He was born in Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel, Switzerland and at age 15, he left home to work for a jewel merchant that provided him with the opportunity to travel. Throughout his life he spent much of his time traveling, visiting such places as China, Mongolia, Siberia, Persia, the Caucasus and Russia.
In 1910, he moved to Paris, France where he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Greatly influenced by Apollinaire and his world travels, Cendrars would create a style based on photographic impressions, themes, and reflections in which nostalgia and disillusion were blended with a boundless vision of the world. In 1913, he demonstrated this through his lengthy poem titled in English as "The Prose of the Transsiberian and of the Little Jehanne of France" in which he described his world journey.
His writing career was interrupted by World War I when he fought in the French Foreign Legion. He was sent to the front line in the Somme where from mid-December 1914 until February 1915 he was in the line at Frise (at La Grenouillère and the Bois de la Vache). He described this experience in his famous books "La main coupée" ("The Severed Hand") and "J'ai tué" ("I have killed"). It was during the bloody attacks in Champagne in September of 1915 that Blaise Cendrars lost his right arm and was discharged from the army.
After the war, he became involved in the movie industry in Italy, France, and the United States. Needing to generate sufficient income, after 1925 he stopped publishing poetry and focused on novels or short stories.
Blaise Cendrars became an important part of the era of artistic creativity going on in Montparnasse at the time, his writings a literary epic of the modern adventurer. He was friends with Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller plus many of the writers, painters, and sculptors living in Paris. In 1918, his friend Amedeo Modigliani painted his portrait.
During World War II, tragedy struck when his youngest son was killed in an accident while escorting American planes in Morocco. In occupied France, the Gestapo listed Cendrars as a Jewish writer of "French expression."
In 1961, Cendrars was awarded the Paris Grand Prix for literature. Most of his works were translated into English including the long poem "Le Panama ou Les Aventures de Mes Sept Oncles" translated by John Dos Passos and published in the United States in 1931.
Blaise Cendrars died in Paris.
Selected stories and novels