Lalami Author Photo
|Nationality||Morocco, United States|
|Alma mater||Mohammed V University|
University College London
University of Southern California
|Notable works||The Moor's Account (2014), Secret Son (2009), Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005)|
|Criticism and awards|
Laila Lalami (Arabic: ليلى العلمي, born 1968) is a Moroccan-American novelist and essayist. After earning her first 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
Lalami was born and raised in Rabat, Morocco. According to Lalami, all the early children's books and literature she read were published in French, which was the official language for decades, and she began to write her own stories in French. Educated in her early years at a French Catholic school, she did not start to study classical Arabic until the age of fourteen at a public junior high school. She wrote mostly in French in her creative work into her early twenties. 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.
Lalam earned her BA 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.
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 gave her another perspective.
Lalami began writing fiction and nonfiction in English in 1996. 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 magazine and a critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times Book Review.
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. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits received wide critical acclaim. In the Washington Post, Carolyn See described it as "a bracing and beautiful little novel." 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."
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. Secret Son was longlisted for the Orange Prize.
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. The Moor's Account won the American Book Award,  the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
For The Moor's Account
- Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist, 2015
- Man Booker Prize longlist, 2015
- American Book Award winner, 2015
- Arab American Book Award winner, 2015
- Hurston-Wright Legacy Award winner, 2015
- Langum Prizes, 2014 (Historical Fiction Prize)
- The Wall Street Journal Best Books, 2014
- NPR Best Books, 2014
- The New York Times Notable Books, 2014
- Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Books, 2014
- 2016, Guggenheim Fellowship.
- 2013, Elizabeth George Foundation "Women Authoring Change" Fellowship.
- 2012, Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship.
- 2010, Orange Prize longlist for Secret Son.
- 2009, Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, Finalist.
- 2009, Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum.
- 2007, Fulbright Fellowship.
- 2003, Morocco-British Council Literary Prize for the Short Story.
- 1990, British Council Fellowship.
For Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
- 2006, Fletcher Pratt Fellowship in Fiction, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
- 2006, Oregon Book Award, Finalist.
- 2006, Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship in Fiction.
- 2006, Caine Prize for African Writing, Finalist.
- 2006, John Gardner Fiction Prize, Finalist.
- 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
- "How I Became My Mother's Daughter". Callaloo. 32 (4): 1120–1122. 2009. doi:10.1353/cal.0.0572 – via Project MUSE.
- Laila Lalami, "So to Speak" (essay), World Literature Today website, September 2009
- Interview, Writers & Books, 2008.
- "‘The Nation’ Names Laila Lalami ‘Between the Lines’ Monthly Columnist"The Nation
- Introducing the L.A. Times Critics-at-Large Los Angeles Times
- "Stories carry readers to the edge". Seattle Times. December 30, 2005.
- "Leaving Morocco". The Washington Post. October 28, 2005.
- "Muslims in the Dark". The New York Review of Books. April 12, 2007.
- Thorne, John. "Profile: Lalani Lalami", The National
- "Levy, Mantel battle 7 debut novels for Orange prize", Reuters, 17 March 2010
- Review, Los Angeles Times
- American Book Awards press release American Book Awards, Before Columbus Foundation.
- 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards, The Washington Post
- Pulitzer Citation, The Pulitzer Prizes
- Guggenheim Foundation Guggenheim Foundation press release
- Press Release Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine YGL Honorees 2009.
- UCR UCR Creative Writing
- Pulitzer Citation The Pulitzer Prizes
- 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
- American Book Awards press release American Book Awards.
- Arab American Book Award Winners Arab American Book Awards.
- 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards The Washington Post
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2012-06-16.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- The Wall Street Journal Best Books, The Wall Street Journal
- NPR NPR
- The New York Times The New York Times
- Kirkus Reviews Kirkus Reviews
- Guggenheim Foundation Guggenheim Foundation press release
- Hedgebrook Hedgbrook News
- Lannan Lannan Residency
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