Conditional Citizens: Laila Lalami in conversation with Alexander Key
What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize Finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth–such as national origin, race, or gender–that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still cast their shadows today. Throughout the book, she poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, with the result that a caste system is maintained, keeping the modern equivalent of white male landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people whom America embraces with one arm, and pushes away with the other. Brilliantly argued and deeply personal, Conditional Citizens weaves together the author’s own experiences with explorations of the place of nonwhites in the broader American culture.
Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of four novels, including The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Other Americans, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, a best-of-2019 selection from NPR, Time, and Kirkus, and a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times. She has received fellowships from the British Council, the Fulbright Program, and the Guggenheim Foundation and is currently a full professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles. Her new book, a work of nonfiction called Conditional Citizens, will be published by Pantheon in Fall 2020. You can order it here.
Alexander Key is associate professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Professor Key is a scholar of Classical Arabic literature with interests ranging across the intellectual history of the Arabic and Persian-speaking worlds from the seventh century onwards. His recent book, Language Between God and the Poets (UC Press, open access), explains Classical Arabic theories about poetry and philosophy to all who are interested in how language produces affect and reflects the world.
Limited number of signed copies of Conditional Citizens will be available for purchase to attendees through the Stanford Bookstore.