October 20th, 2015
What a busy couple of weeks! I’ve been traveling, talking, and teaching almost nonstop. I’m enjoying it tremendously, but I do long for the end of the year, when things will quiet down a bit. In the meantime, I wanted to share my review of a new graphic memoir by Riad Sattouf, a former cartoonist for Charlie Hebdo. Here’s how it closes:
Already a success in France, “The Arab of the Future” will do little to complicate most people’s perceptions of Libya or Syria. Life in both countries seems like a living hell, with no moments of relief or pleasure. But this book also has occasional flashes of beauty. When Abdel-Razak comes across a mulberry tree in Tripoli, the taste of its fruit, like that of Proust’s fabled madeleine, takes him back to the carefree days of his childhood, days when the future was still full of possibility.
You can read the full review in the New York Times Book Review. Let’s see, what else? I will be on the fiction faculty at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, next August. Register early! I am judging the PEN/Bellwether Prize, with Kathy Pories and Brando Skyhorse. Rules and eligibility are posted here. And I found out that I’ve been included in a list of the world’s 500 Most influential Muslims. I’ll raise a glass to that!
Photo credit: From The Arab of the Future via The New York Times.
October 2nd, 2015
My review of Mathias Énard’s novel Street of Thieves appeared in The Guardian last week. Here’s how it opens:
Tangier, Mathias Énard writes in Street of Thieves, is famous “chiefly for the people who leave it”. Take, for example, the explorer Ibn Battutah. He left Tangier in 1325 and travelled through much of Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe and Asia. When he finally returned home, 30 years later, he wrote Rihla, an account of his adventures and one of the most important narratives we have of life in the 14th century.
Lakhdar, this novel’s 18-year-old narrator, will also leave home and write about it. Though his journeys are limited to Morocco, Tunisia and Spain, they provide a glimpse into the tremors of the Arab spring, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, and the indignados movement in Spain. These subjects may seem ripped from the headlines, but they are not unusual for Énard, a French novelist whose work often focuses on war and political conflict.
You can read the rest here. Last week, I also spoke to NPR’s Colin Dwyer about book blurbs and why they persist. Take a look.
Photo: Bruno d’Amicis for The Guardian.
September 4th, 2015
I spent a month at Yaddo Colony, in upstate New York, working on my new novel. The grounds were beautiful, but also filled with mosquitoes and ticks. Most of the time, I forgot to wear insect repellent. I swam in the pool that John Cheever built. I didn’t have to make a meal, scrub a sink, pick up the mail, or take out the trash. I walked alone. I missed my husband. I missed him so much I cried. I watched several news cycles from afar. (The Confederate flag came down. The Iran nuclear deal was signed. The Saudi government continued bombing Yemen, to almost universal indifference. The Syrian refugee crisis worsened. There was another mass shooting. Another case of police abuse. A clown decided to run for president.) I found that the world got by without my taking note of every piece of news, much less my commenting on it. I read a lot. I wrote a lot.
In July, I found out that The Moor’s Account had won the American Book Award and the Arab American Book Award, and that it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Reviews in the UK began to appear, including in The Guardian, The Independent, and The Financial Times.
This summer, I also published a personal essay about my grandmother’s good luck charm in The New York Times Magazine. In August, my review of Amitav Ghosh’s Flood of Fire, the final volume in his Ibis trilogy, appeared in The New York Times Book Review. I also took part in a Room for Debate forum on diversity in core humanities courses.
But all this was mostly white noise, as I spent the majority of my time working on my book. I’m trying to get as much done as I can before I have to resume teaching later this month. I will also be on the road in the fall, and you can find out more about my upcoming events here.
June 30th, 2015
Summer is here. I am spending it working on my new novel, so things are likely to be very quiet on this blog and on my social media accounts for a while. But I did want to mention that my review of Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, an inventive retelling of Albert Camus’ The Stranger from the point of view of the victim’s brother, appeared on the cover of the New York Times Book Review earlier this month.
Also, The Moor’s Account will come out in paperback in the U.S. on August 18 and in the U.K. on August 27. I will be going on book tour again in the fall. Check the events page for details.
April 21st, 2015
I was teaching an undergraduate fiction workshop yesterday when I received a text from my friend Mark congratulating me. “On what?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I found out that The Moor’s Account was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, along with Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank With You and Joyce Carol Oates’s Lovely, Dark, Deep. The winner was Anthony Doerr for All The Light We Cannot See. In shock, I blurted out the news to my students, who erupted in applause and cheers.
I’m thrilled and grateful for this recognition, and I am especially honored to be included in such fine company. When I came across the story of Mustafa/Estebanico six years ago, I immediately knew it had to be told in the form of a novel, but I worried that I did not have the talent to do it and that, even if I did somehow pull it off, no one would care about it. But this character simply wouldn’t let go of me, so I took a leap. I wrote the book I wanted to write, with no expectation of it ever finding a readership or garnering any attention. But, oh, it’s so nice when that happens! My heartfelt thanks to the Pulitzer Prize fiction judges.
Last week, The Moor’s Account was also named a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in fiction, a national prize for published writers of African descent. The other nominees are Chris Abani’s The Secret History of Las Vegas, Ishmael Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchard of Lost Souls, and Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in Washington, DC, in October.
March 23rd, 2015
I’m popping back on the blog for a couple of announcements. The audio book of The Moor’s Account, read by Neil Shah, was released by Audible last month. UK rights to the book have sold to Mitchell Albert at Garnet, with publication scheduled for August 2015, which will coincide with the paperback release of the book with Vintage, here in the U.S. And I am back on the road again! I will be doing two events at the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans. Details below:
March 27, 2015
Deceptive Histories, Truthful Fictions
Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival
The Historic New Orleans Collection
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 28, 2015
Panel: The Transnationalists – American Writers on Border Crossings
Molly Crabapple, Phil Klay, Laila Lalami, moderated by Pamela Paul
Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival
Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom
Then, in April, I will be doing a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
April 19, 2015
Fiction: Untold Stories
Ryan Gattis, Laila Lalami, Atticus Lish, Nina Revoyr, moderated by Michelle Franke
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
University of Southern California
Do come by and say hi!
Photo: Morning dew on a recent hike in Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica.
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.
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)
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
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 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
Reading and on-stage conversation
1100 E. Sheldon Street
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
Miami Book Fair
Building 8, 5th Floor
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.