Laila Lalami

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Laila Lalami
Lalami Author Photo
Lalami Author Photo
Rabat, Morocco
OccupationNovelist, professor
NationalityMorocco, United States
Alma materMohammed V University
University College London
University of Southern California
Notable worksThe Moor's Account (2014), Secret Son (2009), Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005)

Laila Lalami (Arabic: ليلى العلمي‎, born 1968) is a Moroccan-American novelist, essayist, and professor. After earning her Licence ès Lettres degree in Morocco, she received a fellowship to study in the United Kingdom (UK), where she earned an MA in linguistics.

In 1992 Lalami moved to the United States, where she completed a PhD in linguistics at the University of Southern California. She began publishing her writing in 1996. Her first novel, composed of linked stories, was published in 2005. In 2015 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her 2014 novel The Moor's Account, which received strong critical praise and won several other awards.

Early life and education[edit]

Lalami was born in a working-class family in Rabat, Morocco. She spoke Moroccan Arabic at home, and learned Standard Arabic and French in elementary school.[1] According to Lalami, all the children's books she read as a child were written in French, and she began to write her own stories in French. "The characters’ names, their homes, their cities, their lives were wholly different from my own," she explained, "and yet, because of my constant exposure to them, they had grown utterly familiar. These images invaded my imaginary world to such an extent that I never thought they came from an alien place." While her parents both read widely in a variety of genres and encouraged her writing, Lalami has said that they thought she needed to study a profession other than writing.[2]

Lalami earned her Licence ès Lettres in English from Mohammed V University in Rabat. In 1990, she received a British Council fellowship to study in England and completed an MA in Linguistics at University College London. After graduating, she returned to Morocco and worked briefly as a journalist and commentator.[2]

In 1992 she moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California, from which she graduated with a PhD in Linguistics. She had chosen the field of linguistics in order to be involved with the study of language, even in analysis. Her experiences and studies caused her to reflect on the uses of French and Arabic in Morocco. She was influenced by the work of Edward Said, and became aware of the code switching followed by her and her family, and most native Moroccans, in their transitions between the two. Writing professionally in English, she said, gave her another perspective.[2]


Lalami began writing fiction and nonfiction in English in 1996.[3] Her literary criticism, cultural commentary, and opinion pieces have appeared in The Boston Globe, Boston Review, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and elsewhere. In 2016, she was named both a columnist for The Nation[4] magazine and a critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times Book Review.[5]

Her first book, described as a novel or collection of short stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was published in 2005. It follows four Moroccan immigrants who try to cross the Straits of Gibraltar on a lifeboat, which capsizes offshore. The book has an unusual narrative structure: the opening story takes place while the main characters are making the crossing; the next four stories flash back to the characters' lives before their fateful journey; and the final four stories flash forward, so that the reader learns the fates of the four.[6] Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits received wide critical acclaim. In the Washington Post, Carolyn See described it as "a bracing and beautiful little novel."[7] Pankaj Mishra, writing in the New York Review of Books, noted that "Lalami writes about her home country without the expatriate's self-indulgent and often condescending nostalgia."[8]

Lalami's second book, the novel Secret Son (2009), is a coming-of-age story set in the slums of Casablanca. A young college student named Youssef El Mekki discovers that his father—whom he'd been led to believe was a high school teacher, and dead for many years—is in fact a businessman and lives across town. But Youssef's burgeoning relationship with his father, and his sudden change in fortune, are threatened by social and political unrest in the city. The novel explores themes of identity and class in a world increasingly divided by political ideology.[9] Secret Son was longlisted for the Orange Prize.[10]

The Moor's Account, Lalami's third book, was published by Pantheon Books in September 2014. The novel is told from the perspective of Estevanico, a Moroccan slave who is documented as part of the ill-fated Narváez expedition of 1527 and was one of four survivors to reach Mexico City in 1536. He later led expeditions as the first black explorer of America.[11] The Moor's Account won the American Book Award, [12] the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award,[13] and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[14]

In 2019, Lalami published another novel, The Other Americans. The book begins with the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant in a hit-and-run accident in a small town in California, and is told from the perspectives of nine different characters who are connected to him.[15] The Other Americans was a finalist for National Book Award for Fiction[16] and the Kirkus Prize.[17]

Lalami’s next book, Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, is a collection of essays on the theme of American identity and citizenship. It was published by Pantheon Books in September 2020.[18]

Lalami has received an Oregon Literary Arts grant, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.[19] She was selected in 2009 by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.[20]

She is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.[21]


For The Other Americans[edit]

For The Moor's Account[edit]

Other honors[edit]

For Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits[edit]


  • Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC, 2005. ISBN 1-56512-493-6)
  • Secret Son (Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC, 2009. ISBN 1-56512-494-4)
  • The Moor's Account (Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 2014. ISBN 978-0307911667)
  • The Other Americans (Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 2019. ISBN 9781524747145)
Short stories
  • Laila Lalami (2009). "How I Became My Mother's Daughter". Callaloo. 32 (4): 1120–1122. doi:10.1353/cal.0.0572.


  1. ^ Author's Narrative Bio, Lalami Narrative Bio, Author's website, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Laila Lalami, "So to Speak" (essay), World Literature Today website, September 2009
  3. ^ Interview, Writers & Books, 2008.
  4. ^ "‘The Nation’ Names Laila Lalami ‘Between the Lines’ Monthly Columnist"The Nation
  5. ^ Introducing the L.A. Times Critics-at-Large Los Angeles Times
  6. ^ "Stories carry readers to the edge". Seattle Times. December 30, 2005.
  7. ^ "Leaving Morocco". The Washington Post. October 28, 2005.
  8. ^ "Muslims in the Dark". The New York Review of Books. April 12, 2007.
  9. ^ Thorne, John. "Profile: Lalani Lalami", The National
  10. ^ "Levy, Mantel battle 7 debut novels for Orange prize", Reuters, 17 March 2010
  11. ^ Review, Los Angeles Times
  12. ^ American Book Awards press release American Book Awards, Before Columbus Foundation.
  13. ^ 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards, The Washington Post
  14. ^ Pulitzer Citation, The Pulitzer Prizes
  15. ^ New York Times "A Suspicious Death Exposes Painful Fissures in a Mojave Desert Town", New York Times, 2019.
  16. ^ "The 2019 National Book Awards Finalists Announced". National Book Foundation. 2019-10-07. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  17. ^ "KIRKUS ANNOUNCES THE FINALISTS FOR THE 2019 KIRKUS PRIZE". Kirkus Reviews. 2019-09-19. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  18. ^ "Author Interviews: 'Conditional Citizens' Examines What It Means To Be An American". Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  19. ^ Guggenheim Foundation Guggenheim Foundation press release
  20. ^ Press Release Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine YGL Honorees 2009.
  21. ^ UCR UCR Creative Writing
  22. ^ "2020 Arab American Book Award Winners". Arab American Museum. 2020-08-30. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  23. ^ "2019 Joyce Carol Oates Prize Announced". Simpson Literary Project. 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  24. ^ "The 2019 National Book Awards Finalists Announced". National Book Foundation. 2019-10-07. Retrieved 2019-10-09.
  25. ^ "KIRKUS ANNOUNCES THE FINALISTS FOR THE 2019 KIRKUS PRIZE". Kirkus Reviews. 2019-09-19. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  26. ^ "Aspen Words Literary Prize Announces Longlist of 16 Titles for 2020 Award". Aspen Institute. 2019-11-14. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  27. ^ Pulitzer Citation The Pulitzer Prizes
  28. ^ Man Booker Prize announces 2015 longlist | The Man Booker Prizes Archived 2015-08-10 at the Wayback Machine Man Booker Prize Longlist 2015. 29 July 2015
  29. ^ American Book Awards press release American Book Awards.
  30. ^ Arab American Book Award Winners Arab American Book Awards.
  31. ^ 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards The Washington Post
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2012-06-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ The Wall Street Journal Best Books, The Wall Street Journal
  34. ^ NPR NPR
  35. ^ The New York Times The New York Times
  36. ^ Kirkus Reviews Kirkus Reviews
  37. ^ Guggenheim Foundation Guggenheim Foundation press release
  38. ^ Hedgebrook Archived 2014-04-07 at the Wayback Machine Hedgbrook News
  39. ^ Lannan Lannan Residency

External links[edit]