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Joy Sorman & Catherine Lacey in Conversation ONLINE EVENT Albertine Bookstore/French Embassy

Rachida Madani

Rachida Madani, a native of Morocco, has published several volumes of poetry in French, a language she also taught for thirty years. A lifelong political militant, she expresses her resistance: "not by shouting slogans and waving banners. I fight with my words."

Tales of a Severed Head (Yale University Press 2012) translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker, is a finalist for the 2013 Poetry in Translation Award, sponsored by the PEN American Center. Tales of a Severed Head reveals the essence of Madani’s literary endeavor — to highlight storytelling as an empowering act for a modern woman seeking to define her role in a world plagued by poverty, corruption, human rights abuse, and the lingering effects of colonialism.

Through her writing, Madani also transcends literary stereotypes. Her ‘Scheherazade,’ a voice that Madani breaks into many voices, angrily laments the history of modern Morocco and particularly the fate of its leftist intellectuals. Abdellatif Laâbi has long celebrated the thunderous arrival of Rachida Madani’s poetry in the world of Moroccan literature.


Rachida Madani was born in 1951 and lives in Tangiers, Morocco. She received a bilingual education in French and Arabic. Her advanced studies were in French literature. Her first collection of poetry, Femme je suis, was published in France in 1981 by les inéditions Barbare. Her second collection, Contes d'un tête tranchée, was written between 1981 and 1984, and was published in Morocco in 2001 by Les Editions Al-Forkane. Blessures au vent, a volume comprising both of her earlier collections, was published in Paris by Les Editions de la Différence in 2006, along with Madani's first novel, L'Histoire peut attendre. She is currently working on a new book of poems and a second novel, having in the interim made her début as a painter. Sections from Contes d'une tête tranchée (in Marilyn Hacker's translation) have appeared in various journals in the United States and Great Britain, including Words Without Borders, Banipal, Magma and Callalloo.


Rachida Madani regularly gives poetry readings. The performances and lectures she offers include:

  • Short talks about her work followed by a discussion with the audience.

  • Readings of her work with musical accompaniment. She often reads her poetry accompanied by a band of Moroccan musicians.

  • Discussions with American poets, or with professors specialized in themes related to her writing (e.g. ‘la condition féminine au Maroc,’ ‘les revendications sociales,’ ‘les problématiques littéraires que soulève l'écriture en langue française pour des auteurs maghrébins’).

  • Creative writing workshop of poetry (in French).

She can speak English during the discussion, but prefers to give academic lectures in French.

A video of Madani reading with translator Marilyn Hacker


Novels:L’histoire peut attendre, Editions La Différence, 2006

Poetry:Femme je suis, Barbares, 1981

Contes d’une tête tranchée, Editions La Différence, 2005Translated by Marilyn Hacker as: Tales of a Severed Head, Yale University Press, 2012

Ces deux livres sont réunis dans le recueil : Blessures au vent, Editions La Différence, 2006


Excerpts from Tales of a Severed Head:

On jadaliyya.com, here

In Asymptote Journal: Poem “The Second Tale”, here

In Word Without Borders, here

« Femme je suis avait résonné en son temps comme un prodigieux cri de guerre et d’amour. Le cri d’une femme, certes, mais surtout d’une poétesse de race qui venait jeter un pavé dans la mare de l’ordre littéraire ambiant. Poète des mauvais jours, selon sa propre expression, elle a creusé avec rage le mur du désespoir, ne sachant pas (ou sachant) qu’elle nous mettait ainsi “un soleil à portée de main”. Vingt ans plus tard, elle revient avec un autre brûlot, Contes d’une tête tranchée. Un livre qui prend à la gorge et aux tripes et ne lâche le lecteur qu’une fois qu’il a bien assimilé la visée de Rachida Madani : faire en sorte que son cri rende “impraticable le chemin de l’oubli”. »

Abdellatif Laâbi, dans son anthologie La Poésie marocaine de l’Indépendance à nos jours