Explained: Leila Mottley, the youngest on Booker’s long list, and her novel about surviving sexual abuse


In September 2015, when an Oakland Police Department officer in the United States took his own life, his death note would blow the lid off a sex abuse scandal involving several police officers and a female worker. Richmond-based sex worker who had been underage for some time during these encounters. Later investigations would find more Bay Area law enforcement personnel guilty. The case would eventually be settled in 2017 when the city of Oakland paid the woman, then 19, $1 million in compensation but without any admission of liability.

Leila Mottley was 14 when investigations began in 2016, a black girl growing up in Oakland. She had followed the case with great interest, especially the fate of the young woman, who seemed to go unnoticed in the hype surrounding the investigations with the police. It would be the basis of her debut novel, ‘Nightcrawling’, published last month, which now puts the 20-year-old on Booker’s long list announced on Tuesday. Mottley is the youngest writer to appear on Booker’s long list. Before her, British novelist Jon McGregor held the honor when he made the long list for his debut work, ‘If No One Speaks of Remarkable Things’, in 2002. The youngest winner of the £50,000 Booker Prize is Eleanor Catton, who won the award. in 2013 for ‘Les Lumières’. The New Zealand author was 28 at the time.

The rise of Mottley
Mottley, who is currently on a book tour in California, began her novel in high school and finished it when she was 17. The New York Times reports that it was while at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts that she approached her teacher, this Ruth Ozeki, Women’s Prize-winning novelist of the year, for advice. Ozeki directed her to Lucy Carson and Molly Friedrich of New York-based boutique literary agency Friedrich Agency, which sold the book in a 13-way auction to publisher Knopf during the pandemic, in time to Mottley’s 18th birthday.

His first novel may have come out when he was 20, but Mottley’s precocious talent showed itself from childhood. In several interviews, Mottley has mentioned how she turned to literature early in her life, influenced by her father, a playwright. After finishing second for two consecutive years, she became Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate in 2018 at the age of 16. By then she was already a familiar face on the California literary scene, with works published in leading magazines and numerous live performances. in slam-poetry sessions. The novel’s publication in June saw it rapidly rise up the bestseller lists. Her selection as Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club Pick for the Month has garnered more attention. The American talk show host praised the book’s deep lyricism and portrayal of an “introspective portrait of survival and hope”. Mottley, who counts Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Jacqueline Woodson and Jesmyn Ward among his influences, is also working on a debut collection of poetry.

What Mottley’s “Nightcrawling” Is About
A gripping portrait of the exploitation engendered by the convergence of poverty, race, power and misogyny, ‘Nightcrawling’ is the story of 17-year-old Kiara Johnson and her difficult and troubled life. As Kiara ends up becoming a juvenile sex worker, trying to earn enough to get by and keep her mother-abandoned nine-year-old neighbor safe, she finds herself in a cycle of abuse perpetrated by the system. even designed to keep people safe. In luminous prose, Mottley traces Kiara’s fractured relationship with her own brother Marcus, the systemic violence she endures, and her core resilience that refuses to bow to oppression.

In his author’s note, Mottley mentions how the novel takes off from the Oakland scandal, which made him realize the invisibility of survivors if they were people of color. On the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement and greater awareness of the institutional racism faced by African Americans in the United States, Mottley’s description is particularly poignant in its observation of the abandonment experienced by women. blacks and women of color, especially if they are social aberrations.

Booker’s Long List 2022
This year’s Booker’s Dozen, selected from 169 entries by a five-member jury led by British art historian Neil MacGregor, has many firsts to its credit. At the other end of the Mottley spectrum, English writer Alan Garner, who turns 88 in October, is the oldest author to make the long list for his ‘Treacle Walker’. The list also includes two other debuts – “Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies” by Maddie Mortimer and “After Sappho by Selby” Wynn Schwartz. At 116 pages, Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” is the shortest book to win a nomination. Penelope Fitzgerald’s ‘Offshore’, at 132 pages, was the shortest to win the award in 1979.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 6 in London. The winner will be announced on October 17 at London’s performing arts venue, Roundhouse, in a first in-person ceremony since the pandemic. The 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction has been won by South African writer Damon Galgut for “The Promise”.

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