Fawzia Zouari

Women no longer write today by deception and to survive, like Scheherazade after Shahriar’s sentence. They write because it has become a necessity.

The author of several novels with sometimes autobiographical leanings, Franco-Tunisian writer Fawzia Zouari has spent almost two decades exploring the place of women in Mediterranean societies. 

Published on 21/01/2022

5 min

The daughter of a sheik — an authority figure responsible for the transmission of religious knowledge — Fawzia Zouari was the first of her sisters to access a real education. After studying literature in Tunis, she came to France in 1979 and began a doctorate. Her thesis focused on Valentine de Saint-Point, grand-niece of Lamartine, a futurism figure and a performance pioneer, and acted as a starting point for her first novel, La Caravane des Chimères (The Caravan of the Chimeras, 1990). After ten or so years at the Arab World Institute, where she worked notably at the Qantara review, in 1996 she joined the weekly publication Jeune Afrique, for which she still writes today. Meanwhile, she published numerous novels, mainly on the condition of Maghreb women, like the highly acclaimed Le Corps de ma mère (My Mother’s Body, 2016), that earned her the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie the following year. 

Fawzia Zouari appears very attached to both her Muslim and secular identity, but above all to the French language. She details this approach in Molière et Shéhérazade (2018), where she declares that “the French language accepted me unconditionally while I explored the following paradox: Can I say my mother in the language of another mother?” She admitted, upon publication of her novel Le Corps de ma mère (2016), that she needed to wait for the Tunisian Arab Spring to feel able to write about certain aspects of her family’s past in fiction. Several of her works also tackle the question of the place of women in Maghreb society, like La Deuxième épouse (The Second Wife), published in 2008. 

Fawzia Zouari regularly appears in the media and has published numerous opinion pieces, notably on the question of the place of women in Mediterranean societies. In “Pour un féminisme méditerranéen” (For a Mediterranean Feminism, 2001), she highlighted the necessity for feminism to “escape the rigid divide of Nordic feminism and from the agenda of excluding Islamist women”. This is a middle ground that she reaffirmed in her book Je ne suis pas Diam’s (I am not Diam’s, 2015), referring to the converted French rapper, where she recounts that after initially opposing the legislation on wearing veils, she is now in favour of it. Fawzia Zouari nevertheless doesn’t define herself as a militant writer, and has stated several times that she prefers to speak for herself and explore her own inner questions through her novel writing. Since 2017, she has been behind the Parlement des écrivaines francophones (Parliament of Francophone Women Writers) as part of Voix d’Orléans - Rencontres de la Francophonie. 

  • 1955


    Born in El Kef, Tunisia.

  • 1979


    Arrival in France for a doctorate in French and Comparative Literature at the Sorbonne.

  • 1990


    La Caravane des Chimères, her first novel, on the figure of Valentine de Saint-Point.

  • 2016


    Le Corps de ma mère, awarded the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie.

  • 2017


    She launches the Parlement des écrivaines francophones.

The Institut français and the writer

As part of the Livres des deux rives programme, Fawzia Zouari facilitates a traduction workshop between French and Arab languages in Tunis at the end of January. 

Livres des deux rives is a programme, executed by the Institut français, that aimes to promote dialogue between civil societies from both shores of the Mediterranean by supporting cooperation around books. 

Learn more about the Livres des deux rives programme 

L'institut français, LAB