Ken Bugul

Ken Bugul
© Olivier Barlet

Ken Bugul is a Senegalese writer who lives in Africa, where her soul is anchored. She has had an exceptional life. Silvia Voser's film shows her as an iconic figure of the female condition and of relationships between Africa and the West.

Ken Bugul is considered one of the most brilliant writers in Senegalese and French of these past decades. Over the years, thanks to her great command of the French language and the uncompromising care she takes with the wording of the meaning of Wolof vocabulary, her mother tongue, her novels have become absolute references in the realm of linguistic studies. "What you read in French in my novels is how we think and speak in Wolof in my village".

Ken Bugul's personal story is overshadowed by Africa's turbulent history. She was born in 1947 in an isolated village in Senegal, at that time a French colony. Her father was 85 years old and her mother left them before Ken turned five. This was a fundamental event in Ken Bugul's life. In spite of lacking a mother's love, she was full of energy and a yearning for freedom, and she received an exceptional education for a village girl of that time. In 1971, she left for Europe to go to university and there she met people from the upper middle class and discovered new ideologies and liberties, modern art, drugs, alcohol, loneliness, incomprehension and disdain, and prostitution to relieve her need for affection. As she says in "The Abandoned Baobab": "For twenty years all I had learned was their thoughts and their emotions. I thought I'd have fun with them, but I ended up even more frustrated. I identified with them, but they didn't identify with me."

She came back to Senegal, a broken, lonely and penniless young woman. People thought she was crazy and she was rejected by her family and society. For two years, she slept in the streets of Dakar, hanging out with outcasts, beggars, prostitutes and artists. Dirty, hungry, almost naked, she started writing her first novel, "The Abandoned Baobab". Worn out, she decided to go back to her family. And there, in her mother's village, she found refuge with the Serigne (marabout), a wise and much respected man. He took her as his 28th wife, enabling her to re-enter society, and he supported her in her desire to write and to be free.

He died in 1981, a year before the publication of her first novel, "The Abandoned Baobab", which was an immediate success. Ken Bugul was invited to present her book all over the world. She met a doctor from Benin, married him and moved to that country, where she gave birth to their daughter Yasmina. Her husband passed away four years later.

For the past thirty years, novel after novel, Ken Bugul has painted a picture of her life as a woman, of her loves, of the relationship between her continent and the West. "To write", she says, "is to dazzle the senses, and the senses are colourless."

Mariètou MBAYE was born in Ndoucoumane (Senegal). Presently she divides her time between Porto Novo (Benin) and Dakar (Senegal).
From 1986 to 1993, she worked for the NGO IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Foundation) in Nairobi, Kenya; Brazzaville, Congo; and Togo.
Honorary recognitions: Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic
She decided to become a writer in 1993 and published the following novels since then:

Le Baobab Fou
NEAS, Senegal, 1982
Translations: Lawrence Hill Books: The Abandoned Baobab (USA)
2007 Reprinted by Virginia Press (USA)
Unionsverlag: Die Nacht des Baobab (Switzerland)
Die Gekke Baobab (Netherlands)
Zanzíbar: El baobab que enloqueció (Spain)

Cendres et Braises
L'Harmattan, Paris 1994

Riwan ou le Chemin de sable
Présence Africaine, Paris, 1999
Won the Grand Prix Littéraire of Afrique Noire 1999
Selected as one of the 100 Best African Books of the Century, 2002

Translations: Zanzíbar: Riwan o el camino de Arena (Spain)
Castoldi Baldini Dalai: La Ventottesima Moglie (Italy)

La Folie et la Mort
Présence Africaine, Paris 2000
Translation : El Cobre: La Locura y la Muerte (Spain)

De l'Autre Côté du Regard
Serpent à Plumes Paris, 2003
Translations: Editor PIW (Poland)
Castoldi Baldini Dalaï: Dall'altra parte del cielo (Italy)

Rue Félix Faure
Hoebeke, Paris, 2005
Translation: Editor Piw (Poland)

La Pièce d'Or
UBU, Paris 2006
Translation : Castoldi Baldini Dalaï: La Moneta d'Oro (Italy)

Mes hommes à moi
Présence Africaine, Paris, 2008

Aller et Retour
Athéna, Dakar, 2014

Présence Africaine, Paris, 2014


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  • Arterial network
  • Media, Sports and Entertainment Group (MSE)
  • Gens de la Caraïbe
  • Groupe 30 Afrique
  • Alliance Française VANUATU
  • Zimbabwe : Culture Fund Of Zimbabwe Trust
  • RDC : Groupe TACCEMS
  • Rwanda : Positive Production
  • Togo : Kadam Kadam
  • Niger : ONG Culture Art Humanité
  • Collectif 2004 Images
  • Africultures Burkina-Faso
  • Bénincultures / Editions Plurielles
  • Africiné
  • Afrilivres

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