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Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
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Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
Hardcover $28.00
Jun 07, 2022 | ISBN 9780593318935

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A Best Book of the Year: The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, TIME, GOODREADS

A New York Times Writer to Watch • THE CENTER FOR FICTION’S FIRST NOVEL PRIZE NOMINEE Lambda Literary Award Finalist

“Astonishing . . . Nightcrawling heralds a bold new voice in fiction.” Associated Press
“Mottley writes with a lyrical abandon.” New York Times Book Review

Nightcrawling really is a powerful, poignant story worth your attention . . . Revelatory . . . My god—that voice. It’s sometimes too painful to keep reading, but always too urgent to stop.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Dazzling and electrifying . . . A spellbinding story and a Catcher in the Rye for a new generation.”
—Booker Prize Judges 2022

“I would sell my soul to read this book again for the first time.”
Jack Edwards, Booktok Influencer via TikTok @jackbenedwards

“A lyrical page-turner [by] that rare young phenom who isn’t a product of privilege.”
—Los Angeles Times, Gift Guide

 “Nightcrawling bursts at the seams of every page and swallows you whole.” —Tommy Orange, author of There There
“Unflinching . . . Essential to understanding how maddeningly elusive justice can be.” San Francisco Chronicle
Nightcrawling is a scorching, incredibly readable book . . . Get ready. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. Leila Mottley is here.” —Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

Nightcrawling marks the dazzling arrival of a young writer with a voice and vision you won’t easily get out of your head . . . When asked how to write in a world dominated by a white culture, Toni Morrison once responded: ‘By trying to alter language, simply to free it up, not to repress or confine it . . . Tease it. Blast its racist straitjacket.’ At a time when structural imbalances of capital, heath, gender, and race deepen divides, the young American Leila Mottley’s debut novel is a searing testament to the liberated spirit and explosive ingenuity of such storytelling.” The Guardian

“Mottley accesses the feelings one sometimes has while reading Dickens, the breathless sense that some massive unfairness is being inflicted on a good and innocent person . . . Kiara’s true outlet for hope is in the makeshift family of friends and relatives she manages to hold together. From such connections Mottley’s seemingly fatalistic book finds its buoyant humanity.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“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, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“A searing indictment of an unjust system.”

“Mottley’s writing is electric and stylish, which makes her subject matter especially chilling.” Teen Vogue
“Kiara’s voice—simultaneously childlike, lyrical, and fierce—is the most unforgettable element of Nightcrawling.” Mother Jones

“Fast money, crooked cops, and dire consequences are at the forefront of Mottley’s electric debut novel . . . A shocking page-turner.” Elle

“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, author of The Book of Form and Emptiness

“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, author of Deacon King Kong
“Electric . . . Not to be missed.” Shondaland

“So compelling that one cannot put it down . . . Through Kiara, Mottley gives voice to countless Black women and girls who remain invisible, vulnerable, and dehumanized by a system that deems them disposable . . . We need Kiara’s story, but more importantly, we need young writers like Leila Mottley . . . A testimony to hope, resilience, and love.” Liber: A Feminist Review

“Leila Mottley is a name to pay attention to . . . Nightcrawling will make you desperate, it will make you awed, it will make you read anything that Mottley should ever choose to write.” CrimeReads

“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, author of The Every
“A remarkable debut novel . . . Incendiary . . . The captivating, distinctively voiced Kiara is a young black American who can shoot hoops and skateboard, but her literary antecedents are Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, Victor Hugo’s Fantine, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth.” The Sunday Times (U.K.)
“This is an accomplished first novel with a remarkable heroine whom the reader wills on every step of the way . . . Both a searing depiction of sexual exploitation and a gripping account of a struggle for survival . . . Hard-hitting but never heavy-handed.” The Economist

“Unflinching, poetic, and deeply resonant, this stunning debut from Oakland teen Leila Mottley marks the arrival of an extraordinary new voice.” Woman’s Own (U.K.)

“Feels vital in this cultural moment . . . Fires on all cylinders.” Sydney Morning Herald  

“Stunning . . . Kiara is an unforgettable dynamo, and her story brings critical human depth to conversations about police sexual violence.” —Booklist (starred)
“A work of devastating social realism . . . executed with relentless momentum . . . A powerful discourse on the dehumanizing effects policing can have on marginalized communities, bodies, and minds (and especially on Black women).” —Library Journal (starred)
“Bold and beautiful . . . This heartrending story makes for a powerful testament to a Black woman’s resilience.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Lush, immersive.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Moved me to tears . . . Mottley is a master at describing scenes.” iNews


California Book Award WINNER 2023

Lambda Literary Award FINALIST 2023

Booker Prize LONGLIST 2022

Center for Fiction First Novel Prize LONGLIST 2022

PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Novel LONGLIST 2023

Author Q&A

What are some books that have helped shape you as a writer?

Sula by Toni Morrison, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Those are some of the titles that have most directly impacted the way I think about and approach writing, though I have a million more books that I just love as a reader.

The lyrical language and rhythm of NIGHTCRAWLING has the undeniable touch of a poet. How has your background in poetry influenced your writing style and process?

Poetry has taught me to value rhythm and cadence in prose, something that I think I center as a writer more than I would have if I wasn’t also a poet. In my writing process, I think a lot about the ways that language can mimic emotion and energy in a scene and how I can use poetic language as a tool to bridge the distance between action and feeling. I find that one of the most powerful things about storytelling, particularly in novels, is how it can make us invest in people who may not be “real,” and one of the most powerful things about poetry is how it can cut straight to the center of our inexplicable human feelings. When these two things are intertwined, a story can be made that much more potent for the reader. I definitely also wanted to push back against the narrative that Black people and specifically Black teenagers don’t have stunning, complex interior worlds. Using a lyrical internal monologue for Kiara, I hoped to show that the way she thinks is incredibly vibrant and devastating and unique. As a writer, it’s important to me to allow my characters to be as nuanced and layered in their interior lives as some of the white narrators that the literary canon has historically praised (like Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye) and poetic language is part of how I attempt to achieve this.

At its heart, NIGHTCRAWLING is a book about survival and hope. Where do you find hope in the face of life’s injustices?

I study and come from a tradition of rebellion and revolution that finds ways to resist even in the most impossible of circumstances, and I try to remind myself that the spirit of revolution is alive in pockets of this country and world, and those pockets give me hope that we won’t go down without a fight. I try not to place my pursuit of hope or justice in systems that have never provided something to be hopeful about or a form of justice that aligns with my beliefs. I think of hope as essentially a product of faith, and faith boils down to a deep trust. In many ways, faith is essential to human survival as it gives us a reason to continue forward, but I think faith also sometimes relies on disillusioning ourselves or finding something more micro to invest in.

I try to derive hope where I know I can find it, which is often in my connections with other people, art, moments of resistance and joy, nature, or spiritual practice. I find hope in the reality that I know nothing about the future because there will always be as much hope in the unknown as there is fear. I think hope is a hard word to characterize, because we often use it passively, as though hope is something that is offered to us as concrete evidence of a future worth living for. But when we think about hope that way, we neglect to become active participants in change and, often, when we say hope, I think we actually mean change. But how can we believe that things can be different if we are not doing things differently? When we give up on the desire to want something different, that’s when we lose hope and that loss of hope is fatal because it means we cannot find faith, whether it is based in concrete evidence or a blind trust, that there is a purpose in facing the unknown.

Kiara’s harrowing experience is inspired by a number of cases of police sexual exploitation in the Bay Area. How did watching these cases unfold as a young teenager shape your understanding of what it means to be a young woman of color?

They gave me a profound connection to the experience of being vulnerable and unprotected. A lot of us women of color experience a kind of abuse that others do not. I started to think about how police sexual violence is representative of the way we treat teenage Black girls. I wanted to tell a story that gave agency to us as young people, as women, and as Black people who are particularly vulnerable to this type of violence.

Why did you choose fiction rather than nonfiction to tell the story of NIGHTCRAWLING?

In some ways, I believe fiction and poetry just come more naturally to me, so I choose to use those forms as the best way to communicate the stories I want to tell. Beyond that, I think that sometimes when we are talking about police brutality and white supremacy and exploitation, there’s a tendency to lean into abstractions and, while there is certainly a place for theory and critical commentary and dissection, it’s also really important that we internalize the impact on actual people. I wanted to tell a story about these people that allows us first to invest in the characters and their lives, so for those who might not otherwise be invested in the lives of sex workers or vulnerable Black girls or poor people in Oakland, they can begin with the very human instinct to empathize and attach to these complex people. Novels can do this in a way that nonfiction cannot, simply because novels start with feelings and people, and make it nearly impossible to detach or distance oneself.

What do you hope readers will take away from Kiara’s story?

This is always a really hard question for me to answer. I write my books trying not to think about anyone at all reading them. After the first draft of Nightcrawling was finished, I went back and thought about who Kiara would want to tell her story in this way to and approached it with that lens. Because I believe Kiara would want to tell her story to other young women of color who she believes might understand her, I focused on what I would want young Black girls who read Nightcrawling to take away, which is the message that the world will ask to grow you up before you are ready but you are deserving of a childhood and the right to be seen as fragile and soft and you are also deserving of protection and a protection that goes beyond what the systems of this country have set up for people who are not you.
That’s where I started when contemplating the reader, but I also recognized that for every one young Black girl reading Nightcrawling, there are probably ten other readers who will not come from that place, and I hope that those readers are pushed to think about the ways they are complicit in the lack of protection for young Black girls and the silence around sexual violence in conversations around policing. I hope readers come to an understanding that we all want to be afforded the right to safety and I don’t mean that in the sense of police protection. Safety often means having access to our basic needs so we have the ability to desire more. Safety means being able to be a child when you are a child, and being able to receive care when you are in need of it. I hope that readers reflect on their own relationships to power and to these systems and also to humanity and childhood and, in the end, that a connection to these characters has an impact on the reader’s life, no matter who they are or where they come from.

In a sense, NIGHTCRAWLING is a love letter to Oakland, which is practically a character in the book. Tell us about your hometown and what you find so special and inspiring about it.

I love Oakland. Probably a lot of people who have only ever lived in one place and whose identity is intertwined with that place feel similarly about their hometowns, especially in places like Compton, Detroit, south side Chicago, and other cities and neighborhoods that have been demonized in the media. I feel protective of Oakland, partly because I feel like there’s no me without Oakland and I have such an undying love and appreciation for the ways this city has raised me. It’s a unique place, with roots in a Black revolutionary tradition while also being a western coastal city. It’s a metropolis but we don’t have skyscrapers and we have countless trees; it’s a fairly large city but everything shuts down at ten p.m. In my experience, Oakland people are just more radiant across the board than anywhere else I’ve been (granted, I haven’t been to very many places), and the arts scene is spectacular. I wanted Nightcrawling to capture the essence of a city that can be difficult to describe without having felt it. In the media, Oakland has a reputation for either being a “hot new city” or a dangerous city. In the face of displacement, I wanted to write a book that was an ode to Oakland, a city that is not new and is so much more than this binary allows it to be, a city that has existed and still exists beyond the ways in which the white gaze views it. I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up here and I hope Nightcrawling gives Oakland the credit it’s due.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on my forthcoming poetry collection with Knopf. I am also in the middle of another novel that I can’t say too much about, but I will say that it will always be important to me to tell stories of forgotten young Black girls and women, and this next book will be an evolution of some of the themes in Nightcrawling with a new setting, focus, and more ensemble approach.

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