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Leila Mottley

Award-winning author of Oprah’s Book Club selection Nightcrawling and former Youth Poet Laureate of Oakland

Meet the Teen Poet Whose Love Letter is a Call to Action
  • About Leila Mottley

    A native of Oakland, California, Leila Mottley is an author and poet who uses her writing as a tool to protest for change. Wise beyond her years, Mottley tackles uncomfortable subjects in her acclaimed poetry and her incandescent novel Nightcrawling, spotlighting issues of police violence and racial and gender-based inequity that she has witnessed firsthand in her hometown.

    Leila Mottley’s debut, Nightcrawling, is an unforgettable novel inspired by true stories of the exploitation of young women by police departments in the US including a 2015 case in Oakland and its subsequent cover-up. In her dazzling page-turner, Mottley brings alive her home city, where Black young adults struggle to find hope and joy – against all odds – in a world complicated by police brutality, sexual violence, and families fractured by the criminal justice system. Nightcrawling was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her 2022 Book Club, making Mottley the youngest author ever selected for the club. It was longlisted for the Booker Prize Award and PEN America 2023 Hemingway Award for Debut Novel.

    A finalist in the Youth Speaks slam, Leila Mottley is also a winner of the 2023 American Book Award, a Scholastic Art and Writing Award winner, and the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. She has performed at City of Oakland Cultural Dialogue meetings, the Oakland Women’s March, the Oakland March for Our Lives, and other events. Her writing has been published in Oprah Daily and The New York Times, among other publications. Her work offers an insightful look at the changes she sees in Oakland and the struggles people of color face in a rapidly gentrifying city.

  • Speaking Topics

    Black Women and Police Sexual Violence

    In this unapologetically honest talk, Leila Mottley speaks on the abuses women of color and marginalized groups—especially sex workers and transgender women—face from law enforcement. Drawing on her powerful debut novel Nightcrawling, the case that inspired it, and her own experiences, Mottley advocates for the end of police violence against Black women, girls, trans women, and gender-nonconforming people, and for the need to create alternative structures of safety that protect our most vulnerable community members.

    Representations of Girlhood in Fiction

    Drawing on her novel Nightcrawling, in this lecture Leila Mottley explores representations of Black girlhood in popular culture and the consequences of the widespread adultification Black girls face. Mottley discusses the importance of representation and the need to render the stories of young women and girls with the nuance, complexity, and joy they deserve.

    Black Traditions of Subverting Genre

    In this thought-provoking talk, Leila Mottley shares her approach to the craft of writing, including an examination of how Black artists through time have subverted established genres and mixed them with Black traditions to create rap, blues, jazz, poetry, and spoken word.

  • Video

  • Praise for Leila Mottley


    Leila was phenomenal!! People really appreciated her keynote, hearing her perspective, and interacting with her through Q&A and the book signing. Thank you for all your support and coordination, and thank you to Leila for who she is and for sharing her wisdom and time with us. It was a pleasure working with you all – you and your team made the process smooth, including connecting us with Marcus Book Stores (they were great to work with too). Having Leila at our conference was an absolute honor. We are still beaming from the experience, as were our attendees. She is an exceptional young woman.

    Alliance for Girls

    Praise for woke up no light

    Leila Mottley writes with the introspection of Zora Neale Hurston, the righteous rage of Bobby Seales, and a lyrical wit mirroring Souls of Mischief. Each section of woke up no light is a testimony to living and thriving; and proof that one of Oakland’s mightiest heirlooms has nothing to lose. Mottley aims to free the girlchild from the bindings and blindings as she pens with such eloquent sharpness: ‘California says they might owe us a cent or two / if we can prove the cells that make us.’
    woke no light is a revolution of words and worlds, readying to become. Poems centering the effect of street scriptures, gender roles, police brutality, and the humanity lost to celebritism; Mottley leaves no rock unturned and aims to set us all free.

    Mahogany L. Browne, author of Chrome Valley and Vinyl Moon and poet-in-residence, Lincoln Center

    Praise for Nightcrawling

    Leila Mottley has a poet’s delicate touch when she tells us the most brutal, heart-crushing truths. This is an electrifying debut.

    Dave Eggers

    There is a compelling argument to make that Nightcrawling is the most compelling book written by an American teenager in my lifetime. Somehow, even that feels too brittle for the way Leila Mottley pulls us through a body, a city and a nation equally consumed with crawling toward liberation and jogging toward inequitable failure. Nightcrawling is a scorching, incredibly readable book that takes seriously the task of readerly provocation on every page. Get ready. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. Leila Mottley is here.

    Kiese Laymon

    Leila Mottley’s commanding debut, inspired by the life events of one woman’s struggle for body and soul against crushing exploitation, is fierce and devastating, rendered with electrifying urgency by this colossal young talent.

    Ayana Mathis

    With its powerful poetry and courageous, unsparing vision, Nightcrawling is more than just a magnificent debut novel. It is a bid, by this prodigiously gifted young writer, to heal a broken world.

    Ruth Ozeki

    Leila Mottley has an extraordinary gift. She writes with the humility and sparkle of a child, but with the skill and deft touch of a wizened, seasoned storyteller.

    James McBride

    The writing in Leila Mottley’s Nightcrawling erupts and flows like lava, makes hot bright an Oakland that runs the city’s uncontrollable brilliance, its destructive and generative veins the same, Mottley’s energetic writing here too, bursts at the seams of every page, pushing you deeper into a story you can’t help but continue swallowing, stay thirsty for, while it swallows you whole.

    Tommy Orange
  • Books by Leila Mottley

  • Media About Leila Mottley

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  • Leila Mottley travels from Oakland, California

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