Assia Djebar

(1936- )

Assia Djebar was born in Cherchell, a sea port town on
Algeria’s Mediterranean coast. She attended a French primary school where her father taught French, then attended a private qur’anic school. From 1946 -1953, she studied Latin, Greek and English at the Collège de Blida, and completed secondary school studies in Algiers. The following year, with her father’s blessing, she left Algeria for the Lycée Fénélon in Paris, and became the first Algerian woman to be accepted at the École Normale Supérieure.

In June 1957, she published her first novel, La soif, which she had written in a two months. The novel was translated into English and published in the US. At this time she changed her name from Fatma Zohra to Assia Djebar.

In 1958 she married and Ahmed Ould-Rouïs, a member of the Algerian Resistance and left France with him first to Switzerland then to Tunisia. There she worked as a journalist and collaborated in her writings with Frantz Fanon. After the bombings of Sakiet Sidi Youssef, she interviewed Algerian refugees in Tunisia; her 4th novel Les Alouettes naives, retraces this period. In 1962 she returned to Algeria to write about the first days of Algerian independence for the French newsmagazine L’Expresse. Later that year she was appointed Professor of History at the University of Algiers, where for many years she was the only Algerian teaching history.

She was divorced in 1975, and in 1981 she married the poet Malek Alloula.

From 1985-94, she was appointed to the Algerian Cultural Center in Paris, where she organized a conference on the works of Mohammed Dib. During this period she published Ombre Sultane, and Loin de Medine.

In 1993 a political conflict began in Algeria which led to war like conditions and assassinations of prominent persons, including Djebar’s brother-in-law.

Djebar was appointed in 1997 professor and director of the Center for French and Francophone studies of the Louisiana State University. In 2001, Djebar joined New York University as Silver Chair Professor of French and Francophone studies.

Her many awards and honors include :

1979 Biennale di Venezia, Italy for the film La nouba des femmes du Mont-Chenoua.
1985 Prix de l’Amitie France –Arabe, Paris, for L’amour, la fantasia
1989 Literaturpreis, Frankfurt, for Ombre Sultane
1996 International Literary Neustadt Prize, USA, for Contributions to World Literature
1997 Marguerite Yourcenar Prize, USA, for Oran, langue morte
1999 Prix se la Revue Francaise, Canada, for Ces voix qui m’assiègent
2000 Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels, Frankfurt
2005 Pablo Neruda Prize, Naples
2006 Grinzane Cavour Prize, Turín, Italy

Djebar is a member of the Académie Royale de Langue Francaise de Belgique and a member of the Académie Française. In 2005 Djebar became a member of the French Academy. Her major novels have not been translated into Arabic, but English translations are read by a wide audience in Europe and in North America.

Djebar is frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Works by Assia Djebar:

La soif, 1957
Les impatients, 1958
Women of Islam, 1961
Les enfants du nouveau monde, 1962
Les alouettes naïves, 1967
Poèmes pour l"Algérie heureuse, 1969
Rouge l"aube, 1969
La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua, 1979 (film)
Les Femmes d"Alger dans leur appartement, 1980 - Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (trans. by Marjolijn De Jager)
La Zerda ou les chants d"oubli, 1982 (film)
L"Amour, la fantasia, 1985 - Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade (trans. Dorothy S. Blair)
In Ombre sultane, 1987 – A Sisters to Scheherazade (trans. Dorothy S. Blair)
Loin de Medine (Far from Medina), 1991
Chronique d"un été algérien, 1993
Le blanc de l"Algérie, 1995 - Algerian White (trans.Marjolijn De Jager, David Kelley)
Vaste est la prison, 1995 - So Vast the Prison (trans. Betsy Wing)
Oran, langue morte, 1997
Les nuits de Strasbourg, 1997
Ces voix qui m"assiègent, 1999
Filles d"Ismaël dans le vent et la tempête, 2002 (musical drama in five acts)
La Femme sans sepulture, 2002
La disparation de la langue française, 2004