Laila Lalami – Morocco

Linked with our presentations of some of her texts on our blog for Humanitarian Texts: Exile and the Kingdom, and Love and Betrayal in Colonial Africa, and also The Cult of the Ethnic Autor).

She says: “These days, being a Muslim woman means being saddled with what can only be referred to as the “burden of pity.” The feelings of compassion that we Muslim women seem to inspire emanate from very distinct and radically opposed currents: religious extremists of our own faith, and evangelical and secular supporters of empire in the West”. (Read this whole long article on The Nation).

She says also: “I was writing before getting married and becoming a parent, but it’s true that it becomes a challenge to find the time to write. I’m fortunate that I have a supportive spouse and I’m also extremely disciplined, so it all works out”. (See this interview by Dan Wickett on 6/20/2005).

Laila Lalami – Morocco

The picture that emerged from the Casablanca attacks was the kind of cliché that drives conservatives to hysterics. The bombers — all young men, all single, all unemployed or hustling for jobs — came from the sprawling slum of Sidi Moumen, just outside the city. Sidi Moumen is home to 200,000 people squatting in shacks with corrugated tin roofs. There is no running water. Trash pick up is sporadic and open sewage makes its way down dirt alleys. Unemployment is sky high. In addition, the bombers were recent recruits to Islamic fundamentalism; some had been going to the underground mosque at Si Larbi for only a few months.

That short span of time was all it took to convince them that their and their families’ problems could be solved by taking the lives of those who lived in the cosmopolitan, multicultural (and therefore, in their eyes, decadent) Casablanca. The Moroccan government’s reaction was predictable … (read this long article on the Huffington post).

Her Backstory: The news was relegated to the bottom of Le Monde’s online page—fifteen Moroccan immigrants had drowned while crossing the Straits of Gibraltar on a fishing boat. They had left Tangier on a summer night, trying to navigate the short distance—only ten miles—that separates their homeland from Spain, and from the rest of Europe, where they hoped to make a new life for themselves. The boat was overloaded and ill equipped to handle the strong Mediterranean currents, and it capsized a couple of miles away from the coast. There were no survivors. – She writes about: I read the article from my desk, in Los Angeles, where I was working as a computational linguist. By then, I had been living in America for eight years and I was always hungry for news about Morocco. I thought at first that the disaster was an isolated incident, a blip, a bizarre turn of events. Over time, however, the incidents seemed to multiply. Nearly every week in the summer of 2001 there was a report about arrests by the coast guards on either side of the Mediterranean. Soon, there was even a slang term in Moroccan Arabic for these migrants—harragas, meaning ‘those who burn.’ Whether they were burning their papers, their lives, or their futures, I couldn’t tell. (Read the long article on mjroseblog).

She writes on her Homepage: Yes, that is my real name. And no, it’s not that much fun to have a name like that, especially when you have to spell it out loud to a semi-literate customer service representative. My motto is: If you can’t correct, collect. So bring it on. I was born in Morocco, went to a Catholic school as a kid, public high school in Rabat, college in Britain, and grad school in California, resulting in B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees, mostly in linguistics. I worked as a linguist in Los Angeles for many years, for paymasters as different as JPL, The Getty, and Applied Semantics. I recently moved to rainy Portland, Oregon. There weren’t very many distractions when I was growing up, so I read voraciously, and quite eclectically–anything from Spiderman to Driss Chraibi to Mohammed Choukri to Alexandre Dumas. I’ve been writing for many years, but only took up the craft more seriously when I turned 30 and decided life was too short not to do what I really wanted to do. My fiction has appeared in Pindeldyboz, Mizna, The Other Half: The Magazine of Emerging Writers of Color, First Intensity, and The Baltimore Review. I was awarded the Morocco/British Council Literary Prize for the short story in 2003. My book of fiction, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, will be published by Algonquin Books in Fall 2005. The book is about four Moroccans who cross the Straits of Gibraltar on a lifeboat in order to immigrate to Spain. The reasons for risking their lives unfold in a series of narratives, dealing with key events in the characters’ past and how their lives are forever changed, for better or for worse, by their decision. I am currently at work on a novel. My non-fiction has been published in Al-Bayane, The Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Review, The Independent, The Nation, Moby, The Oregonian and will soon be anthologized. I started Moorishgirl in October 2001, although I’ve had an online presence of one form or another since 1994. The blog features literary news, commentary, book reviews and author interviews as well as occasional political and cultural links. Moorishgirl has been mentioned in a couple of newspapers, notably The Scotsman, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, L’Opinion, and the Business Standard. The Complete Review, Best of the Web and WebdelSol included it in their survey of Best Literary Blogs and The Guardian chose it as a daily pick in June 2004. Moorishgirl was also part of a panel on blogs, which was broadcast on BookTV. (Read this on Moorishgirl, where you’ll find many links to her work and her life.

Excerpts of some of her books:

- Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits … is about four Moroccans who cross the Straits of Gibraltar on a lifeboat in order to immigrate to Spain. Why are they risking their lives? And are the rewards worth it? The answers unfold in a series of narratives, dealing with key events in the characters’ past and how their lives are forever changed, for better or for worse, by their decision. (See on Laila Lalami.com).

- A Nice Young Man … I look at him and I don’t know what to say. And it hits me that we’ve had this conversation before, and yet I can’t make him understand that I’m not home. I hate that I know before he’s even done talking that I won’t be able to convince him. I try to think of what I’m supposed to say next, when he lets go of my arm. (Read on pindeldyboz).

links:

Book Notes;

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