About Laila

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of four novels, including The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Other Americans, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award in Fiction. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times. She has received fellowships from the British Council, the Fulbright Program, and the Guggenheim Foundation and is currently a full professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles. Her new book, a work of nonfiction called Conditional Citizens, was published by Pantheon in September 2020. You can order it here.

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Narrative Bio +

I was born to a working-class family in Rabat, Morocco, and grew up in a house full of books. One of my earliest memories is watching my mother and father, sitting on either end of the sofa, each with a book in their hands. My family spoke Moroccan Arabic at home, and I learned Standard Arabic and French in elementary school. I’ve been writing stories since I was nine years old, first in French and later in English. I hold a Licence ès Lettres in English from Université Mohammed-V; a Master of Arts degree in Linguistics from University College, London; and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Southern California.

My first book, the collection of short stories Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin, 2005), is about a group of Moroccan immigrants who cross the Mediterranean on a lifeboat. My second book, the novel Secret Son (Algonquin, 2009), tells the story of a young man from a Casablanca slum who discovers the identity of his real father, leading him on a journey that has devastating personal and political consequences. My third book, The Moor’s Account (Pantheon, 2014), is based on the true story of the first black explorer of America, a Moroccan slave known as Estebanico, who was part of the Narváez expedition to Florida in 1528. My most recent book, The Other Americans (Pantheon, 2019), is about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant in California, which sets off a chain of events that reveals a family’s secrets, a small town’s hypocrisies, and the ties that bind people together.

I never expected to become an immigrant or to be writing fiction in English, but these two decisions have had a profound impact on my creative and critical thinking. My fiction frequently deals with themes of home, and my characters tend to be outsiders, people who don’t quite fit in anywhere.

My nonfiction falls into four broad categories: literary criticism, political analysis, cultural commentary, and memoir. In 2004, I started writing literary criticism for The Nation, the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States, and have since moved on to writing columns. My book reviews appear regularly in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. My cultural commentary focuses on gender in Islam, minority civil rights, and immigration. Occasionally, I write essays and memoir for publications such as the New York Times Magazine.

My first book of nonfiction, Conditional Citizens, is being published by Pantheon in April 2020.


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