by Andrea Kutsenkow, Archivist, AFS Intercultural Programs

Between the 1970s and 2010, Marc Chénetier was one of the greatest scholars in contemporary U.S. literature in France. His influence on the way U.S. contemporary literature was taught, translated, and promoted cannot be over stressed, but did you know one of his earliest introductions to U.S. culture was made possible through AFS’ post-war student exchange programs?

Marc Chénetier with French publisher Christian Bourgois and U.S. writer Richard Brautigan, in Bourgois’s office with, in the background, drawings of Walt Whitman, Arthur Rimbaud or Jack Kerouac, 1970s. Digital image courtesy of Sophie Vallas, Professor of U.S. Literature at the University of Aix-Marseille

Chénetier, after hearing about AFS through one of his teachers at the Lycée in Blois – a teacher who had also encouraged him to make trips to Great Britain — applied and was accepted to AFS’ 1963-1964 Winter Program. That year AFS welcomed 2,822 students from 59 countries, including 84 participants from France. Chénetier found himself surrounded by numerous churches and corn fields as he spent his last high-school year with an American family in Crown Point, Indiana, a rural town located about an hour and a half away from Chicago. Living in a small Midwest community of roughly 6,000 inhabitants, as well as trips to Chicago; Gary, Indiana; and Wisconsin and Michigan for hunting and fishing provided him with a host of rich, puzzling, and inspiring experiences. Chénetier’s arrival to the U.S. during the start of the 1963 school year was also undoubtedly unforgettable as he witnessed firsthand Americans mourning the loss of John F. Kennedy, a young president who had between 1961 and 1963 addressed AFSers in Washington, D.C. before they headed back to their home countries and applauded them for their efforts in promoting a more peaceful and just world.

After AFS, Chénetier would go on to become a professor at the École Normale Supérieure, and later at Paris-7 Diderot. He was an invited professor at several universities in Great Britain, Switzerland, Hungary and the U.S., including Stanford, Princeton, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Virginia. Additionally, he was a member of the prestigious Institut Universitaire de France, an instrumental founder of some of the leading French and European research centers on U.S. literature, and a translator of U.S. poetry and fiction for some of the most distinguished publishing houses in France.

Years later Chénetier returned to his AFS roots when he acted as a panelist at a memorial tribute to John C.B. Hawkes, a poet and AFS volunteer ambulance driver during World War II. The tribute was held at Brown University on April 14, 1999.

So others can learn more about Chénetier’s extraordinary life and many achievements, his rich archive is in the process of being curated by scholars in U.S. literature at the University of Aix-Marseille and will be made available to researchers thanks to a creative website under construction. It will contain numerous digitized documents, including Chénetier’s published and unpublished works, drafts, work files, correspondence with more than a hundred U.S. writers over a 50-year span, photographs, recordings of interviews and public events, as well as the archive of a famous translation prize (the Prix Maurice Edgar Coindreau). It will be structured to offer an organized and curated presentation of Marc Chénetier’s life, career, and prodigious work. Thank you to Professor Sophie Vallas who kindly informed the AFS Archives of this remarkable project in early 2023.

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