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Kateb Yacine (August 2 1929 or August 6 1929October 28 1989) was an Algerianmarker writer notable for his novels and plays, both in French and Algerian Arabic dialect, and his advocacy of the Algerian Berber cause.


Kateb Yacine was officially born on August 6 1929, but it is more likely that his birth occurred four days earlier. He was born in Constantinemarker, but his birth was registered in Condé Smendou (presently Zighout Youcef). Born as Yacine Kateb, he once said that he was so used to hearing his teachers calling out names with the last name first that he adopted Kateb Yacine as his pen name when publishing.

He came from a scholarly maraboutic Berber family from Djebel Nador in eastern Guelma Provincemarker, called Kheltiya (or Keblout), a family which had been arabicized then scattered during the colonial period. His maternal grandfather was the 'bach adel', or deputy judge of the qadi in Condé Smendou (Zirout Youcef). His father was a lawyer, and the family followed him through his various assignments in different parts of the country. Young Kateb (which means 'writer'), attended the Sedrata Quran school in 1937, then in 1938 the French school in Lafayette (Bougaa) in Little Kabyliemarker, where the family had moved. In 1941 he enrolled in the colonial 'collège' (secondary school) of Setifmarker as a boarder.

Kateb Yacine was in his third year at the collège when the May 8 1945 demonstrations occurred. He participated in these demonstrations that ended with the massacre of between six and forty-five thousand Algerians by the French army and police. Three days later he was placed under arrest and imprisoned for two months. From that point on he became a partisan for the nationalist cause. Expelled from secondary school, watching his mother's psychological health decline, passing through a period of dejection and immersed in the writings of Lautréamont and Baudelaire, his father sent him to the high school in Bône (Annabamarker). There he met 'Nedjma' ('the star'), an 'already married cousin' with whom he lived for 'maybe eight months', as he later acknowledged.

While living with Nedjma he published his first collection of poetry in 1946. He had already become 'politicized' and started giving lectures under the auspices of the PPA, 'the great nationalist party of the masses'. Yacine went to Paris in 1947, "into the lion's den" as he put it.

In May 1947 he joined the Communist party and gave a lecture in the 'Salle des Sociétés savantes' on emir Abd al-Qadir. During a second visit to France the following year he published 'Nedjma ou le Poème du Couteau' ('a hint of what was to follow') in the revue 'Le Mercure de France'. He was a journalist at the daily 'Alger républicain' between 1949 and 1951, his first great reportages coming from Saudi Arabia and Sudan (Khartoum). After returning to Algeria, he published (under the pseudonym Said Lamri) an article denouncing'swindling' at the holy place of Meccamarker.

After his father's death in 1950 Yacine worked as a longshoreman in Algiersmarker. He returned to Paris where he would stay until 1959. During this period in Paris he worked with Malek Haddad, developed a relationship with M'hamed Issiakhem, and, in 1954, spoke extensively with Bertold Brecht. In 1954, the revue Esprit published Yacine's play 'Le cadavre encerclé', which was staged by Jean-Marie Serreau but was banned in France. 'Nedjma' was published in 1956 (and Kateb will not forget the editor's comment: "This is too complicated. In Algeria you've got such pretty sheep, why don't you talk about your sheep?"). During the Algerian war for independence Yacine was forced to travel abroad for a long time due to the harassment he faced from the DSTmarker. He lived in numerous places, subsisting as a guest writer or working various odd jobs in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia and the USSR.

After a stay in Cairomarker, Yacine returned again to Algeria in 1962, shortly after the independence celebrations. He resumed writing for the 'L'Alger républicain' but traveled frequently between 1963 and 1967 to Moscow, France and Germany. 'La Femme sauvage', which he had written between 1954 and 1959, was performed in Paris in 1963. 'Les Ancêtres redoublent de férocité' was staged in 1967 and 'La Poudre d'intelligence' in Paris in 1968, then in dialectal Arab in Algiers in 1969. In 1964 Yacine published six essays on 'our brothers the Indians' in 'L'Alger républicain' and recounted his meeting with Jean-Paul Sartre while his mother was being committed to the psychiatric hospital in Blidamarker ('La Rose de Blida', in 'Révolution Africaine', July 1965). He left for Vietnam in 1967, completely abandoning the novel and wrote 'L'Homme aux pieds de caoutchouc', a controversial play celebrating Ho Chi Minh that was published, performed and translated into Arabic in 1970.

The same year Yacine returned to make a more permanent home in Algeria. During this period he had a significant change in philosophy: he refused to continue writing in French, and instead began working on popular theatre, epical and satirical, performed in dialectal Arab. Beginning this work with the theatre company 'Théatre de la Mer' from Bab El Oued in 1971,sponsored by the Ministère du Travail et des Affaires Sociales, Kateb traveled all over Algeria for five years, putting on plays for an audience of workers, farmers and students. His main shows were entitled 'Mohamed prends ta valise' (1971), 'la Voix des femmes' (1972), 'La Guerre de deux mille ans' (1974), 'Le Roi de l'Ouest'(1975) and 'Palestine trahie' (1977).

Between 1972 and 1975 Kateb went with the tours for 'Mohamed prends ta valise' and 'La Guerre de deux mille ans' to France and to the German Democratic Republicmarker. The Algerian government in Sidi-Bel-Abbesmarker more or less sentenced him to direct the city's regional theatre as a kind of exile. Having been forbidden to appear on television, Yacine staged his plays in schools or businesses. He was often criticized for his emphasis on Berber tradition and the 'tamazight' language, as well as for his liberal positions on issues of gender equality such as his position against women being required to wear a headscarf.

In 1986 Kateb Yacine circulated an excerpt of a play about Nelson Mandela, and, in 1987 he received the Grand prix National des Lettres in France.

In 1988 the Avignon Festival staged 'Le Bourgeois gentilhomme ou le spectre du parc Monceau', a play about Robespierre that Yacine wrote at the request of the Arrasmarker Cultural Center for the bicentennial commemoration of the French Revolution. Yacine settled in Verscheny in Drômemarker, and traveled often to the United Statesmarker and continued to make frequent trips to Algeria. At his death he left an unfinished work on the Algerian riots of October 1988. In 2003 his works are admitted to the Comédie-Françaisemarker.

Taught in the language of the colonizer, Kateb Yacine considered French the Algerians' spoil of the war for independence. He declared in 1966 that "Francophony is a neocolonial political machine, which only perpetuates our alienation, but the usage of French language does not mean that one is an agent of a foreign power, and I write in French to tell the French that I am not French". Trilingual, Kateb Yacine also wrote and supervised the translation of his texts into the Berber language. His work manifests his multicultural country's search for identity and the aspirations of its people.

Kateb Yacine is the father of three children, including Amazigh Kateb, singer for the band Gnawa Diffusion.


Books by Kateb

  • Soliloques, poèmes, Bône, Ancienne imprimerie Thomas, 1946. Réédition (avec une introduction de Kateb Yacine), Alger, Bouchène, 1991, 64 pages.
  • Abdelkader et l'indépendance algérienne, Alger, En Nahda, 1948, 47 pages.
  • Nedjma, roman, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1956, 256 pages. (English translation by Richard Howard, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991, ISBN 0813913128 and ISBN 0813913136 [pbk.])
  • Le Cercle des représailles, théâtre, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1959, 169 pages [contient Le Cadavre encerclé, La Poudre d'intelligence, Les Ancêtres redoublent de férocité, Le Vautour, introduction d'Edouard Glissant : Le Chant profond de Kateb Yacine].
  • Le Polygone étoilé, roman, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1966, 182 pages.
  • Les Ancêtres redoublent de férocité, [avec la fin modifiée], Paris, collection TNP, 1967.
  • L'Homme aux sandales de caoutchouc, hommages au Vietnam et à Ho Chi Minh, théâtre, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1970, 288 pages.
  • Boucherie de l'espérance,oeuvres théâtrales, [quatre pièces, contient notamment Mohammed prends ta valise, 1971, et Le Bourgeois sans culotte], Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1999, 570 pages. ISBN 2020339056
  • L'Œuvre en fragments, Inédits littéraires et textes retrouvés, rassemblés et présentés par Jacqueline Arnaud, Paris, Sindbad 1986, 448 pages (ISBN 2-7274-0129-9).
  • Le Poète comme un boxeur, entretiens 1958-1989, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1994. ISBN 2020221934
  • Minuit passé de douze heures, écrits journalistiques 1947-1989, textes réunis par Amazigh Kateb, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1999, 360 pages. ISBN 2020387301
  • Parce que c'est une femme, introduction de Zebeïda Chergui, théâtre, [contient un entretien avec Kateb Yacine avec El Hanar Benali, 1972, La Kahina ou Dilhya; Saout Ennissa, 1972; La Voix des femmes et Louise Michel et la Nouvelle Calédonie], Paris, Editions des Femmes, 2004, 174 pages.

Introductions and prefaces

  • Les Fruits de la colère, préface à Aît Djaffar, Complainte de la petite Yasmina
  • Les mille et une nuit de la révolution, préface à Abdelhamid Benzine, La Plaine et la montagne
  • Les Ancêtres redoublent de férocité, préface à Tassadit Yacine, "Lounis Aït Menguellet chante…", textes berbères et français, Paris, La Découverte, 1989; Alger Bouchène/Awal, 1990 [dernier texte de Kateb Yacine, addressé à Tassadit Yacine le 29 septembre 1989, un mois avant sa mort].

  • Kateb Yacine also wrote many prefaces for his painter friends, M'hamed Issiakhem (Œil-de-lynx et les américains, trente-cinq années de l'enfer d'un peintre) et Mohammed Khadda.

On Kateb Yacine

  • Hommage à Kateb Yacine [with a detailed bibliography by Jacqueline Arnaud], Kalim n° 7, Alger, Office des Publications Universitaires, 1987, 264 pages.
  • Ghania Khelifi, Kateb Yacine, Eclats et poèmes, [chronology and many documents], Alger, Enag Editions, 1990, 136 pages.
  • Kateb Yacine, Eclats de mémoire, documents réunis par Olivier Corpet, Albert Dichy et Mireille Djaider, Editions de l'IMEC, 1994, 80 pages (ISBN 2-908295-20-2).

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