The death of the publisher Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens

Photo: Daniel Morodzinski
A discoverer, it is without a doubt what was Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens.

The founder of éditions P. O. L. died Tuesday in a car accident, at the age of 73. The height of the publication of The vie mode d’emploi Perec, the discoverer knew to bring together writers, very different, around a personal taste of a big requirement.


The literary scene in French just change abruptly. Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens was killed on January 2 in a car accident, on a road of Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe. He was 73 years old. With him, his wife, Emmelene Landon, painter and writer, has been injured. Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, initials of P. O. L., the name of the collection, and the publishing house that he founded in 1983, was a great editor. For some it was even the last, one of these captains to the charisma indisputable, able to federate the writers are very different, and to accompany them so that they perform confidently in their work. Less intimidating than Jérôme Lindon, the less florentin, Christian Bourgois, with whom he had worked at its inception, in 1969, less provocative than Claude Durand, less bourgeois than most and more attractive than many, Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens was a unique aura in the publishing sector. It’s hard to speak of him in the past, just in time to get out the new books of Nathalie Azoulai, René Belletto, Nicolas Fargues, Mathieu Lindon, Christine Montalbetti, and Jean Rolin.


Go game


A discoverer, it is without doubt what it was, first of all, curiosity, speed, and fidelity are qualities essential to construct a catalog, develop it, make it live. Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens was reading the manuscripts he received, with an appetite that nothing could stop, if this is not the recommendations that the unwary deemed it useful to attach to their text. He liked to be alone in front of a text, which did not stop him then ask for his advice to Jean-Paul Hirsch, his accomplice. He also liked to be the first, even though he admitted willingly that he was far from being done every time. One day, he was not quick enough : when Emmanuel Carrère, in 1982, has sent by mail his first novel, he tarried, and when he telephoned the author of The friend of the jaguar, to tell him that he loved his book, it was too late, Flammarion had edged. They are caught up since. The following year, Emmanuel Carrère has followed the founder of P. O. L., three letters surmounted by seven pellets nested, four black, three white, a figure of the game of go, the Ko (or ” Eternity “), in homage to Perec, who put it in a chapter of La vie mode d’emploi.

It has happened that I published fifteen books of an author before the sixteenth meeting his public. I start from the idea that even a book that is not selling is a useful book, and that, if he only has a few readers, they will be important for following things. A book that reads a lot, it’s nice, but the others also have their role to play, be it with writers.
Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, the interview in “Duty” in 2013

In 1977, after having created the collection “Texts” published by Flammarion, where he has hosted authors that he publishes today, such as Bernard Noël, Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens for five years at Hachette : it is under the label “Hachette-P. O. L.” that he edited in 1978, the masterpiece of Georges Perec, this Life-mode of employment, which remains, with The pain of Marguerite Duras (1985) the stick of marshal. For all of its young authors to come, it’s going to be first this man : the one who has been the publisher of Georges Perec, as Jérôme Lindon was that of Samuel Beckett. This is the case, in 1988, the doctor was born in 1955 which address The vacation, under the name of Martin Winckler, edited with success the following year, monitoring of The disease Sachs. This is the case of Nina Yargekov, born in 1980. She remembered to Release in 2016, interviewed at the output of Dual citizenship : “When Paul [Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, P. O. L.] has accepted my first book, as you can imagine, the big issue, when he said yes, I went for a drink to celebrate, and I thought : I’m published by the man who published La vie mode d’emploi. A incredible thing. “


The authors of “Paul” at Hachette-P. O. L. followed : René Belletto, Renaud Camus, Marc Cholodenko, or even Emmanuel Hocquard, and stayed. The challenge for the editor who became his own boss in 1983, will be to welcome new writers while continuing to publish those that are already there. The first novel by Camille Laurens (Index, 1991), Marie Darrieussecq (Truisms, 1996), Nicolas Fargues (The tower’s owner, 2000), Lise Charles (As Ulysses, 2015), join the works of Claude Ollier, Charles, Juliet, or of Leslie Kaplan. Apart from this constant renewal, and this remarkable stability (only one or two separations are well known, such as the departure of Camille Laurens), how to define such a pool of talent, of temperament, of writing ? There are the poets of yesterday and today, Dominique Fourcade, Pierre Alféri, Charles Pennequin : P. O. L. is one of the few publishers of poetry. There are prosateurs delicate and nondescript, poets also, and philosophers, if we want to : Liliane Giraudon, Nathalie Quintane, Emmanuelle Pagano, most recently Joël Baqué. Regardless of the debates between the proponents of the fiction, of the fiction or what is now called the literature of the real, of which Emmanuel Carrère is the great representative. Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens does not believe that literature, in all its forms, and to hell with the stories.


What is common between the theorist Jean-Louis Schefer, and the traveller Jean Rolin ? Between the oulipian Harry Mathews and the extravagant Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam ? Between the explorer of the language Valère Novarina and the novel Julie Wolkenstein ? Between Olivier Cadiot and Célia Houdart, Christian Prigent and Nicolas Bouyssi ? There is no “line” P. O. L., which looked forward to regularly Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, happy to never be where it was expected. It was, in itself, the guarantor of the continuity and the coherence of the whole.




The emotion, very strong since the announcement of its demise was made official, is fed also to a concern underlying. What will become of the house ? Gallimard is the main shareholder. “I had the chance,” said Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens in Télérama in 2013, to have had, throughout my career, partners who have played the game : Flammarion first, and then a financier for years, Gallimard over the past ten years. Be backed by Gallimard allows me, when P. O. L. passes through more difficult years, to continue to lead my editorial policy. Because if we change the editorial line as soon as it goes wrong, it is safe to move to the disaster. “There is no doubt that Gallimard has to heart to ensure that on this sign. But it is difficult to imagine who can be the successor to the founder of P. O. L.


It would take a man or a woman capable of such a sacrifice without limits. That opens the vault of the publishing house to the author so that it deposits her precious books. That way in the middle of the night to go to console an unhappy. That doeth violence to his discretion legendary to recommend to journalists in a novel that it would be wrong not to read. Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens was ready to all the dedications to help and defend the writers P. O. L. This individual charming was absolutely uncompromising. On the other hand, he had the reputation of not doing rework by the authors, which boast the publishers usually. Release had asked the question in 2003, and he answered this : “You can not imagine an art dealer saying to a painter, you put me a little more red here, or a little more green. […] I accept or I refuse a book, and if I have the feeling that something is not right, I’m part of the author, who corrects, or not. A book is like a living organism. You the review three years after, they are not the same passages you do, the economy of your reading has been changed, so we have to be careful. I’m a smuggler, that’s all. “