Ken Bugul, whose official name is Mariétou Biléoma Mbaye, was born in Ndukumane, Senegal, in 1948. In Wolof, her tribal language, the pseudonym means "nobody wants her". In Senegal, women who give birth to stillborn babies or children incapable of surviving usually bear this name. As the daughter of an 85-year-old Marabout, an Islamic holy man, Bugul grew up in a polygamous environment. She attended a French school, studied at the University of Dakar and then stayed in Belgium on a grant. She returned to her homeland in 1980.
During her search for cultural identity, Bugul rediscovered Islam. At the age of 32 she voluntarily entered the Marabout’s harem in her home village (as his 28th wife). She saw this as an opportunity to make a new spiritual beginning. Soon afterwards, however, following the death of the patriarch, she returned to urban life, first in Dakar, then in Benin. She married a doctor and had a daughter. Today Bugul is an art dealer and lives in Porto Novo, Benin.
Her first novel, ´Le Baobab fou´ (´The Abandoned Baobab´), is her only work so far available in German, published as ´Die Nacht des Baobab´. It caused an international sensation. The novel was on the West African best-seller list for many months. The fact that author and narrator share the same name reveals the autobiographical nature of this work. It culminates in the heroine’s bitter recognition that she is "not wanted" in Western Europe either, although she had once longed to live there. The return to her homeland is her salvation: "I had tried to spite myself, I had almost succeeded, but were the stakes worth the risk? I had come to my senses in time." The author therefore casts a critical eye on both her colonized homeland, increasingly deprived of its identity, and the reality of a free, supposedly open, multicultural society.
While the author identifies almost wholeheartedly with her narrator in her debut novel, in ´Riwan ou le chemin de sable´ she approaches her authentic experiences of life in a Marabout’s harem from the perspective of three different characters: the young, latest bride-to-be, Rama, the emancipated, European-educated narrator, and Riwan, who has gone insane. This novel was awarded the Grand Prix litté-raire de l’Afrique noire.
Bugul has published four novels to date. Her most recent book, ´La folie et la mort´, was written as a reaction to the genocide in Rwanda.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)
Nouvelles du Sénégal
With Nafissatou Dia Diouf, Boubacar Boris Diop, Khadi Hane, Collectif. Editions Présence Africaine
La pièce d´or
UBU éditions. First published 2005
De l´autre côté du regard
Les Editions du Rocher
La folie et la mort
Présence Africaine: Paris
Riwan ou le chemin de sable
Présence Africaine: Paris
Cendres et braises
The Abandoned Baobab: The Autobiography of a Senegalese Woman
The University of Virginia Press: Charlottesville
Le Baobab fou
Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines: Dakar
´Le Baobab fou´ won the prize by QBR Black Book Review ´one of Africa’s 100 best books of the twentieth century´