Leila Aboulela

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Leila Aboulela
Leila Aboulela in 2019
Leila Aboulela in 2019
Native name
ليلى ابوالعلا
Born1964 (age 56–57)
Cairo, Egypt
Alma materUniversity of Khartoum and London School of Economics
SubjectsEconomics and Statistics
Notable awardsCaine Prize for African Writing; Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards; Saltire Fiction Book of the Year
Years active1999–present

Leila Aboulela (Arabic: ليلى ابوالعلا‎; born 1964) is a fiction writer of Sudanese origin, who lives in Great Britain and writes in English. She grew up in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, and has mainly lived in Aberdeen, Scotland, since 2012.

Her most recent books are the novel Bird Summons (2019) and the short-story collection Elsewhere, Home, which was the winner of the 2018 Saltire Fiction Book of the Year Award. Her novel The Kindness of Enemies (2015) was inspired by the life of Imam Shamil who united the tribes of the Caucasus to fight against Russian Imperial expansion. Aboulela's 2011 novel, Lyrics Alley, was Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards and short-listed for a Regional Commonwealth Writers Prize. She is also the author of the novels The Translator (a New York Times 100 Notable Book of the Year) and Minaret.

All three novels were long-listed for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award. Leila Aboulela won the Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story "The Museum", included in the collection Coloured Lights, which went on to be short-listed for the Macmillan/Silver PEN award. Aboulela's work has been translated into several languages and included in publications such as Harper's Magazine, Granta, The Washington Post and The Guardian. BBC Radio has adapted her work extensively and broadcast a number of her plays, including The Insider, The Mystic Life and the historical drama The Lion of Chechnya.[1] The five-part radio serialization of her 1999 novel The Translator was short-listed for the RIMA (Race In the Media Award).

According to the Scottish Book Trust, "Leila Aboulela's work is characterised by its distinctive exploration of identity, migration and Islamic spirituality."[2]

Personal life[edit]

Born in 1964 in Cairo, Egypt, to an Egyptian mother and a Sudanese father, Aboulela moved at the age of six weeks to Khartoum, Sudan, where she lived continuously until 1987.[3] As a child she attended the Khartoum American School and the Sisters' School, a private Catholic high school, where she learned English.[3][4] She later attended the University of Khartoum, graduating in 1985 with a degree in Economics. Aboulela was awarded an M.Sc. and an MPhil degree in statistics from the London School of Economics.[4][5]

In 1990 Aboulela moved to Aberdeen with her husband and children, a move she cites as the inspiration for her first novel, The Translator.[6] Aboulela began writing in 1992 while working as a lecturer in Aberdeen College and later as a research assistant in Aberdeen University.[3] Between 2000 and 2012, Aboulela lived in Jakarta, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. In 2012, she returned to live in Aberdeen.[7]

Aboulela is a devout Muslim, and her faith informs much of her written work.[5]

Literary career[edit]

She was awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000 for her short story "The Museum", included in her collection of short stories Coloured Lights. Her novel The Translator was nominated for the Orange Prize and was chosen as a "Notable Book of the Year" by The New York Times in 2006. Her second novel, Minaret, was nominated for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award. Her third novel, Lyrics Alley, is set in the Sudan of the 1950s and was long-listed for the Orange Prize 2011. Lyrics Alley was the Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize – Europe and S.E. Asia.

Aboulela cites Arab authors Tayeb Salih, Naguib Mahfouz and Ahdaf Soueif, as well as Jean Rhys, Anita Desai, and Doris Lessing, as her literary influences. She also acknowledges the influence of Scottish writers, such as Alan Spence and Robin Jenkins.[8]

Among her works, her second novel Minaret (2005) has drawn the most critical attention. Minaret signaled Aboulela's arrival as an influential member of a new wave of British Muslim writers.[9] Her collection of short stories Elsewhere, Home won the Saltire Fiction Book of the Year Award in 2018. Her work has been translated into several languages.[10] She is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.[11]


  • 1999: The Translator, Grove Press, Black Cat (2006), ISBN 0-8021-7026-9 – translated into Arabic by Elkhatim Adl'an
  • 2001: Coloured Lights (a collection of short stories)
  • 2005: Minaret, Grove Press, Black Cat (2005), ISBN 0-8021-7014-5 -translated into Arabic by Badreldin Hashimi
  • 2011: Lyrics Alley, Grove Press (2011) -translated into Arabic by Badreldin Hashimi
  • 2015: The Kindness of Enemies, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2015)- translated into Arabic by Badreldin Hashimi
  • 2018: Elsewhere, Home, Telegram Books (2018)
  • 2019: Bird Summons, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2019)

Prizes and awards[edit]

  • 2000: Caine Prize for African Writing, for "The Museum"
  • 2000: Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award (shortlist), "The Translator"
  • 2002: PEN Macmillan Macmillan Silver PEN Award (shortlist), "Coloured Lights"
  • 2003: Race and Media Award (shortlist – radio drama serialisation), The Translator
  • 2011: Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize- Europe and S. E Asia, Lyrics Alley
  • 2011: Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards, Lyrics Alley
  • 2018: Saltire Fiction Book of the Year Award, Elsewhere, Home

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Leila Aboulela – Literature". literature.britishcouncil.org. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  2. ^ "Author: Leila Aboulela". Scottish Book Trust. Retrieved 2021-01-13.
  3. ^ a b c "Biography". www.leila-aboulela.com. Leila Aboulela. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b Chambers, Claire (1 June 2009). "An Interview with Leila Aboulela". Contemporary Women's Writing. 3 (1): 86–102. doi:10.1093/cww/vpp003. ISSN 1754-1484.
  5. ^ a b Dictionary of African Biography, Volume 2. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2012. pp. 48–49. ISBN 978-0-19-538207-5.
  6. ^ "The Translator – Inspiration". www.leila-aboulela.com. Leila Aboulela. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  7. ^ Sethi, Anita (4 June 2005). "Keep the faith". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  8. ^ "About Leila". www.leila-aboulela.com. Leila Aboulela. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  9. ^ Sufian, Abu. "Aboulela's Minaret : A New Understanding of Diasporic Muslim Women in the West". The Criterion. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  10. ^ "Leila Aboulela". www.leila-aboulela.com. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  11. ^ Odhiambo, Tom (18 January 2020), "'New Daughters of Africa' is a must read for aspiring young women writers", Daily Nation (Kenya).

Further reading[edit]


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