Laila Lalami

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Laila Lalami
Lalami Author Photo
Lalami Author Photo
Born 1968
Rabat, Morocco
Occupation Novelist, professor
Nationality Morocco, United States
Alma mater Mohammed V University
University College London
University of Southern California
Genre fiction
Notable works The 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 and essayist. After earning her first degree in Morocco, she received a fellowship to study in the UK, where she earned an MA in linguistics.

In 1992 Lalami moved to the United States, completing a PhD in linguistics at the University of Southern California. She began publishing her writing in 1996, and in 2015 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her 2014 novel The Moor's Account, which received strong critical praise.

Early life

Lalami was born and raised in Rabat, Morocco, where she earned her BA in English from Mohammed V University. 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.[1]


Lalami began writing fiction and nonfiction in English in 1996.[2] 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[3] magazine and a critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times Book Review.[4]

Her first book, the 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. 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 finally finds out who made it across and who didn't.[5] Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits received wide critical acclaim. In the Washington Post, Carolyn See called it "a bracing and beautiful little novel,"[6] while 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."[7]

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, 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.[8][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 was part of the ill-fated Narváez expedition, and who later became 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]

Lalami has received an Oregon Literary Arts grant, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.[15] She was selected in 2009 by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.[16]

She is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.[17]


For The Moor's Account

Other honors

For Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits


  • 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)
Short stories
  • "How I Became My Mother's Daughter". Callaloo. 32 (4): 1120–1122. 2009. doi:10.1353/cal.0.0572 – via Project MUSE.


  1. ^ Essay: Laila Lalami, World Literature Today website
  2. ^ Interview, Writers & Books, 2008.
  3. ^ "‘The Nation’ Names Laila Lalami ‘Between the Lines’ Monthly Columnist"The Nation
  4. ^ Introducing the L.A. Times Critics-at-Large Los Angeles Times
  5. ^ "Stories carry readers to the edge". Seattle Times. December 30, 2005.
  6. ^ "Leaving Morocco". The Washington Post. October 28, 2005.
  7. ^ "Muslims in the Dark". The New York Review of Books. April 12, 2007.
  8. ^ Profile Thorne, John. The National
  9. ^ "Author's Website". Laila Lalami.
  10. ^ "Levy, Mantel battle 7 debut novels for Orange prize"Reuters
  11. ^ Review Los Angeles Times
  12. ^ American Book Awards press release American Book Awards.
  13. ^ 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards The Washington Post
  14. ^ Pulitzer Citation, The Pulitzer Prizes
  15. ^ Guggenheim Foundation Guggenheim Foundation press release
  16. ^ Press Release Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine. YGL Honorees 2009.
  17. ^ UCR UCR Creative Writing
  18. ^ Pulitzer Citation The Pulitzer Prizes
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ American Book Awards press release American Book Awards.
  21. ^ Arab American Book Award Winners Arab American Book Awards.
  22. ^ 2015 Hurston Wright Legacy Awards The Washington Post
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2012-06-16.
  24. ^ The Wall Street Journal Best Books, The Wall Street Journal
  25. ^ NPR NPR
  26. ^ The New York Times The New York Times
  27. ^ Kirkus Reviews Kirkus Reviews
  28. ^ Guggenheim Foundation Guggenheim Foundation press release
  29. ^ Hedgebrook Hedgbrook News
  30. ^ Lannan Lannan Residency

External links

  • Author Site
  • Author's Blog
  • Lalami archive from The Nation
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