Member Feature: Laila Lalami


What’s the first book you remember reading?
There really isn't a specific book. When I was little, I read a lot of French comics—Asterix, Tintin, Les Schtroumpfs, Boule et Bill, Lucky Luke, etc. There was also a series called Zembla, which featured a Tarzan-like character fighting various bad guys in the jungle.

Name one person who has helped form or shape your creative identity. How so?
My second-grade teacher, Sister Laurette. She nurtured my love of books and reading. 

What book do you think everyone should be reading right now?
Animal Farm by George Orwell. 

What is the worst advice you’ve received as a writer? And what is the best?
Worst: I was told that American readers wouldn't care about Moroccan characters and I should recast their story of immigration to Florida. Ha!

Best: Keep writing.

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead) and why?  
Kafka, for reasons literary and political. 

If you could be one fictional character, who would you be and why?
Imperator Furiosa, because she doesn't suffer fools.

What does the freedom to write mean to you? In what ways has this affected you personally?
The freedom to imagine, to think freely, to express myself without fear of government interference. I grew up in Morocco, where those freedoms weren't guaranteed. So I never take them for granted.

Tell us one way you feel a person can be a good literary citizen.
Be engaged. Our reading culture is becoming increasingly dominated by ratings (stars, likes, faves, etc.), but books demand more substantive conversations. The best way to contribute to reading culture is to talk about books in substantive ways, have conversations that can enrich our understanding, and spark interest in other books.

Laila Lalami is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous PursuitsSecret Son; and, most recently, 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. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington PostThe Nation, The Guardian, The New York Times, and in many anthologies. She writes the “Between the Lines” column for The Nation magazine and is a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. The recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.