Three to Read: Maghrebi Women Writing in Dutch

The Maghrebi-Dutch authors best-known in English are probably acclaimed Moroccan-Dutch writer, playwright, and journalist Abdelkader Benali, Moroccan-Dutch short-story writer Hafid Bouazza, and the award-winning Moroccan-Dutch poet Mustafa Stitou. All three are accomplished authors whose work should be more widely translated, but for Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth), we focus on three gifted, genre-pushing Maghrebi women writing in Dutch: 

Rachida Lamrabet

Lamrabet was born in the Rif region of Morocco in 1970 but traveled to Belgium with her parents in 1982. In 2006, her short story “‘Mercedes 207” was awarded the Kleur de kunst! prize by “Kif Kif,” and it was included in the anthology Kif Kif: New Voices from Flanders. Her first novel, Vrouwland (Woman Country), was published in 2007 and won the Flemish Debuutprijs.

Most recently, she won the 2020 Ultima Award For Literature for her novel,  Tell Someone, which centers on the story of a Moroccan soldier who fights alongside the French in the First World War. Her book was praised by the jury for its “poetic descriptions, with great attention to detail as well as with nuance and precision.” 

She has apparently stirred controversy in Belgium with public statements in support of women’s rights to dress as they choose, and was apparently ousted from her job as a lawyer in 2017 for signing petitions that criticized Israel.

Read: Two works by Lamrabet have appeared in Banipal. One was her brilliant short story “Ammetis, the Sleeper,” which is a fresh, yet ultimately hopeful, look at the parent/child relationship. The other is available online, translated by Sherry Marx.

Naima El Bezaz (1974-2020)

El Bezaz, the author of several best-selling books, was born in Meknes in 1974 and emigrated to The Netherlands with her family when she was four years old. She left university to focus on her writing.

Her most popular works included the best-selling and prize-winning novel De weg naar het noorden (The Road to the North, 1995), which was published when she was just 21, and her best-selling short-story collection Minnares van de duivel (The Devil’s Mistress, 2002).

She was also known for her novel De verstotene (The Outcast, 2006), which directly criticized religious teachings, and for the semi-autobiographical work, Het Gelukssyndroom (The Happiness Syndrome, 2008), in which she wrote about her struggles with depression.

But it was her novel Vinexvrouwen (Vinex Women, 2010) — a ruthless examination of the lives of the suburban women of Vinexwijk — that was perhaps her best-known work.

Read: An excerpt from The Happiness Syndrome, tr. Susan Ridder, in Banipal 35: Writing in Dutch. Naima El Bezaz’s short piece “Taboo,” also appeared in Stinging Flytranslated from the Dutch by Michael O’Loughlin.

Lamia Makaddam

Makaddam (@lamiamakaddam) was born in 1971 in Sousse, Tunisia and began writing and publishing poetry at an early age. She has published two collections of poetry, and her work has been translated into English, French, Dutch, and Kurdish. In 2000, she won the Dutch al-Hizjra Literary Prize. She also works as a translator.

Her poems “Poetry was created to solve family problems”, “Love makes woman a man and man a woman”) appeared in World Literature Today in 2018, translated by Miled Faiza and Karen McNeil; three poems appeared in Banipal in 2006, and four poems (“The bread seller”, “If I ever wrote poetry”, “A short skirt”, “Something must break in the end”) appeared in Banipal in 2017.

Read: The two poems at World Literature Today are available online.

Other Maghrebi-Dutch women writers

A number of other Maghrebi women write in Dutch, including the spoken-word poet Siham Amghar, popular novelist Najoua Bijjir (The Whispering), and the 2019 winner of the El Hizjra Literatuurprijs, Morraya Benhammou.

However, their writing has yet to be translated to English.