Leila Aboulela

Born: 1964 in Khartoum, Sudan First Book: The Translator (Polygon, 1999) Awards: Long-listed for the Orange Prize and IMPAC Prize for The Translator; won the Caine Prize for African Writing for The Museum; short-listed for the Orange Prize for Minaret. Leila Aboulela was born in 1964, daughter of Sudan’s first-ever female demographer. She moved to the UK in her twenties to study at the London School of Economics and took a job teaching statistics, but soon decided it wasn’t the career for her. In 1992, while living in Aberdeen with two young children and a husband working off-shore, Leila found comfort through writing about her home city. She attended creative-writing workshops which helped broaden her reading and introduced her to Scottish writers. Khartoum was a city little known for its tourist value and Leila wanted to introduce the world to its unique beauty. She wrote about the Sudan, exploring the psychology, state of mind and the emotions of people with Islamic faith. Her fiction looks at what it means to be Muslim, not just as a cultural or political identity, but as something that transcends – but does not deny – gender, nationality, class and race. Leila’s writing has won praise from critics and writers, including Ben Okri and J. M. Coetzee. Her first novel, The Translator, was published by Polygon in 1999 and was short-listed for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year and long-liste d for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the IMPAC prize. It was also picked up by the BBC and adapted into a five-part drama serial for BBC Radio Four in 2002. A book of short stories entitled Coloured Lights was published in 2001 by Polygon. One of its stories, ‘The Museum’, was again dramatised for BBC Radio Four and won the very first Caine Prize for African Writing. Her second novel, Minaret, was published in 2005 by Bloomsbury, and this too was long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the IMPAC prize. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Leila Aboulela now lives in Qatar. Picture by Mark Pringle