Celebrating the life’s work of Hédi Bouraoui

An international conference focusing on the life and work of York Professor Emeritus Hédi Bouraoui was held at York May 26 to 28. Sixty-five scholars from four continents attended the event, entitled Transculturel-Transpoétique: L’œuvre de Hédi Bouraoui.

Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1997, Bouraoui is a poet and novelist as well as an academic and cultural critic and essayist. He is also a former master of Stong College and former Chair of York’s Department of French Studies (1993-1998). He was recently named writer-in-residence at Stong College and in the Department of French Studies.

Best known for coining the term “transculturalism” in the 1970s, Bouraoui made it a dominant concept in the establishment of the Canadian identity: one of tolerance, liberty and independence. In French Studies at York University, Bouraoui designed curriculum in Maghrebian and Franco-Ontarian literatures, the first in Canada, as well as promoting Francophone studies in general. As master of Stong College 1978-1988, he initiated cross-cultural studies through the college curriculum, and forged links with the federal and provincial ministries of multiculturalism.

The Tales of Heritage (I and II) publications (1981, 1986), based on legends of the various ethnic groups that make up the Canadian mosaic, including the First Nations, grew out of the Stong transcultural identity established by Bouraoui. Consisting of imaginative recreations of the legends in the original language and in French and English, by Bouraoui, with illustrations by Saul Field and Jean Townsend, the project was funded by a government grant.

The unique emphasis on transculturalism established at Stong College resulted in numerous conferences on the concept. Through his scholarly accomplishments, Bouraoui has pioneered dialogue on transculturalism both within Canada, and between and among Canada and the US, the Maghreb, Subsaharan Africa, France, the Caribbean, Italy, the Mediterranean basin (north and south), eastern Europe and the Far East .


Above: From left, Mohamed Ben Madani, Hédi Bouraoui, Elizabeth Sabiston

Bouraoui is also the founder of the Canada-Maghreb Centre at Stong College, which opened in 2002. The Canada-Maghreb Centre is the result of his generous gift of books and documents and an endowment to York University. Its role is to foster research in the two principal areas of the Maghreb and Francophone Ontario, but also in Francophone literatures generally. It is the first research centre in the field in Canada, and one of only three in North America.

The York conference was sponsored by the Canada-Maghreb Centre, Stong College and the Department of French Studies in cooperation with York’s English Department, Faculty of Arts, and the French Department of McMaster University, with the support of York’s offices of the Vice-President Academic, Associate Vice-President Research and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, the Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto, and the Consul General of France in Toronto. 

Scholars included representatives from France, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Subsaharan Africa, Albania, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, as well as Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. The participants took part in a dialogue about culture and the work of Bouraoui. The keynote address, on “Hédi Bouraoui: La Traversée des pays et des mots”, was given by Professor Emerita Denise Brahimi of the Sorbonne, Paris, a specialist in Maghrebian literature and film.

Left: From left, Hédi Bouraoui and Denise Brahimi

Papers were offered on a variety of topics during the conference, including: critical reception, migration and travel across cultures, formal experimentation, poetry, cross-cultural dialogue, the role of women, and La Femme d’entre les lignes (Éditions du GREF, 2002), a novel written by Bouraoui. Other participants included Prof. Suzanne Crosta, associate dean of Humanities and member of the French Department at McMaster University, Professor Ali Reguigui of Laurentian University, editor of Human Sciences Monograph Series, and Mohamed Ben Madani, editor of The Maghreb Review, London, England. Graduate students from York University, the University of Ottawa, and from universities in Italy and Morocco also participated in the conference.

This article was submitted to YFile by conference organizer Prof. Elizabeth Sabiston of York’s English Department, director of the Canada-Maghreb Centre, Faculty of Arts. A reception during the conference in part celebrated the launch of Sabiston’s new book on Hédi Bouraoui’s novels,The Muse Strikes Back: Female Narratology in the Novels of Hédi Bouraoui (Human Sciences Monograph Series, 2005).