Leila Aboulela (born 1964), Arabic 'ليلى ابوالعلا' is a Sudanese writer who writes in English. Her latest novel, The Kindness of Enemies is inspired by the life of Imam Shamil, who united the tribes of the Caucasus to fight against Russian Imperial expansion. Leila's 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 fourteen languages and included in publications such as Granta, The Washington Post and The Guardian. BBC Radio has adapted her work extensively and broadcast a number of her plays including The Mystic Life and the historical drama The Lion of Chechnya. The five-part radio serialization of her novel The Translator was short-listed for the RIMA (Race In the Media Award). Aboulela grew up in Khartoum and now lives in Aberdeen.
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. As a child Aboulela attended the Khartoum American School and the Sisters' School, a private Catholic High School, where she learned English. She later attended the University of Khartoum and graduated 1985 with a degree in Economics. Aboulela was awarded an M.Sc. and an MPhil degree in Statistics from the London School of Economics.
In 1990 Aboulela moved to Aberdeen with her husband and children, a move she cites as the inspiration for her first novel, The Translator.[ Aboulela began writing in 1992 while working as a lecturer in Aberdeen College and later as a Research Assistant in Aberdeen University. Between 2000 and 2012, Aboulela lived in Jakarta, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. In 2012, Aboulela returned to live in Aberdeen.
Aboulela is a devout Muslim, and her faith informs much of her written work.
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 and Naguib Mahfouz as well as Ahdaf Soueif, 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.
Her work has been translated into 14 languages.
- 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
- 2011: Lyrics Alley, Grove Press (2011)
- 2015: The Kindness of Enemies, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2015)
Prizes and awards :
- 2000 Caine Prize for African Writing, "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 Short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers Prize- Europe and S.E Asia, "Lyrics Alley"
- 2011 Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards, "Lyrics Alley"