Laila Lalami

American writer

Laila Lalami (born 1968) is a Moroccan-American novelist, essayist, and professor.

Lalami in 2015


  • They’re supposed to be the people who support you, who love you no matter what, and the reality is they’re the first people who teach you to cast doubt on yourself, they’re the first people who sometimes don’t have your back…
  • When you move into a new place, it does involve a refashioning of the self. We derive our sense of identity at least partly in relation to the landscape around us, in which we’ve grown up..…
  • I’m an immigrant myself. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years, when I do events, is that people will—not unkindly—suggest that I’m “doing well.” It’s something that’s always mystified me, as if there are different classes of immigrants, and the immigrants who “make it” work harder than those who don’t “make it.” As if success is entirely determined by an individual’s effort, irrespective of society’s structural inequities. I’ve always been very suspicious of that notion. It’s very dangerous. It’s an idea that I think makes people feel guilty when they’re not successful. Like if you’re poor, it’s your fault because you didn’t work hard enough…
  • I think of history as a dialogue with the present, so whenever I’m puzzled by the turn of current events — which is all too often these days — I look to the past for context.
  • (What moves you most in a work of literature?) I’m moved by voices that ring so true that they make me feel kinship with characters who are completely different from me. As I get older, I also find myself moved by depictions of friendship and kindness, which are so much harder to execute convincingly on the page than cruelty or betrayal.
  • (What books would you recommend for somebody who wants to know more about Morocco?) The work of Mohamed Choukri, which I discovered when I was 15, was a revelation. His first novel, “Al-Khubz al-Hafi,” loosely based on his childhood and adolescence, was banned by the Moroccan government, but copies were making the rounds in my high school in Rabat. There’s also a fascinating book he wrote about his troubled and troubling friendship with Paul Bowles, which Telegram Books recently issued in English as “In Tangier.” Another writer I came across in my teens, and who was a huge influence on me, was the late, great Fatema Mernissi, the feminist scholar and sociologist. Several of her books appear in English, including “The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam” and “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood.”
  • books hold so many memories of the times and places in which I’ve read them.
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