Laila Lalami is a Moroccan-American author whose four works of fiction have been nominated and/or awarded some of the world’s top literary prizes.
Lalami was born in 1968 in Rabat, Morocco and grew up in a household full of books, saying that though her parents were not college-educated, they were voracious readers who passed this love down to their daughter. Lalami has 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. Of her time in London, she explained in an essay for World Literature Today, “I arrived in Britain shortly after Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait. I had been fairly apolitical until then, but the dislocation and racism I experienced in London, the classes I took at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and my exposure to the work of people like Edward Said changed all that. Every time I went back to Morocco, I couldn’t help but notice how much and how often we moved between French and Arabic. All of us, whether we wanted to or not, went through life switching between codes: Moroccan Arabic or Amazigh in our homes, with our friends, in our places of worship; but in job interviews, in fancy stores, in formal soirées, French was de rigueur.”
Her first novel was Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005), which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award and the John Gardner Fiction Prize. Her second was Secret Son (2009), which was awarded the Guardian’s best book on 9/11 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize. The Moor’s Account followed in 2014; it won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and was a semi-finalist for the Booker Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Other Americans came out in 2019 and was a bestseller and a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the 2019 National Book Award. Her most recent work is Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America (2020); it is a work of nonfiction. She has received fellowships from the British Council, the Fulbright Program, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Lalami lives in Los Angeles with her husband and is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.