Leila Mottley is the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. Her work has been featured in The New York Times and Oprah Daily. She was born and raised in Oakland, where she continues to live. Nightcrawling is her first novel.
Leila will be discussing Nightcrawling in conversation with Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, in our City Lights LIVE! series on Thursday, June 23 at the Mechanics’ Institute Library.
Where are you writing to us from?
I’m writing to you from my apartment in Oakland, CA. I used to do most of my writing from cafes because I like to be around people, but the pandemic has made me develop a better at-home writing routine and now I write mostly in my home office, which is decorated with Toni Morrison quotes, artwork, and of course lots of books.
What has been most important for you, personally/artistically/habitually, during the pandemic?
Allowing myself grace and rest has been important for me during the pandemic, since there’s even more of a pressure to hustle and blur the boundaries between work and life, loved ones and self, home and world, and I find it necessary to give myself permission to do nothing and to not be my most productive all the time. I also think routines and structured time as well as time spent outdoors is super important during the pandemic and I try to get into nature as much as possible.
Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?
Other black women writing about teenage black girls in a humanized, compassionate way influence me constantly as a writer and especially in the writing of Nightcrawling, including Jesmyn Ward, Jacqueline Woodson, and Toni Morrison.
What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?
A few books I’ve read lately include A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka, and Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. I’ve enjoyed all of them and would definitely recommend them.
If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?
If I opened a bookstore, it would be located in Oakland, ideally near a BART station, and it would be a renovated house where each room has a different genre, wallpaper, and seating area. I love cozy spots to read and I wish more bookstores had places where you could sit and read the first chapter of a book to decide if you really wanted it. I would call it Reading Room and my bestsellers would for sure all be books set in or by Oakland authors.