Michael Taeckens in Poets & Writers:
Laila Lalami is well known for her extraordinary fiction; she is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin Books, 2005), Secret Son (Algonquin Books, 2009), and The Moor’s Account (Pantheon, 2014), the most recent of which appeared on the longlist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and was named a finalist for that year’s Pulitzer Prize. But she is equally well known for her sagacious literary criticism and writings on politics and culture. Over the past thirteen years she has written book reviews for a wide array of outlets, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe. Lalami reviewed fiction and nonfiction for the Nation from 2005 to 2016, at which point she started writing the Between the Lines column for the magazine. Since 2016 she’s also been a critic-at-large—along with nine other writers, including Alexander Chee, Marlon James, and Viet Thanh Nguyen—for the Los Angeles Times, where she writes mostly about the literary life. Lalami, who was born in Rabat, Morocco, and educated there as well as in Great Britain and the United States, is likewise highly regarded because of her popular literary blog, Moorish Girl, which she launched in 2001 and, after the publication of Secret Son, folded into her website, lailalalami.com. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of California in Riverside. You can follow her on Twitter, @LailaLalami.
You got your start writing for the Oregonian in 2005, reviewing books by Reza Aslan, Luis Alberto Urrea, Salman Rushdie, and Zadie Smith. What path led you to literary criticism, and how did that relationship with theOregonian begin?
At the time I had just moved to Portland from Los Angeles and was working on my first collection of short stories. It was a lonely time in my life—I knew perhaps two or three people in the entire city—so the book section of the Oregonian became a kind of conversation I missed having about books. I also had a literary blog where I wrote about stories or novels I was reading, and that helped me broaden my reading interests. I think I was drawn to criticism because it gave me an opportunity to articulate what I thought about a piece of writing—what it tried to do, whether it succeeded, and, if so, how it succeeded.