Bugul was raised in a polygamous environment, born to a father who was an 85-year-old marabout. After completing her elementary education in her native village, she studied at the Malick Sy Secondary School in Thiès. After a year in Dakar, she obtained a scholarship that allowed her to continue study in Belgium. In 1980 she returned to her home, where she became the 28th wife in the harem of the village marabout. After his death, she returned to the big city. From 1986 to 1993, she worked for the NGO IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Foundation) in Nairobi, Kenya; Brazzaville, Congo; and Lomé, Togo. She subsequently married a doctor from Benin and gave birth to a daughter. Today she lives and works as a dealer of arts and crafts in Porto-Novo, Benin.
Bugul's literary reputation has varied from place to place. She was awarded the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire for her novel Riwan ou le Chemin de Sable in 2000, but is better known among American readers for her novel The Abandoned Baobab, which is her only book to date to have been translated into English. This autobiographical work deals with and critiques African colonialism. As of late, her status among American feminists has diminished somewhat, as many have critiqued her for marrying a holy man who already had more than 20 wives. This is perhaps undeserved, and is a good example of ideologies clashing, as the criticism is the result of American feminists attempting to hold Bugul up to the standards of Western feminism, which is worlds away from her Senegalese experience.