Lalami wins leading literary prize

Author: Imran Ghori
April 8, 2019

Laila Lalami, a creative writing professor at UC Riverside, has won the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize, which honors midcareer fiction authors.

The Simpson Literary Project announced Lalami’s selection on April 2, describing her as “a world-class writer.”

Laila Lalami is the winner of the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize.

Lalami is the author of multiple award-winning novels, including “The Moor’s Account and “The Other Americans,” her newest book published in March.

She was one of five finalists announced last month, selected from authors nominated by publishers, critics, agents, authors, and other author representatives.

Lalami, who received a $50,000 prize, said she was thrilled to receive the award and honored to be in the company of the other finalists.

This award is a wonderful gift of time, which I will use to work on my next project, a book of nonfiction about the relationship between the citizen and the state, exploring the ways in which it can be undermined by race, gender, and national origin,” she said.  “This is a book I have been writing for a while, but it feels especially pressing at this particular moment in American history.”

The Simpson Literary Prize has been awarded annually since 2017 by the Simpson Project, a collaboration of the Laffayette Library and Learning Center Foundation and UC Berkeley's English Department.

Joseph Di Prisco, chair of the Simpson Literary Project, said Lalami stood out with her “magnificently accomplished works of fiction” as well as her stylish and powerful essays and opinion pieces.

“Ms. Lalami brilliantly guides us through the labyrinth of the past, and she illuminates the shadowy stories of our lives here and now, wherever and whoever we are,” he said.

Author Joyce Carol Oates, for whom the prize is partly named, described “The Moor’s Account” as a “magical achievement.”

“Laila Lalami is a writer of exquisite gifts — lyric, mythic, gritty, and trenchant in her vision of America. Whether the storytelling is boldly surreal or intimately confiding, it is always compelling,” she said.

Lalami’s “The Moor’s Account was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and has won several awards including the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Fiction, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the Arab American Book Award for Fiction.

“The Other Americans,” which is set in the Mojave Desert and explores the contemporary immigrant experience in America, is garnering rave reviews.

A book talk with Lalami will be held April 8 at 3:30 p.m. at the UCR Center for Ideas and Society. The event is free and open to the public.