On Charlie Hebdo

January 20th, 2015

My essay on the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks appears in the February 2nd issue of The Nation magazine. Here is an excerpt:

Two men in balaclavas burst into Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris and opened fire on the editorial staff, killing five cartoonists, a columnist, a maintenance worker, an economist, a visitor, a copy-editor and two police officers.

To make sense of the senseless, we tell ourselves stories. The story is that this is the latest salvo in an ongoing clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The story is that the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was the last bastion of free thought in a cowed press, a press that has bowed to political correctness and is now too afraid to criticize Islam. The story is that Muslim leaders remain silent about this atrocity. The story is that France has failed to integrate its Muslim citizens, descendants of immigrants from its former colonies. The story is that France has sent troops to fight in Muslim countries. The story is that there are double standards.

None of these stories will do, at least not for me. I find myself reading them in different guises in the national press, hoping they will enlighten or satisfy me, but something is always missing.

You can read the rest of the essay here. Thank you to all who shared it on Facebook and Twitter, emailed me about it, or commented on it.

And Then We Came To the End

December 7th, 2014

I was so happy to return home this morning that when I stepped off the jetway at LAX, I wanted to fall on my knees and kiss the ground. The book tour was great fun, but after seventeen cities I was starting to show signs of wear. There were days when a cab driver would ask me where I had flown from and it would take me a minute to remember where I had been or even where I was going. Now I’m looking forward to spending the next few months at home and getting back to my writing routine.

Before I disappear into my writing cave again, I wanted to mention that The Moor’s Account was included in several year-end lists: the New York Times Notable Books of 2014, NPR’s Best Books of 2014, and the Los Angeles Times Holiday Book Recommendations. Thank you to all who read the novel, reviewed it, and recommended it. I am grateful.

Update! The Moor’s Account is also one of the Wall Street Journal‘s Ten Best Books of the year.

(Illustration credit: Jon McNaught, New York Times)

Last Stop on The Tour

December 1st, 2014

Good news! The Moor’s Account received a great review in the December 1st issue of the New Yorker. It was also selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Fiction Books of 2014. Thank you again to everyone who has read the book, shared news about it, or attended one of my events.

My last stop on the Moor’s Account book tour will be in Austin, where I will take part in the UT Symposium for African Writers. Here are the details for my reading:

December 3, 2014
3:00 PM
Reading and conversation with Maaza Mengiste
University of Texas at Austin
Liberal Arts Building 1.302E

I’m looking forward to talking African literature with my friend Maaza and with the other writers present. If you happen to be in Austin this week, come on by. In the meantime, here is a review I wrote for the New York Times about Nuruddin Farah’s new novel, Hiding in Plain Sight.

November Events

November 9th, 2014


What a pleasure and an honor it was to be part of the Chinua Achebe Legacy Series at CCNY! Thank you to all who came to my reading. I’m back home now, but already preparing for two other events. I will be in Arizona next week, for a reading at Yavapai College:

November 14, 2014
7:00 PM
Reading and on-stage conversation
Yavapai College
1100 E. Sheldon Street
Prescott, Arizona

The following weekend, I will be in Florida for the Miami Book Fair, doing a reading with Kathryn Harrison and Kristin Downey. Here are the details:

November 23, 2014
2:30 PM
Miami Book Fair
Room 8503
Building 8, 5th Floor
Miami, Florida

For those who may be interested, here is a short interview I did with PEN, and a longer, chattier one I did with Aaron Bady, as part of his ‘African Writers in a New World’ series. The great Michael Schaub also reviewed The Moor’s Account on his Book Report show.

Readings, Interviews, TV

November 3rd, 2014

I feel like I’ve been on an airplane for the last couple of weeks. I went to the Chicago Humanities Festival, where I gave a reading, followed by a conversation with Gina Frangello. (Here is a recap of the event, if you’re interested.) Then I went back home for one day and had to head right back out for the International Festival of Authors in Toronto. I met with my lovely Canadian editor, gave two readings at Harbourfront Centre, and did a panel conversation with Sarah Waters and Valerie Martin for Writers & Company on CBC.

In other news, I will be on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Monday night. (Set your DVR!) Then on Thursday, I will be giving a reading at CCNY, as part of their Chinua Achebe Legacy Series. The reading is free and open to the public. Details are below:

November 6, 2014
12:00 PM
City College of New York
Chinua Achebe Legacy Series
NAC Building, Amsterdam Room
Amsterdam Ave. at 137th Street
Harlem, New York

But one advantage of all this travel is that I’ve been able to some reading! I just finished Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce, On Immunity by Eula Biss, and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

East Coast Tour

October 5th, 2014


I just finished packing for my trip to the East Coast. I’ll be reading from and discussing The Moor’s Account in four cities: New York, Washington, DC, Williamstown, and Boston. The details are posted below:

October 6, 2014
8:00 PM

92nd Street Y

1395 Lexington Avenue

New York, New York

October 7, 2014
7:00 PM

Politics and Prose

5015 Connecticut Ave. NW

Washington, DC

October 8, 2014
6:30 PM

Williams College

Williamstown, Massachusetts

October 9, 2014
7:00 PM

Harvard Bookstore

1256 Massachusetts Ave

Cambridge, Massachusetts

For those who may be interested, here’s an interview I did with The Berkshire Eagle ahead of my reading at Williams. Reviews have continued to appear through last week. I particularly liked hearing Alan Cheuse’s review for NPR’s All Things Considered. Meanwhile, The Moor’s Account was published in Canada last week, so reviews have begun to appear there as well. Here, for instance, is a piece from the The Winnipeg Free Press. Details about my Canada appearances are on my Events page.

New Mexico Readings

September 21st, 2014


Thank you to all who came to my readings in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. I had a wonderful time talking about The Moor’s Account and enjoyed sharing anecdotes and stories. Now I’m getting ready to read in New Mexico, a state I’ve loved ever since my first visit, in the summer of 2010. First up is Albuquerque:

September 22, 2014
7:00 PM
Reading and Discussion
4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico

After that, I will be reading in Santa Fe:

September 23, 2014
6:00 PM
Reading and Discussion
Collected Works Bookstore
202 Galisteo St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico

You can read an interview I did with The Santa Fe New Mexican, ahead of my events in the state. The Moor’s Account was the subject of a wonderful essay by Rubén Martínez in The Los Angeles Review of Books. It also made Ebony‘s list of recommended reads. Do come and say hi.

Photo credit: Powell’s Books.

West Coast Tour

September 15th, 2014


I’m packing today for the West Coast portion of my book tour. If you happen to be in Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco, I would love to see you! In Seattle, I’ll be reading at the public library, a place I love both for its architecture and for the people who work in it. The event is co-sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co., where the booksellers always have the best recommendations for what to read next. I had a wonderful time in Seattle when my previous novel, Secret Son, was a citywide read there, so I’m really looking forward to being back.

September 16, 2014
7:00 PM
Reading and Discussion
Seattle Public Library in conjunction with Elliott Bay Book Co.
1000 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, Washington

After that, I’ll be reading at the legendary City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. I’m excited about the prospect of seeing family and friends from the area. Details are below:

September 17, 2014
7:00 PM
Reading and Discussion
City Lights Booksellers and Publishers
261 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, California

My last stop of the week will be at Powell’s Books. All I can say about this bookstore is that I want to set up a tent and live there. It’s that great.

September 18, 2014
7:30 PM
Reading and Discussion
Powell’s Books
1005 W. Burnside Street
Portland, Oregon

If you want to know a little more about the genesis of The Moor’s Account, you can read this piece I wrote for Biographile. I also created a musical playlist for Largehearted Boy’s Booknotes. Several new reviews of the book appeared over the last few days: The Wall Street Journal called the novel “sensitive” and “elegant;” the literary magazine The Millions said it was “magnificent;” and the Seattle Times found it “meticulously researched and inventive.” The New York Times made it an Editors’ Choice this week.

Coming To A BookStore Near You

September 9th, 2014

BookShot_Moors Account

My new novel, The Moor’s Account, comes out today. The journey from conception to publication has been long, but it has been wonderful in every way. I’m very proud of this book and I hope you enjoy reading it. I’m also thrilled to see that it has already received some notice. For instance, in its review, The New York Times called it “a fictional memoir told in a controlled voice that feels at once historical and contemporary.” The Los Angeles Times said it was a “rich novel (…) that muses on the ambiguous power of words to either tell the truth or reshape it according to our desires.” Other reviews and mentions appeared in BookPage, The Huffington Post, and The Village Voice. And you can hear me discuss the novel with Arun Rath on NPR’s All Things Considered.

I will be launching The Moor’s Account in Los Angeles this week, at two separate events. Tomorrow, I’ll read from and discuss it at Skylight:

September 10, 2014
7:30 PM
Reading and Discussion
Skylight Books
1818 N Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, California

And then this Sunday, I’ll be speaking at Diesel in Brentwood. Details are below:

September 14, 2014
3:00 PM
Reading and Discussion
Diesel, A Bookstore
Brentwood Country Mart
225 26th Street, Ste. 33.
Brentwood, California

After that, I will be going on a huge tour to promote the book. All my scheduled readings are posted on my Events page. Do come.

The Fight in the Heart

August 20th, 2014


In trying to make sense of the injustice and the violence that has been unfolding in Ferguson for the last couple of weeks, I returned to James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son,” and recommended it for NPR’s All Things Considered.

It is early August. A black man is shot by a white policeman. And the effect on the community is of “a lit match in a tin of gasoline.” No, this is not Ferguson, Mo. This was Harlem in August 1943, a period that James Baldwin writes about in the essay that gives its title to his seminal collection, Notes of a Native Son.

You can listen to the piece on NPR’s website.

Photo: Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP. A demonstrator throws back a tear gas container after tactical officers worked to break up a group of bystanders on Chambers Road and West Florissant, Aug. 13, 2014, in St. Louis.

The Moor’s Account Book Tour

August 16th, 2014


Book tours sound very glamorous, but they usually go like this: you wake up at an ungodly hour, you hope that your cab is on time, you hope that your flight is on time, you hope that your seat mate isn’t a sociopath, you hope that your hotel room is ready when you get there, you hope not to get lost on your way to the bookstore. All that hoping can be stressful. So why go on tour? Because after a few years of writing a novel, it’s very enjoyable to talk to readers about it. I have the most amazing readers. Once, at a reading in Los Angeles, a woman told me she had driven three hours so her daughter could come see me. Another time, my friend A. from grad school surprised me by showing up at my Elliott Bay reading in Seattle. He lives in Arizona, but was in town on business, so we ended up having dinner together and catching up. And I love doing events in independent bookstores because, unfailingly, the staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and always have a good book to recommend. Yes, book tours are stressful, but they’re also lots of fun. Right now, I’m getting ready to tour for my new novel, The Moor’s Account. I’ll be visiting Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, New York, Washington DC, and Boston this fall. I’m also doing the Chicago Humanities Festival, the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, and the Miami Book Fair. And I’m speaking at several colleges, including Williams in Massachusetts, Yavapai College in Arizona, and the University of Texas at Austin. Do come by and say hello! I’d love to talk to you about my new book.

Estebanico in Visual Art

August 5th, 2014

While writing The Moor’s Account, I became curious about visual representations of Estebanico (a.k.a. Mustafa al-Zamori). As it turned out, the incredible story of the Narváez expedition inspired quite a few painters. Below, for instance, is the depiction of the Narváez castaways that Penguin Classics used for its cover of Cabeza de Vaca’s Chronicle. You will notice that Estebanico appears nowhere in it.

But as time passed and scholarship evolved, interest in Estebanico also grew. Here is a painting by José Cisneros, where Estebanico appears alongside the other three survivors, Andrés Dorantes, Alonso del Castillo, and Cabeza de Vaca. (Estebanico is second from right.)


It’s interesting to note the differences between artist depictions when it comes to style and dress. In the one below, for example, Estebanico appears shirtless and carrying a halberd, leading the way for the Coronado expedition, which took place many years after the Narváez expedition.


In his hometown of Azemmur, there are a few murals dedicated to the explorer. Here is one where Estebanico is portrayed in the dress and style of a pirate. (Of course, he was no pirate; he was a slave turned scout turned faith healer.)


Adjacent to that mural in Azemmur is another one, also depicting Estebanico. Here, the explorer is shown wearing a turban and a loincloth, and carrying a wooden lance.


What I find fascinating about all these images is what they tell us not about Estebanico, but about the artists themselves. Each one had a different view of the explorer, shaped by his or her culture and experience of history.

Image credits:
1. Alfred Russell, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and His Companions Lost on the Shore of the Gulf of Mexico, 1528. The Granger Collection. New York.
2. José Cisneros, Cabeza de Vaca and His Three companions on the Texas Coast. Museum of South Texas History.
3. Artist unknown, Estevanico. The Granger Collection. New York.
4. Artist name illegible, Estevanico/Estebanico El Azemmouri. MonMaroc Guide.
5. Koukou. Estebanico. Azemmur.

  • Twitter

  • Category Archives

  • Monthly Archives