A major move can sometimes lead to marvelous things. Take 53-year-old novelist, playwright and lecturer Leila Aboulela, for instance. She was born in Cairo to a Sudanese father and Egyptian mother, then moved to Khartoum, Sudan in her infancy. She attended Khartoum American School and at the Sisters’ School, where she learned English, and would later graduate from the University of Khartoum with a degree in Economics, specializing in Statistics, then the London School of Economics with a M.Sc. and an MPhil in Statistics. However, it is when she and her family relocated more than 6000 miles away, and she learned how to articulate the emotions that came along with the move, that her knack for writing truly kicked in.
The novelist’s work—most of which was written when she moved from Sudan to Aberdeen, Scotland—includes novels and collections like The Kindness of Enemies, Lyrics Alley, Minaret, The Translator, Coloured Lights, as well as short stories that have been published in Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review and Intangible. When she writes, she explores identity, migration, Islamic spirituality, significant political issues, and the challenges Muslims face in Europe. She writes in English, however her books and stories have been translated in nine different languages, including Arabic. As a result, her work has garnered praise all around.
Aboulela won the 2000 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “The Museum,” scored a nomination for the Orange Prize in 2002 for her novel The Translator, and was selected as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times in 2006. The latter novel was also picked up and adapted into a five-part drama serial for BBC Radio Four. Last year, Aboulela (who is currently a lecturer in Abu Dhabi) spoke at Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai, gave talks at American University Cairo, participated in the Ilkley Literature Festival and headlined the 2017 Kaduna Book and Arts Festival. Aboulela currently lives between Aberdeen and Abu Dhabi, but it is, as always, her pen that leads the way.