It is the birthday of French existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre (books by this author), born in Paris (1905). Among his most well-known works: No Exit, Nausea, and The Roads to Freedom trilogy.
Unlike his existentialist colleague Albert Camus — who achieved something akin to movie star status in their homeland of France with his traditionally handsome looks — Sartre stood just five feet tall, had a lazy eye, and dressed in oversized clothes.
Still, Sartre caught the attention of a young woman by the name of Simone de Beauvoir as the two studied for the national competitive exam for a career as a schoolteacher. Sartre scored first in the class, and Beauvoir a close second. The two began a lifelong intellectual and romantic courtship. Beauvoir would herself become a prominent philosopher and feminist scholar.
Shortly after their meeting, Sartre was drafted into the French army to serve as meteorologist. He was captured by the Germans and kept as a prisoner of war for nearly a year. He became an outspoken Marxist, though not a communist; in fact, he was one of the first to point out human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. He was also anti-colonialist, opposing French occupation of Algeria.
He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature, but became one of only two laureates in the prize’s history to decline it. He said that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.”