February 15, 2012



The “Ouvroir de literature potentielle” or Oulipo group is made up of mostly French-speaking poets, fiction writers, mathematicians, and others who create works using constrained writing techniques such as lipograms, palindromes, and more complex systems, many of them created by its members.

Founded on November 24, 1960 as a subcommittee of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique, the group was originally named the Séminaire de literature expéimentale, but at the suggestion of Albert-Marie Schmidt, it changed to Oulipo upon its second meeting. The idea of the group came from Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, and its members reported back to the full Collège. Over the years the group has met on occasion, but its influence has been enormous as several international figures such as American writers Walter Abish and Gilbert Sorrentino, Wendy Walker, and Tom LaFarge have taken up and employed some of its techniques.

The original founding members included Noël Arnaud, Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, Jacques Duchateau, Latis, François Lionnais, Jean Lescure, Raymond Queneau, Jean Queval, and Albert-Marie Schmidt. In 2005 the list also included Valérie Beaudouin, Marcel Bénabou, André Blavier, Paul Braffort, Italo Calvino, François Caradec, Bernard Cerquiglini, Ross Chambers, Stanley Chapman, Marcel Duchamp, Luc Etienne, Frédéric Forte, Paul Fournel, Anne Garetta, Michelle Grangaud, Jacques Jouet, Hervé Le Tellier, Harry Mathews, Michèle Métail, Ian Monk, Oskar Pastior, Georges Perc, Pierre Rosenstiehl, Jacques Roubaud, and Olivier Salon. Dead members remain on the Oulipo list, but are excused from meetings.

A website inspired by the group appears at http://www.constrained.org With Alistair Brotchie, Harry Mathews has edited and published an Oulipo Compendium.

--Douglas Messerli

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