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Essex based Professor Philip Terry receives Book of the Year honour

08 Jan Essex based Professor Philip Terry receives Book of the Year honour

An Essex book celebrating France’s longest-lasting literary group has been named one of the Books of the Year by the Times Literary Supplement (TLS).

The Penguin Book of Oulipo, by Professor Philip Terry, was named in the prestigious list twice, by authors Mark Ford and Gabriel Josipovici.

Professor Terry’s anthology brings together 100 examples of Oulipian works.

Founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, Oulipo is a style of writing characterised by the development of new literary constraints, the most famous being the lipogram where certain letters are omitted.

All literature has constraints – sonnets have fourteen lines, novels are divided into chapters – Oulipo’s originality is that it invents new ones, then offers them to writers to use if they want to.

The group has generated a great variety of works, from Georges Perec’s e-less La Disparition to Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

We talked to Professor Terry about his inspiration for the book and how Oulipo is more relevant today than you might think.

What inspired you to write about Oulipo?
“In February 2018 I received an email from Simon Winder at Penguin Books asking me if I’d be interested in curatiing an anthology on the Oulipo group. This sounded too good to be true, and at first I suspected a wind-up. The clue was in the name, I thought: Winder.

“‘What should I do?’ I asked one of my closest friends, Liz Vasiliou. ‘Just say ys,’ she replied, with a nod to Perec’s e-less novel.

“Simon Winder it turned out was an inspired senior editor who had been involved in many of the innovations that have recently reinvigorated the Penguin list, such as the Penguin Freud. It was a coincidence that the commission arrived during the ongoing Brexit negotiations, but I was pleased to be bringing some European culture over the channel just as we were leaving the EU.”