Assia Djebar (1936 - أسيا جبار) was born Fatma Zohra Imalayen in Algeria to parents from the Berkani tribe of Dahra. She adopted the pen name Assia Djebar when her first novel, La Soif (Hunger) was published in 1957, in France where she was studying at the Sorbonne.
In 1958, she travelled to Tunis, where she worked as a reporter alongside Frantz Fanon, travelling to Algerian refugee camps on the Tunisian border with the Red Cross and Crescent. In 1962, she returned to Algeria to report on the first days of the country's independence.
She settled in Algeria in 1974, and began teaching at the University of Algiers. In 1978, she made a feature film with an Algerian TV company, The Nouba of the Women on Mont Chenoua, which won the critics' prize at Venice. Her second feature, La Zerda, won a prize at Berlin in 1983. In 1995, she took up an academic post at the University of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, and in 2002 was named a Silver Chair at New York University. She is a member of the Belgian Royal Academy and of the Academie Française.
She published her first four novels in France, between 1957 and 1967. These were followed by her Algerian quartet, of which three titles are complete to date, and by her three "novels of exile." Djebar has also published short stories, essay collections and two libretti. All of her writing is in French.
Djebar has often looked pessimistically women's ability to change an overbearing patriarchy. In the autobiographical VASTE EST LA PRISON (1995, So Vast the Prison) the narrator links her own life as a modern, educated Algerian woman, with the traditions of her female notable ancestors and the history of Carthage, a great civilization the Berbers were once compared to. The protagonist is 36-year-old Isma, a musicologist and filmmaker, who realizes: "We think the dead are absent but, transformed into witnesses, they want to write through us."
Djebar taught history for many years at the University of Algiers. She won the Neustadt Prize for Contributions to World Literature in 1996 for perceptively crossing borders of culture, language, and history in her fiction and poetry. In 1997 she received the Yourcenar Prize and in 2000 the prestigious Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels. Djebar was appointed in 1997 professor and director of the Center for French and Francophone studies of the Louisiana State University.
Since Fall 2001, Djebar has been Silver Chair Professor of French and Francophone studies at New York University. Djebar is a member of the 'Académie Royale de Langue Francaise de Belgique. In 2005 Djebar became a member of the French Academy. Her major novels have not been translated into Arabic in her native Algeria, but English translations are read by a wide audience in Europe and in North America. For many years, Djebar has been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
(Translated from French to English)