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Stéphanie Chevrier and Laurence Faron discuss the Livres des deux rives tour in the Maghreb

It was very interesting to meet and hear about our colleagues, French and Moroccan publishing houses for young people.

Stéphanie Chevrier and Laurence Faron are the directors of La Découverte and Talents Hauts, respectively. They took part in tours organised in the Maghreb countries by the Institut français, as part of the Livres des deux rives programme. This aims to support dialogue between civil societies on both sides of the Mediterranean, through cooperative actions based on books. 

Updated on 19/04/2023

5 min

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Laurence Faron
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Laurence Faron © DR

Could you introduce yourselves and your respective organisations to our readers?

Laurence Faron: Talents Hauts is a publishing house largely dedicated to young people created in 2005. We are independent and publish around twenty-two to twenty-five titles a year, for different audiences: from the youngest readers to teenagers, with a few forays for adults too. We have about 300 titles in our catalogue, and are distributed by Harmonia Mundi Livre, including in North Africa. Our books are regularly translated, particularly in Latin America and China. We have developed expertise in decoding sexist stereotypes, hence our slogan: "Books that shake up preconceived ideas."

Stéphanie Chevrier: I am president of La Découverte, a publishing house dedicated to human and social sciences and essays, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Our main themes include feminism, gender, post-colonial studies and ecology. Last year I also became the director of Julliard Editions, a literary imprint that publishes literary fiction and non-fiction in French and foreign languages. Since its creation nearly 80 years ago, it has brought us great French writers such as Françoise Sagan, Nicolas Bouvier or Georges Perec, and in recent years Jean Teulé, Philippe Besson and Philippe Jaenada. 

 

As part of the Livres des deux rives project, you took part, along with other publishers and authors, in tours organised in autumn 2022 in the three Maghreb nations. Stéphanie Chevrier, you went to Tunisia and Laurence Faron to Morocco: what do you both remember from your participation in these events?

Laurence Faron: This project consisted of a study trip and discussions with professionals. In my case, I went to Casablanca and Tangier with Marion Achard, author of a novel for teenagers, Le peuple du chemin. In a rather original fashion, I was accompanied by two other publishing houses for young people: Thierry Magnier and Les Fourmis Rouges. It was very interesting to meet and hear about our colleagues, French and Moroccan publishing houses for young people. There are not many publishing houses specialising in children's books in Morocco, and their working methods are different from ours because the market is less structured than in France, especially in terms of distribution. These meetings contribute to the training of our counterparts, in order to facilitate a common language and bring our practices closer together. The cultural visits to Tangier and the meetings with art schools in Tangier were also intended to introduce us to a pool of talent.

Stéphanie Chevrier: I felt it was important for La Découverte to take part in this project, as our catalogue has long been appreciated and supported by the Tunisian - and more widely North African - book trade and intellectual world. It was therefore an opportunity to meet publishers, booksellers, translators, and other people from the cultural sphere and civil society. Thanks to them, I gained a better understanding of the Tunisian book ecosystem, even though we have been facing difficulties on both sides for several years, especially in terms of translation and distribution. These meetings will probably lead to some collaborations, which are currently under discussion.

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Stéphanie Chevrier
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Stéphanie Chevrier
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It was interesting to discuss directly with local stakeholders in the book world to see how we can find solutions to make our authors known and read. And also to get to know the publishing industry in the Arab world.

The price of books imported from France to the Maghreb is often prohibitive for local readers: what tools do you think would be appropriate to allow a wider distribution of your books in the southern Mediterranean?

Laurence Faron: Bank guarantees would be useful to facilitate the transfer of translation rights from French to Arabic, in addition to the translation grants provided by Instituts français. Experiences of co-publishing are more difficult, it seems.

Stéphanie Chevrier: In Tunisia, we had discussions with very dynamic booksellers, well aware of French publishing activity in the fields of both literature and social sciences. We even discovered a bookshop that had many La Découverte titles in paperback. In talking with the owner, I realised that he knew the history of the company and our catalogue well, from the oldest to the most recent titles. But the bookshop trade is not easy in the current economic situation in the country. People and families cannot afford to buy books at our selling prices. It was therefore interesting to discuss directly with local stakeholders in the book world to see how we can nevertheless find solutions to make our authors known and read. And also to get to know the publishing industry in the Arab world. 

 

Laurence Faron, Talents Hauts publishes a catalogue of engaged children's literature, in particular about decoding sexist stereotypes: how has this catalogue been received by the Moroccan publishers you have met?

Laurence Faron: I had chosen some of my titles, and I had deliberately excluded others. In particular, novels dealing with homosexuality, because I knew that this was a subject that would not be accepted in Morocco. So there was a form of self-censorship on my part, which I accepted and which was pragmatic. On the other hand, as far as sexist stereotypes, feminism and gender equality are concerned, we spoke about them with local partners without difficulty. But I did note during certain exchanges that there was a boundary that should not be crossed. 

 

You each travelled with an author during your trips to Tunisia and Morocco: what do you remember about the meetings they had, especially with young audiences?

Stéphanie Chevrier: We had the opportunity to meet people from civil society and an association dedicated to ecological practices, but also high school and university students and their teachers. These were invigorating and interesting moments of exchange for the three of us - Philippe Boursier and Soufiane Hennani, the two authors I was travelling with. We also discussed publishing, authors, the ecological crisis, migration and gender studies. Issues that were familiar to this young, attentive and curious audience. 

 

The Livres des deux rives programme also rests on the fact that the Arabic language is still rarely translated, despite a very large number of speakers and potential readers on both sides of the Mediterranean. What do you think is the reason for this, and how can it be remedied?

Laurence Faron: This issue has given rise to some very interesting discussions with local publishers on bilingualism, vernacular Arabic, etc. In this area, political considerations are paramount, as the choice of language of education and teaching has a direct impact on production and access to readership. In the field of illustrated books for young people, the relationship between text and image is complicated by the direction of writing, but this constraint is also a source of creativity.

L'institut français, LAB