specializes in theories of fiction (fact and fiction, possible worlds, characters), early modern literature, and catastrophe narratives. She is the author of Arcadies malheureuses, aux origines du roman moderne (Champion, 1997), La Syrinx au bûcher, Pan et les satyres à la renaissance et à l’âge baroque (Droz, 2005), Usages et théories de la fiction, la théorie contemporaine à l’épreuve des textes anciens (ed. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004), La théorie littéraire des mondes possibles (ed. CNRS, 2010), and Fait et fiction, pour une frontière (forthcoming with Seuil, 2016).

Maria Anna Mariani is Assistant Professor of Modern Italian Literature at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the “literature of the I” in all its various forms – from autofiction to the witnessings of survivors. Her book Sull’autobiografia contemporanea. Nathalie Sarraute, Elias Canetti, Alice Munro, Primo Levi, Carocci 2012 (On Contemporary Autobiography) offers a theory of the autobiographical genre based on the dialectic between memory and narrative. Her current projects focus on literary genealogy and the figure of the survivor.

Donald Nicholson-Smith has been an academic and literary translator since the 1970s. After translating Jean Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis’s magisterial concordance to Freud, Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse as The Language of Psychoanalysis (London and New York, 1973), he made psychology and psychoanalysis one of his specialties. On another front, he has translated many texts of the Situationist International, namely Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (New York, 1994) and Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life (third, revised edition, Oakland, 2012), as well as Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (Oxford, 1991). In recent years Nicholson-Smith has tackled more strictly literary projects. In 2011 he was a French-American Foundation Prize finalist (non-fiction) for his translation of the poems and correspondence in Guillaume Apollinaire’s Letters to Madeleine. And he has been active in the field of noir fiction, translating Thierry Jonquet’s Mygale/Tarantula (San Francisco, 2002); Yasmina Khadra’s Cousin K (Lincoln, Nebraska, 2013), in collaboration with Alyson Waters; and three novels by Jean-Patrick Manchette: Three to Kill (San Francisco, 2002), Fatale (New York, 2011), and The Mad and the Bad (New York, 2014). Luc Lang’s Cruel Tales from the Thirteenth Floor, just out from the University of Nebraska Press, is his latest contribution in this area. Donald Nicholson-Smith has been dubbed Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government in recognition of his services to French literature in translation, and this year he was awarded the French-American Foundation’s fiction translation prize for Manchette’s The Mad and the Bad. At present he is at work on a collection of poems self-selected by the Moroccan author Abdellatif Laâbi.

Aude Rouyère is Professor of Public Law at the Université de Bordeaux, where she directs the CERDARE (Centre d’Etude et de Recherche sur le Droit Administratif et la Réforme de l’Etat). She teaches public law and legal theory at the Université de Bordeaux and at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Bordeaux, and has also taught at the University of Cairo, the University of Athens and at the University USAL in Buenos Aires. One aspect of her research focuses on the study of notions, concepts, and principles in public law (dispensation, the principle of equality, the rule of law, decentralization, public legal personality, the legal construction of public policies). She has also worked on fundamental freedoms law and administrative litigation. A further area of research concerns the law on the civil responsibility of public persons and medical law.

Marianne Rubinstein is a French novelist and Associate Professor of Economics at Université Paris 7 – Denis Diderot. She has written a number of essays, as well as novels for both children and adults. In 2002, she published Tout le monde n’a pas la chance d’être orphelin, an essay on the children of orphans of the Shoah, prefaced by the historian and lawyer Serge Klarsfeld. In C’est maintenant du passé, published in 2009, she further explores the subject of the Shoah and recounts the story of her father’s family. Rubinstein is also the author of L’Economie pour toutes, which received the 2014 Prix Lycéen “Lire l’économie”. Her novels include En famille (2005), Le Journal de Yaël Koppman (2007), and Les Arbres ne montent pas jusqu’au ciel (2012). Rubinstein was a resident author at the Librairie l’Atelier (Paris 20e) in 2010–11, and was recently in the US for a Bourse Stendhal. Since 2015, she has been working on a new book, with the city as its starting point. Detroit represents the collapse of the old capitalism but also a laboratory for experimentation, shaping a new economic system atop the ruins of an older one.

Luc Sante was born in Verviers, Belgium. His other books include Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, and most recently, The Other Paris. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Grammy (for album notes), an Infinity Award for Writing from the International Center of Photography, and Guggenheim and Cullman fellowships. He has contributed to The New York Review of Books since 1981, and has written for many other magazines. He is the visiting professor of writing and the history of photography at Bard College and lives in Ulster County, New York.

Jennifer Scappettone is a poet, translator, and scholar. Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice, her study of the outmoded city of lagoons as a crucible for experiments across literature, politics, the visual arts, and urbanism, was published by Columbia University Press in 2014 and named a finalist for the Modernist Studies Association’s annual book award. She edited and translated Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli, winner of the Academy of American Poets’s Raiziss/De Palchi Prize, and curated Belladonna Elders Series 5: Poetry, Landscape, Apocalypse. Poetry collections include From Dame Quickly (Litmus, 2009) and Exit 43, an archaeology of landfill and opera of pop-ups, forthcoming from Atelos Press; a letterpress palimpsest, A Chorus Fosse, is forthcoming from Compline. She is Associate Professor at the University of Chicago.

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