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Laila Lalami, Writer

Award-Winning Writer Laila Lalami

As you wander through the bookstore, you come across a book “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits,” a beautiful cover with a book title that has you a little curious. As you turn the book over you learn that it’s a fictional tale about the journey a group of Moroccans take on a lifeboat across the Straits of Gibraltar in the pursuit of Hope. Are the risks behind pursuing hope ever to great? You can’t seem to put the book down so instead you decide to buy the book and run home to learn more about the Morocaan Author, Laila Lalami. Welcome to the Young Professional spotlight in The MidEastConnect. We’ve put the spotlight on Laila so you can learn more about how an accidental late application changed her career path, her drive to succeed and personal motivations, her advice to others and accomplishments along the way. Read more about Laila so we don’t keep you any longer from reading her book.


Laila Lalami, Writer


www.lailalalami.com and www.moorishgirl.com


Rabat, Morocco

Current residence

Portland, Oregon


B.A. in English, Mohamed V University;
M.A. in Linguistics, University College London. ;
Ph.D. in Linguistics, University of Southern California.

Work Experience

I started my career in education, teaching college classes in Linguistics, French, and Arabic. After finishing my Ph.D. I worked as a computational linguist for a software start-up company in Los Angeles. Since 2002, I have been writing fiction full-time.



What’s your story?

I am a writer, currently living in Portland, Oregon. My first book of fiction, “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits,” was published last fall, and is now out in paperback from Harcourt. Hope is about a group of Moroccans who try to cross the Straits of Gibraltar on a lifeboat in order to immigrate to Spain. In a series of narratives, the book explores their lives before that fateful trip. Afterwards, the book tries to see whether the risks they took were worth it. I am now working on my second novel, tentatively titled “The Place We Call Home.”

What are your day to day responsibilities?

Writing, reading, opening myself to the world, and learning.

Most notable milestones

My first book was published in October 2005, and has since been translated into five languages. One of the stories from the book was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing (the “African Booker”). I have also received an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship for 2006-2007.

What’s the niche?

I don’t know if there is anything like a “niche” in what I do. I write literary fiction, which is more like a ghetto than a niche, frankly.

What’s in store for the future?

I am going to Morocco later in the fall to do some research for my new book.

Unexpected learnings along the way

Life is random. Be grateful for what you have, because things can always get worse.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Readers! I want more people to read my book.

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Best way to stay ahead

I don’t think of how to stay ahead. I’d rather think of how I can stay myself.

Guiding principle in life

First, do no harm.

Yardstick of success

Whether I enjoy what I do. And whether I’m making a difference.

Goal yet to be achieved

I would like to open a publishing house and be able to translate the work of other Arabic-language writers.

Best practical advice

Don’t worry too much. We all have to die sometime.

Most memorable business experience?

The day my book landed in stores.


I don’t have a mentor, but I have a best friend, a partner, someone who always cheers me on, and he happens to be my husband.

What was your first job?

Teacher of English as a Foreign Language.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer.

What motivates you for success?

When I hear from readers who have enjoyed my book.

Like best about what you do?

The commute from my bedroom to my office.

Like least about what you do?

The days when nothing seems to work, and the page remains blank.

Biggest pastimes outside of work

Reading, music, movies.

Person most interested in meeting and why?

Chinua Achebe. Because without him I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Three interesting facts about yourself

1. I’m a news addict.
2. I write in English, my third language.
3. I almost studied medicine in college, though I was saved from that by a late application.

Three characteristics that describe you

1. Energetic.
2. Perfectionist.
3. Good sense of humor.

Three greatest passions

1. Reading.
2. Activism.
3. Art.

Favorite book

I’m afraid there are too many to name a single one. But right now I would say Waiting for The Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee.

Favorite cause


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Interview by Myriam Bouaziz
Introduction by Sumaya Kazi

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