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John-Antoine Nau

 Poet

John-Antoine Nau was the pen-name of Eugène Torquet (1860-1918). He was born to French immigrant parents in San Francisco, and when his father died of typhus in 1864, he returned to Le Havre in France with his mother and siblings. He went to school in Rouen and then Paris, where his mother had moved after re-marrying. After leaving school, he moved in literary circles, joining the Hirsute Club, whose members were precursors of the symbolist movement. A piece by him, signed J-A Nau, appeared in the first issue of the influential Chat noir magazine. To escape his family’s plan for him to settle down as an office clerk, Nau ran away to sea aboard a sailing ship trading with the West Indies. He returned home after surviving a major storm, later described in his novel Force Ennemie, which was published in 1903 and won him the Goncourt Prize. He married in 1885 and travelled extensively with his wife, publishing a collection of poetry Au seuil de l’espoir in 1897. For the rest of his life, he hardly spent a year in the same place and continued to publish poetry and novels until his death in Rouen aged 57. A book of his poems, with illustrations by Henri Matisse, was published in 1972.

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