From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Oulipo stands for "Ouvroir de littérature potentielle", which translates roughly as "workshop of potential literature". It is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians, and seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. It was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Other notable members include novelists like Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, poets like Oskar Pastior or Jacques Roubaud, also known as a mathematician.
The group defines the term 'littérature potentielle' as (rough translation): "the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy".
Constraints are used as a means of triggering ideas and inspiration, most notably Perec's "story-making machine" which he used in the construction of Life: A User's Manual. As well as established techniques, such as lipograms (Perec's novel A Void) and palindromes, the group devises new techniques, often based on mathematical problems such as the Knight's Tour of the chess-board and permutations.