Introducing Laila

These remarks were delivered as part of the 20th annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture Series. More information on the series is available at mikhaillecture.wordpress.com

Good evening, thank you, John, and thank you to Dean Gilbert and the  University of Toledo College of Arts and Letters and everyone who worked to make this event possible. I am delighted and humbled to introduce this evening’s lecturer, the acclaimed author Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of four novels including  Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Secret Son and 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 in Fiction.  Her most recent novel, The Other Americans, was a national bestseller, won the Arab American Book Award, and was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and 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. 

Today she will be speaking on Memory and Erasure, while discussing her new nonfiction book, Conditional Citizens, which was published by Pantheon in September 2020.  I can’t think of a more fitting topic for the 20th anniversary of this event, itself a platform for the sustenance of memory and the fight against erasure. 

Re-reading my Teta’s 20-year old writings on assimilation in anticipation of this event, I was struck by how Maryse’s conditionality, in Lalami’s terms, but also her intersectional positionality, informed her organizing.  Maryse wrote,

“I believe in the value of every individual, regardless of race, creed, gender, mental or physical health, or country of origin.  I believe we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers here and all over the world.  None of us can be free when others suffer from injustice, prejudice and stereotyping…. As we assimilate, we do not forget our ethnic heritage and identity.  It is indeed our responsibility to our ancestors as well as to our descendants to promote our cultural heritage and to correct inaccurate representations of our history and reality.”

“Thoughts from Maryse”

In this moment of mass societal re-learning of history, of historic movements in support of Black and Indigenous rights, and as our safety is threatened by a global pandemic with disproportionate impacts, Conditional Citizens offers us a path forward by refusing to turn a blind eye. Through rigorous intersectional analysis, Lalami reveals how the contestive interpellation of nation and identity inform our collective American experience. 

Knowing that justice cannot come before truth is spoken, in upholding the responsibility inherited from my grandparents, I am deeply humbled and honored to welcome Laila Lalami to the 20th annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture.

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