By Ayesha Ulhaq
Fez – In an interview with Bilal Qureshi, from the NPR, at the 2016 Library of Congress Book Festival in Washington DC, Laila Lalami shared the back story and inspiration behind her writings and spoke of the inspiration behind her award-winning, fictional memoir, “The Moor’s Account.”
Lalami is a Moroccan-American award-winning novelist, writer and professor at the University of California at Riverside. Lalami was born in Rabat. After completing her undergraduate in Morocco, she received a fellowship to study MA linguistics in Great Britain. In 1992, Lalami took the plunge and moved to the U.S. to complete her PHD in linguistics at the University of California.Lalami began to publish her writing in 1996 and it was her 2014 novel, ‘The Moor’s Account,’ which met with great success and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction that year.
The Moor’s Account is the fictional memoir of Mustafa al-Zamori, also known as Estebanico, the very real first Black explorer of America. Estebanico was a Moroccan slave on a journey to explore Florida as part of the Castillian exploration group. The groups aim was to explore America, but once they found “little nuggets of gold across one of the Indian villages,” greed got the better of them as the quest to search for more gold intensified. A year later, Estebanico found himself one of only four remaining members of the group and succeeded in remaking himself as both a healer and storyteller. Lalami chose to write the story from Estebanico’s perspective as he was the only one of the four whose story was not recollected due to his slave status.
Lalami wrote a blog, which was regularly updated on her website, as she shared her journey of collecting and collating the necessary research for her book. Lalami visited Morocco as part of the research process to explore the complex background of her character. She also mentioned being inspired by travel logs from the 16th century, written by Arab writers who travelled to various extensively during that time frame. This helped her develop the voice for her character and set the novel’s tone.
Muslim subjectivity and identity in her book through Estebanico, as a Muslim man, were themes touched upon by Lalami during the interview. This intrigued many readers in America as Muslim Americans very often are seen as outsiders. Lalami mentioned that Muslims are not foreign in the U.S. as they have actually been living there before ‘America was even born.”
Lalami received an American book award and an Arab American Book Award as well as fellowships to study and work in the U.K. Her essays and opinions have been presented in many news articles published by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times as well the U.K.’s Guardian.