Four Tunisian Women Writers You Should Know

In the summer 2017 issue of The Charles River JournalTunisian poet-journalist-translator Ali Znaidi, who is also the editor of our sister site Tunisian Literature (in English), wrote a dispatch about the 2017 Tunis Book Fair. Because of the strong scene of women writers in Tunisia, the majority of writers Znaidi discussed were women:

With permission from Znaidi and The Charles River Journal, a list for Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth) of four Tunisian women writers you should know.

Houyem Ferchichi:

Znaidi describes a talk organized by award-winning Tunisian novelist Kamel Riahi, who was one of the “Beirut39” best Arab writers under 40, to discuss “the aesthetics of the image in short story writing.” The talk moved around the experiences of Ferchichi and Fatma Ben Mahmoud.

Houyem Ferchichi, Znaidi writes, “is a literary journalist and short story writer. She has published her short stories and poems in numerous Tunisian and Arab literary magazines. She is the author of several short story collections, including The Scene and the Shadow and Secret Tattoos.”

From Znaidi:

Ferchichi considers the individual experience very important in creating beautiful images and scenes in short stories. Ferchichi highlights the importance of living and appropriating the situations the writer wants to convey in short stories or novels. According to her, this gives credibility to the narrative text. On the contrary, Fatma Ben Mahmoud believes that writers can employ fictional images without the necessity of living them. She strongly stresses the fact that writers can search for the aesthetics of the image in short story writing in the realistic experiences and lives of other people.

Ali Znaidi’s translation of Ferchichi’s short story “Or’s A’Dib” (“The Wolf’s Wedding”), reviewed by France Meyer, appears this month, in issue 34 of the Australian journal The Lifted Brow. 

Fatma Ben Mahmoud:

According to Znaidi, “Fatma Ben Mahmoud is a poet and fiction writer. She worked as a philosophy teacher at Tunisian secondary schools. Then, she joined journalism because she loves writing. She writes prose poetry, flash fiction, and essays. She is mostly known for her micro poems and flash poetry. Her language is characterized by simplicity and at the same time by high levels of semantic density and richness. She has published three poetry collections, including Another Desire Doesn’t Interest Me, What the Poem Hasn’t Said, and The Rose Which I Don’t Name. As for prose, she has published a collaborative short story collection with Moroccan writer Abdallah Al Mouttaqi titled Dreams Extending their Fingers . She has also published a fictional autobiography titled A Woman at the Time of the Revolution.”

Znaidi has translated several poems by Ben Mahmoud.

Besma Maroueni:

Znaidi writes that, “despite difficulties in the book sector and the publishing industry, there is an increase in Tunisian poets. Publishing houses also publish several books of poetry each year. There is also something of a buzz around Tunisian poetry as some poets have been at some reputable international poetry festivals despite the lack of translation.”

About Maroueni, he writes that she has “poems published in numerous Tunisian and Arab literary magazines” and “released her second poetry collection titled Revelations on the Edge of Abstraction. Her first poetry collection, A Cresset on the Clouds’ Roof was released in 2014. Revelations on the Edge of Abstraction is a collection redolent of mystic scents and imbued with Sufi images and ideas which are generated from a romantic diction.”

In this collection, Znaidi says, “Maroueni takes adventure in abstraction to reach the ecstasy of thought, while singing her repressed joy.” Znaidi translated a few lines:

Trees hug the moon’s neck.
The sea fertilizes the womb of the beaches.
The sky’s breasts drip wine out of the clouds.
I write down the prophets’ messages in the resurrection books.
Life is not a prostitute for death’s body.

Reem Gomri:

Reem Gomri recently released her second poetry collection, titled I Tattooed My Amulets on My Body.

Znaidi writes: “It is a 140-page collection bringing together 28 poems, most of them prose poems.” He translated a few lines from Gomri as well:

Where did I come from?
They named me without asking my permission.
They bequeathed me their bodies’ curses,
then said,
“This is your heritage.
Live in peace with it and smile!”

Tunisian women writers to know, whose work is available in translation, include: Rachida al-Charni (in The Granta Book of the African Short Story); Amina Said (The Present Tense of the World: Poems 2000-2009), Samar Samir Mezghanni (Holm Fi Hadeekat Al-Hayawanet); and Laïla Koubaa (Azizi and the Little Blue Bird).

Read more at The Charles River Journal. 

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