Alain André: Do our early readings matter for the way we write and teach?

In this lecture presented in our II International Pedagogical Conference in Finland (October, 2014), Alain André encouraged the audience to think about their own «autobiographies as readers» as part of that «intimate knowledge» that connects us —not only intellectually but affectively— with literary writing and teaching.  «If we’re teaching literature and Creative writing, maybe it’s because of such encounters with books». Throughout two key prompts and few strategic questions, André sketches a path of initiation towards a deeper reflection about our literary influences and the way they might concern our creative and pedagogical experiences

Do our early readings matter for the way we write and teach?

Alain André (Paris)

la guerre du feuOne of the key-points, in the initial training we’re delivering to young creative writing teachers in Aleph-Écriture, lies in their attitudes towards reading and literature.

What do they read or not?

How far do they feel legitimate in the literary field or do they feel terrified by the “monster” literature?

Which tools do they use, as it comes to reading complex texts?

In other words: what is their connection with literary knowledge?

I’ll have to come back about this connection, as a specialized aspect of a research field related to the more general concept of “connection with knowledge”.

Then I shall give a few examples of my work prompts in this area and finish with what I am discovering about myself as writing about my own readings when I was between 6 and 11 year old. It’s a work still in progress, probably a collection of both literary and theoretical fragments – an essay?

1. Our connection with literary knowledge

Initial teachers’ training

I’ve been training young teachers from 1987. Now we’ve got about fifty students every year. We had to build up a team of specialized teachers and a modular training system, with a ninety hours long basic training and a second ninety hours long specialized curriculum that depends upon each student’s professional project.

This initial training implies tools – a survival kit for teaching situations. It also implies a lot of experimenting and sharing about the posture: the way we live in it, its ethics and its horizons (it’s more important, by a long chalk, than technique).

The teachers and writers who helped me to give its shape to Aleph in the first years were coming from the so-called New Education. We tried to achieve something valuable from a constructivist point of view. We were aiming at the building, inside each student, of an “intimate knowledge”, a term later suggested by the American psychologist Albert Bandura, who esteemed the psychological structure of our knowledge gathers mental representations, affects and motivations. It means the posture we are using when transmitting this knowledge is as much important as the knowledge itself [1].

We first focus our teaching about locating a series of questions, as problems linked to specific situations that may be related and analysed. The basic training is then dealing with key-points that are worked through thanks to successive approaches, including prompts and writing, small groups work, role games, documentation research, mini-lessons and sharing.

The key-points are the following ones: (1) writing as a topic and as a process; (2) writing behaviours; (3) socialization and interactions; (4) giving feedbacks; (5) devices: holding a frame and group regulations; (6) professional gestures; (7) inventing and experimenting prompts; (8) reflexivity and pedagogical detours; (9) posture (accompanying & teaching); (10) evaluation. We also use 5 additional tools: a training diary, privileged readers, along with writing about practice and case studying; role-games; and a commented and shared bibliography.

the last of the mohicansOne of the main aspects in this training consists in helping the young teachers to locate and work through a few blind spots. One of them is the way they manage with their desires of teaching and writing, usually connected with both their writing difficulties and their connection with knowledge and transmission.

As I was teaching in this basic training, this is probably the beginning of this lecture, around 1993, one of the students who was first, from a professional point of view, a psychoanalyst, proposed not autobiographical fragments, but a tale. From this moment, I suggested the students to write a similar tale. A craftsman is moving to a new town and settling there. Across this town two rivers are flowing, as in Lyons for instance with the Rhône and the Saone, in Finland I wouldn’t know. From his new shop, the craftsman may look at one of the rivers. He discovers a ferryman is settling too nearby the river he may look at. Some time later, he’s looking at a traveller arriving near the ferryman and his boat. This traveller doesn’t look like any other one. You’ve got 7 minutes to imagine the scene. I sometimes ask my student to imagine: the craftsman, the shop, the ferryman and the strange traveller.

It is not necessary to sort of undress the metaphor of this tale with such an audience as Scriptum’s. When I tried myself to write a tale like that, I’d got a writer and a creative writing teacher, which is trite, but the fact is my unknown traveller was a reader. ]

I’m now teaching in a specialized session of this teachers’ training devoted to “literary texts”. The session is 54 hours long, organized in nine days (3 three-days long modules). They’re roughly devoted to:

  • Reading, as a desire and as a work;
  • Writing problems, with case-studies including oneself; and the way to help students come to rereading and rewriting;
  • And pedagogical invention (that is partly related to reading too, of course).

You can see how reading is important in this session. My idea is that our connection with reading is the main aspect of our connexion with knowledge in the field of literary writing.

Connection with knowledge

I am not saying our “relationship with knowledge” because this concept of “connection with knowledge” has got a long history in French education sciences[2]. The term appeared in the sixties in the fields of psychoanalysis, critical sociology and adult training. Jacques Lacan used it first, then Pierre Bourdieu and a lot of other sociologists. In French, the way we say “rapport au savoir” comes from the Marxist tradition, where we for instance talk about the economical “rapports de production“. I’m trying to do the same when I’m using “connection” instead of “relationship”. It is a way to leave our affectivity away of the notion, or to lift it up to the questionable dignity of a concept.

pardaillanIt was then used in education sciences. Several groups of searchers began to work from a clinical point of view that includes the question of our subjective desire to know or not to know. They esteem connection with knowledge is slowly built up in a social context, including first the subject’s family, as well as his way inside school and other institutions delivering knowledge.

Other searchers then began to work about what they called our “connection with writing”. Christine Barré-De Miniac is the main one and I co-directed a research with her for the INRP (the French Pedagogical Research National Institute). This connection with writing may be defined as the combination of our social history with writing and of our effective writing attitudes and procedures [3].

Connection with reading

My point here is that our connection with reading means a lot for our connection with knowledge as writers and of course as teachers, which means as literary transmitters or “ferrymen”. The personal project of teaching literature and creative writing has a background, where lies a lively experience of reading.

How are we handing down our literary traditions and innovations? Do we feel legitimate when we’re doing it, or not? Michel Foucault, I apologize for all these French references, wrote (in: Archéologie du savoir / Archeology of knowledge, Gallimard, 1969): “A knowledge is what we may tell about it in a discursive practice that is therefore specified by this knowledge (…) A knowledge includes the place where the talking subject is able to adopt a definite position about the matters he is dealing with in his own speech.” [4]

Knowledge, here, is therefore closely linked to our speech, about literature and texts for instance, and to its possible powers. It’s used inside social interactions. It exists but through the action it allows. It is transmitted through a speech. It is a reflexive reality, implying the awareness of knowing.

That’s why I tried, in this session called “Literary texts”, to question and build up our young teachers’ self-confidence – some feeling of legitimacy – as readers and literature transmitters.

2. Building up young teachers’ self-confidence

I suggest to my students to write and talk about their mental representations and questions in the field, then to write from my prompts. I’d like to give one or two examples of these prompts about reading.

A small history of my readings (prompt 1)

tom thumbOf course, I’m not beginning with the technical aspects of reading and making feedbacks, but with the intimate connection young teachers have got with reading. I’m not still interested in the way they read, but in the way they’ve been read by the books they met, exactly as the narrator of Report about myself, by Grégoire Bouiller, is telling the way he was interpreted by Homer’s Odyssey: “Never before had I lived such an experience with a book. I was offering my face to the sun. Every verse had been written for me and was flowing into me, through my eyes and my ears. I was the act of reading itself. The Odyssey was decoding me. Everything was clear. Amazing coincidences emerged. My life was Ulysses’ life. Boarders were abolished. For instance, I’d known four loves in my short life, exactly as Ulysses did in the book. Everything was proved. Calypso, Circé, Nausicaa, Pénélope: I knew their faces. I’d even kept their pictures and phone numbers…”[5]

If we’re teaching literature and creative writing, maybe it’s because of such encounters with books.

Then I read one or two extracts of another book, by the poet Raymond Federman. I don’t know how to translate “coups de pompes” in English: in French it means both “a sudden access of tiredness” and a “strong kick in the ass”. Anyway, one of the included texts is “A short history of my readings”. I tried to translate the following extracts:

“When I was eleven, I was reading Jules Verne in the night under my blankets, with the help of a small electric lamp. I wanted to become Michel Strogoff. I was thinking that one day I’d live wonderful adventures and write novels as Jules Verne’s ones.

“When I was sixteen, I tried the Marquis de Sade. I wanted to know what exactly a real sexual enjoyment was. I was fed up with lonely enjoyment. I was thinking that one day everybody would tell that I was writing porno books as Sade did and I would be thrown to jail.

“When I was nineteen, I read my first novel in English – Dangling man, by Saul Bellow. Je didn’t want to become this poor guy in the novel, who appeared totally unable to make up his mind about anything. I wanted to speed along and fire into the brown, bang bang! I was thinking I would one day write a novel with guys who speed along and fire into the brown, not such a depressing novel.” [6]

And so on. Students then are invited to write such fragments, about a dozen of them. They may use the structure of the poet’s ones: an age, the memory of a book and a commentary – not a literary one: a commentary about the effect of the book, in terms of desire and identification. Of course, something else may happen: a film, or a painting or whatever.

Such a simple prompt initiates the writing of autobiographies as readers. It helps me to work with young teachers about what I sometimes call the Indian track or the “hidden side” of the creative writing workshop, a sort of equivalent of the Northern track for a mountain peak – a tabooed or hidden stake, anyway, for those who’re standing for the old tale about “spontaneous writing”. It’s also a way to establish a strong distinction between reading as an intimate and projective activity and reading as a stake of work and intellectual training. I insist upon the first one because the other, reading as a technical work, is the only one considered by school, I mean the French ones, especially at the worst possible moment, between 14 and 18, when teenagers are trying to find out who they are and to live sexual experiences instead of brainy ones.

A reading that changed my life (prompt 2)

the mysterious landBefore the next step, meaning close readings, poetics, feedbacks and all that, I therefore prefer to deepen the approach of this identification aspect. One of my favourite prompts, here, is centred about a book that changed your life.

It comes from what happened to me on the 7th of October, 1995. I’d planned to go and see the film Moonfleet, by Fritz Lang, in a Latin district of Paris cinema. A critique from the movie magazine Les Cahiers du cinema (Antoine de Baeque) was there, along with the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi. They’d just published a book entitled Le cinema des écrivains / Writers’ movies (Éditions de l’Étoile-Cahiers du cinema). It was gathering a lot of writers’ texts; each text was centred on one film that marked the writer’s life. The idea was to forget about critique and “initiate a conversation about shared emotions”. The writer then had to write not a critique but an intimate experience he lived with the film he’d chosen, sort of a letter or a personal story about a bedside film, if you like. A film does exist, explained the journalist, only if somebody writes about it.

Tabucchi was one of these writers. He told us he’d written about La Dolce Vita, by Federico Fellini. He’d watched it in 1961, as he was eighteen year old and living in Florence. At the time, he assumed Italy was a sort of post-fascist paradise. With the film, he realized how suffocating and narrow was the real Italian situation in the sixties. Nobody is saved in this film, neither the stupid bourgeoisie nor workers or intellectuals. He realized he needed a huge amount of fresh air and decided to spend a whole year in Paris. And there, as he was wandering along the river Seine, surrounded by two sides of second-hand books, looking at the stand of a bookseller, he found Bureau de tabac / The Tobacconist’s shop, an extraordinary poem written by Fernando Pessoa. Then this book changed his life again, as he decided to learn Spanish and Portuguese and write a thesis about Pessoa, who never stopped accompanying him into his writer’s life.

The prompt itself has got three steps. First, can you locate a book that changed your life, or at least exerted a real influence on it? It doesn’t matter whether it was recent or in your childhood or in your university years. It doesn’t matter if it’s a proletarian or popular book, because I’m not suggesting a decorative exercise. As another Antonio – Lobo Antunes – wrote it: “Important books are the ones we read as we were kids and, later, books that are not much from a literary point of view, as Antoine Blondin or John Updike for myself. I owe a lot to them, even if nearly nobody talks about them anymore”.

It doesn’t matter as well when your remember something else – not a book. It’s a secret I’m asking to share. Forget about your present literary norm. It’s a report from the Interior I’m asking for, from your Interior.

When it’s done, get nearer this book in a narrative way. Don’t name it. Try to find out when it was, where, Helsinki bar or Greek beach or Mexican village, in which atmosphere; and the precise moment when you bought the book, read the fourth page of the cover or opened it for the first time; and whether you were standing or lying. Work out the circumstances, even if you’ve to invent them a little bit, because anyway you will.

Try then to tell the story – if you change it, the change will be greatly significant, and maybe a good impulse for writing something. Don’t name the book yet. Try to tell the main passage if you can, or image, or verse or sentence. Try to give us a word about the repercussion the reading of this book had in your life.

Then, maybe you can add sort of a commentary. What book was it? What do you think about it now? What influence has he kept or not? Name it at last, or don’t.

Of course, I’ve got a lot of other prompts like that. I may ask the young teachers to build up their “erutarettil”, an old surrealist – and probably more widely used – practice that consists in imagining one’s own imaginary family-tree as a writer. “Erutarettil” is the same word as “literature”, in French, you just have to start from the last letter and go back to the original “e”. It refers to a page written by André Breton in the magazine Littérature (n° 11 -12, 1923), where poets, artists etc. he considered as sources for the Surrealist movement are mentioned.

Or I may ask for an inventory of literary debts, as the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marc-Aurèle was already doing it in his Thoughts for myself. Patrick Chamoiseau, for instance, did it more recently, in a book entitled Writing in a dominated country[7], where he tries to draw up an inventory of what literature had planned for himself, to help him find his own voice and way in spite of the French colonial and ideological and literary dominations.

A few derived questions

But I don’t want to get too far into these prompts. I’d just like to say that the following ones, when the main aim is to train young teachers, are devoted to a few recurrent questions, such as:

  • Which sort of reading do we need?
  • Is it important to have a good university background in classical literature or in contemporary literature or in linguistics or in poetics or…?
  • Is it a danger for a writer to read too much?
  • Are there some books that we must absolutely have read?
  • How can I manage with literary influences, in my writing and in my students’ writings?
  • Which are the most important literary tools for feedbacks?
  • How may I help, as a creative writing teacher, my students to find their own specific music or voice?

Sharing about them is the beginning of the building up of some tools and of more self-confidence. It may of course also lead to changes. Some students go to university, for a literature specialized curriculum or something else. Some revise their aims or audience. Some make up their minds: they want to write, not too teach.

3. About our personal connections with reading

Fish keep their eyes open

I’ve been teaching “Literary texts”, and reading of course about all that, for about 20 years. I never got bored, as I have got bored with a lot of other sessions (three to five times are enough).

As teaching, I was often taking notes about my own history as a writer and/or as a reader and a teacher: my own readings, the books that changed my own life, my own literary debts (generally producing this sort of literary family-tree, from Homer and Montaigne to Marcel Proust, Claude Simon and to the small myself, that I have to change every five years). I’ve been collecting those teaching diaries for a long time. I was even adding post-its at the very pages where I’d been writing something about my own writings and readings. But I hadn’t done much with them yet. Something else happened. During the summer 2013, I bought and read a small novella written by Erry De Luca. It was entitled Fish sleep with open eyes. No, it should have been Fish keep their eyes open, not “sleep with open eyes”. I guess readers are sleeping and dreaming with open eyes…

It is the story of the end of a childhood: the young hero is about ten. It’s obviously an autobiographical story, including a love story, including an initiation tale, including the writer’s self-portrait as a sixty-year old man. Growing up is a matriochka or a Russian dolls affair here, apart from the fact that the matriochka is a small moujik. In this novella, reading is a part of growing up, but I must confess the slow awakening to the excitements and flutterings of flesh and gender roles, was more important for me when I discovered the story.

I was with my daughter, six year-old or about, five at the time, in sort of a playing hall designed for children, where the owners had been wise enough to plan a bar and internet connections for the parents. I read this book three times since, but this afternoon of 2013, I used the 8 or 9 pages that had been left empty by the printer, at the very end of the book, to write about the similar period in my own life.

Going back to one’s own roots

I knew that a few periods are decisive in the progressive making of our connection with reading.

I might have dug the times when I was preparing the same school as Pierre Bourdieu did, with more success, some years before I did (he wrote a great small book about it[8]). I’ve been learning there most of the tools I’m using when I’m working on any literary text. I might have dug again the way we were taught to read and write commentaries and commentaries of commentaries in our secondary French schools. But Erri De Luca, in his own wonderful novella, had been writing about the end of childhood.

I wanted to do that my own way. It didn’t produce a love story, I’m afraid, even if sexual initiation plays its part, but I moved towards what I confusedly already knew, especially about the links between sexual desires and desires of knowing in general and desire of reading in particular… As a lot of you probably know, a psychoanalytic cure is not that much different: you discover what you already knew but didn’t really wish to know…

I decided to do three things: first write, forwards to sort of an exhaustion of my memory, about all the moments I could remember from the period I was living in this small village where my parents were the only schoolmasters and, unhappily enough, my own schoolmasters. It meant between 6 and 11, because at 11 I was imprisoned in one of the worst French state boarding schools and this sort of old-fashioned Bastille meant the very end of childhood.

The village stands along a river. It flows from the French Central Massif to Angoulême, Cognac and the old royal military harbour of Rochefort-sur-mer, still dreaming about the times when La Fayette left the place to help the American army against England. This was between 1955 and 1960. I was born at the very end of the first half of the bloody twentieth century: just a year after the last French concentration camp designed for Tzigans had been closed.

The second point was to write about a selection of pictures I’ve got from this period, thanks to the family album combined with a chronological logbook where my father was writing down the most significant events of our family life.

The third one was to write about… all the books I’d been reading at the same time. I had kept some and my mother had kept nearly all others. She’s 88 year old and she’s got memory problems but, when it comes to the times when my sister and myself were children, she instantly remembers every detail, even the precise month when I was reading such or such book…

The book I would write, then, would be organized from the links that would emerge between what would have been produced by this triple work. Its provisory title is: An intimate legend.


au ventI discovered reading helped me to realize four vital aims:

  • Survive and live, as a body, as a boy and as the son of schoolmasters. It meant life in the woods, if you allow me to make it short: neither home nor in the school, two places where my terrible father was ruling hard;
  • Learn, in my parents’ classes;
  • Talk, imagine possible speeches, especially in order to survive the wide family group out of the village, that counted thirteen schoolmasters and teachers, all of them politically left or extreme-left wing, which meant a place where you just couldn’t utter a single accepted word without an elaborated strategy;
  • And imagine some outer places were life might be pleasanter.

Well, but what did I read? Here is a list of my more strongly involved readings.

  • Tom Thumb. This tale was written in 1630 and later adapted for children. How to survive when you’re one inch tall, which exploits will you have to perform, will you be recognized and loved or will death be faster? In the tale, Tom is eventually loved but he dies.
  • The war of the fire (La Guerre du feu), by the French-writing but Belgian writer Rosny Aîné, a precursor or fore-runner of sci-fi literature in France and the unchallenged master of pre-historical novel. The decimated tribe of the Oulhamr are running away in the marshlands. They lost the fire cages. Two rival groups are sent to go and fetch the precious resource. The chief of the winning group will have the beautiful Gammla fro himself. It’s an initiation novel, of course, asking important questions: how to survive? Which sort of man become?
  • Au vent de fortune (On the wings of fortune?). It’s a story for young readers written by the totally unknown Michèle Massane. It’s an adventure novel, beginning on a French corsair ship. The hero is one of the ship-boys, Corsic (which means small corsair in the bask language). They discover an English boat, “The Indefatigable”. After a fight, the English boat explodes and the French one is sent to the bottom. Corsic succeeds in reaching another island. With the help of the English commander of the “Indefatigable”, abandoned there because he got the black plague, and of Anhoa, an Abenaqui Indian girl who was tied up and thrown to a sure death on a small wooden canoe, they succeed in reaching New France, now the East of Canada. The story ties two strong traditions in the adventure novel: the maritime one and the Indian one. It’s asking good questions: how to survive, how to become a man and, also, how to behave with other cultures, which begins with girls’ culture? It was my favourite book as a child. I think one should build a monument for unknown writers.
  • The Arkansas trappers. It was an adaptation again, from a novel written by Gustave Aimard, a French writer in the style of Eugène Sue or Paul Feval and others. He wrote a lot of western novels, along with maritime and popular ones. His life was nearly as dangerous as his heroes’ lives. This one takes place in Mexico and shows a real taste for unending plotting, mysteries and changes of fortune. It’s a drama, with Comanches this time.
  • The mysterious Island, by Jules Verne, the most-widely translated French writer. I did like the story, the balloon in the air, then the island they give the name of Lincoln to, without at the time understanding Verne was rewriting Robinson Crusoë, up to the discovery of Captain Nemo and the exploding volcano. It was long, a bit too didactic for the child I was, but it gave me the idea I might become a journalist as Gedeon Spilett was.
  • The Pardaillan, by Michel Zévaco. These are cloak and dagger novels again, in the tradition of Paul Féval, Jean Rostand, Eugène Sue, Ponson du Terrail and Alexandre Dumas. It refers to 15th century episodes, but all the books in this series were published at the beginning of the 20eth century. Zévaco was a Corsican. As Gustave Aymard, he had hard young years and an adventurous life. His hero, Pardaillan, is constantly serving the poor ones. In fact, these novels are deeply political ones.
  • Osceola the Seminole. Under the title Le roi des Séminoles, the French adaptation for young readers of this novel by Mayne Reid was one of the most important books in my life. It’s the 1st book I ever chose and bought. Forget about Abenaquis and Comanches, with this novel we’re in Florida with Seminoles. The hero is a young half-bred Indian called Powel, who will become the Seminole warrior Osceola, an historical character. I got there, with a real bunch of racialist stereotypes, pure youngsters and a war for survival and dangers everywhere and noble friendship and love as a reward.
  • The last of Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper. When I decided to read the original version of this very famous novel, that I only knew in my old adaptation for young readers again, I remembered the name of Uncas and that he was, more exactly, a Delaware, that is one of the Mohican tribes. This story is beginning in the very middle of the woods. Forest here plays the part of a character, maybe the main one.

Eight books mainly. Those I could identify the strong prints inside me. Three US ones, an English one, four French ones, I didn’t mean it. A pre-historical novel, a sci-fi one, a medieval tale, a cloak-and-dagger novel and 4 others related to the American West. I must confess my favourite ones, by a long chalk, are On the wind of fortune, that is well-written and combines maritime and Indian aspects, not forgetting war, conflicts and a love affair; and The war of the fire, because of its heroic and epic style.


So… I’ve been fed with popular literature. It means I’ve been supplied mainly with narratives, I was nearly shocked as I realized there was no poetry at all in that, and of course no music or painting.

I was also fed, however, with an educative literature. Most of these books are initiation novels, not only translated, but adapted for a younger audience. They were written mainly for a male audience, gender stereotypes are everywhere. My parents were struggling rather hard to avoid not the gender stereotypes but the pure domination of US by-products. Zévaco for instance, as a French anarchist, or Jules Verne, as a French writer, counterbalanced the American Cooper and Reid. Zévaco was an anarchist and a free thinker. I think all men in my family, my father, uncles and myself, were reading Zévaco as a part of the French Republic of the time.

I’ve been fed with a literature dealing mainly with the American West, as a straight result of the superiority of US tanks (I sincerely thank them for that). At my grandparents’ family house, I could connect myself with my father and my two uncles’ education, or with their sediments. They had been building miniature models of American, British and German military ships or aircrafts, they had been reading American comic strips, I was going on the same way. That’s a part of what meant to be born just after WW2. The blood stained fun fair hardly finished, I quested beauty through a cloak, a mask, a sword, an aircraft, or a forest and its glades.

As to this American influence, I must say Indians were everywhere and I hated the stupid cow-boys. What I needed was… to escape, and woods were the place for it, in my real life as well as in books. At the very end of The last of Mohicans, the good British soldiers win and the naughty Frenchmen lose, but I just didn’t mind at the time: my only hero was Uncas. I think I was connected to Indians exactly as, at school, I had been connected with the Gauls and the hairy Gaul instead of with the Romans and their capital. As Grégoire Bouillier did, I kept some proofs…

When I read the English original version of Osceola the Seminole, a few months ago, I was totally surprised to feel how much this literature, of which I wasn’t thinking much good from a literary point of view, nothing to do with James Joyce, Claude Simon or Georges Perec, was deep alive in myself. Maybe nothing is as straight or entire than the way a child gets identified, through his readings, with such or such character of the stories he’s totally swallowed up. I wasn’t making any difference between the stories I wanted to read and the stories I wanted to live. Sometimes I think my real life is just a dream compared with the harsh reality of these stories. I was identifying myself with heroes, as I went on doing it with writers who were literary heroes. Maybe my life is just the story of the successive arbitrations I had to make between my contingent experience and the life I was dreaming of.

Through this small research, I ‘m discovering up to what point I have been the son of French republican schoolmasters. For my parents, nothing was above knowledge, even religion or politics. They were militant teachers, standing first for the old standards, that were not that funny, then moving to post-68 libertarian pedagogues. But they were readers first, and they transmitted it to me, no doubt. What was legitimate in this family was knowledge and teaching. Creation on the contrary wasn’t pertinent at all. Literature was produced in another world, a far and invisible one, somewhere around the very centre of the world, I mean in Paris.

I realize that I nearly never wrote for children nor imagined to write a single adventure novel. There is one poor exception to the rule: a school manual called J’écris un roman d’aventures I write an adventure novel (Paris, Hatier, 1991).

I think all this experience as a child and a reader has been severely repressed, back in my unconscious, by my French literature teacher ego. Even when I was writing this manual in 1991, I didn’t realize how important this literature was for my intimate self.

I think the more I remember it the more I’m the writer I am. It confirms that writing and sharing about the genesis of one’s connection with reading might be one of the ways for us to become more conscious of our not so spontaneously built literary norms. And to keep some distance with them of course.

Does it matter for the way I teach?

It influenced my general posture as a teacher.

I’m still enjoying collective adventures. I like leading groups. I like it better when it looks like a quest for survival, with obstacles and problems to be solved. That’s why I’ve always been fond of small associations. I once was an Indian and an extreme-left militant and now I’m involved into two rather small tribes (Aleph-Écriture and EACWP).

I enjoy disappearing still, towards the deep forests, in order to breathe wider, and walk and settle down in a lonely shelter, then read and write. Probably it’s always the same childish dream: loving one’s mother and going on with the same conversation we had before I was even born, up to now, through the books…


[1] BANDURA, A., Auto-efficacité. Le sentiment d’efficacité personnelle / Self-efficiency. The feeling of personal efficiency, De Boeck, Brussels, 2002.

[2] A good introduction to the history of this concept may be found in a French book: Savoir, apprendre, transmettre. Une approche psychanalytique du rapport au savoir / Knowing, learning, transmitting A psychoanalytic approach of our connection to knowledge, by Françoise Hatchuel, Paris, La Découverte, 2005, 2007.

[3] BARRÉ-DE MINIAC, Christine, Le rapport à l’écriture – Aspects théoriques et didactiques, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, Lille, 2000.

[4] Archéologie du savoir / Archeology of knowledge, Gallimard, 1969.

[5] Rapport sur moi, Allia, 2002.

[6] Coups de pompes, Le mot et le reste, 2007.

[7] Écrire en pays dominé, Paris, Gallimard, 1997.

[8] Esquisse pour une auto-analyse, Raisons d’agir, 2004.

Alain André

alainandreAlain André is the vice-president of EACWP, in charge of pedagogical affairs. He organized the first EACWP International Pedagogical Conference in Paris (2012).

A former French literature teacher, he founded in 1985 the French writing school Aleph-Écriture <>. He teaches creative writing, accompanies groups of young writers involved in personal projects and is in charge of young creative writing teachers’ training. He’s one of the main contributors for the numerical collaborative creative writing French magazine L’Inventoire <>.

As a writer, he published novels (La Passion, dit Max / “Passion”, said Max, Thierry Magnier, 2007, or Rien que du bleu ou Presque / Only blue or almost, Denoël, 2000), short stories, creative writing manuals, scientific papers in French language didactics and essays about creative writing and its teaching: Babel heureuse. L’atelier d’écriture au service de la creation littéraire / Happy Babel. Writing workshops and literary creation, Syros, 1989 & Aleph-I-Kiosque, 2011, Devenir écrivain (un peu, beaucoup, passionnément) / Becoming a writer – a little, a lot or passionately?, Leduc.s, 2007 et Aleph/I-Kiosque, and Écrire l’expérience. Vers la reconnaissance des pratiques professionnelles / Writing about experience. Towards the recognition of professional practices, in collaboration with Mireille Cifali, Presses Universitaires de France, 2007 and 2012.