On Thursday, April 27, 2017 author and essayist Laila Lalami held several events. Her time at UCSB began with a Thematic Learning Circle at the Multicultural Center. There she interacted with about 20 invited campus and community members whose interests and initiatives align with the values and ideas Lalami focuses on in her writing. Specifically, Lalami spoke about her award-winning book, The Moor's Account.
Laila Lalami explained how she based The Moor's Account on a true story of the first black explorer of America. However, his life and account of his experience is erased from history. Thus, the book is classified as a fictional account of a Moroccan slave brought to the United States on a Spanish expedition. Lalami explained that most the book is fiction, as she identifies as a fiction writer. Yet, she heavily researched and set the novel in locations and timelines within the constraints of history. Broadly, the book raises issues of how history is recorded, such as whose stories are told, and whose are silenced. Lalami wrote the book as a story of storytelling including the myth making around exploration.
In terms of her writing process, Lalami explained how she approached creating the characters through their emotions. Once she obtained the facts of history of the main character, such as his religious education and home town, she began to fill in the gaps, interpreting history in ways that drove the novel forward.
Laila Lalami gave advice for young writers, and the entirety of the publishing process. She encourages young writers in the classes she teaches at University of California, Riverside to read a lot before they begin writing. She encouraged several of the young aspiring writers in the room to be aware of the pressures of the marketplace, as she is, yet to be persistent in their writing because it only takes one publisher to listen and say yes.
There was also a discussion about how people in the news industry and elsewhere have had Lalami fill the role of speaking for the Muslim perspective. She gave several examples of some of her nonfiction work in several columns that were commissioned from a corporation to have her "give them the Muslim perspective." Lalami explained how those issues found her, noting that she did not set out to be a nonfiction writer, yet that aspect of her career has taken on a life of its own. When asked about the "good Muslim" versus "bad Muslim" dichotomy, she responded that we should be striving to complicate the image that Muslims are a homogeneous group. Although this work is exhausting at times for her, her work reflects complex characters for well-written novels for whom religion is just one factor of their character.
After her time at the Multicultural Center, Laila Lalami gave a public lecture at UCSB’s Campbell Hall attended by approximately 200 people. Here she spoke more in-depth about The Moor's Account. Audience members enjoyed a time for questions at the end of her talk.
To read a recent publication by Laila Lalami about immigration, border patrol and profiling, click here.